In Pictures: India politicians' dirty laundry

Brigade of dhobis or washermen in capital New Delhi work overtime to maintain clothes of leaders on campaign trail.


Parliamentary election fever has taken over India as voting began in full swing on April 7 and is expected to run untill May 12. Politicians of every hue are on the campaign trail in the trademark starched white kurta (long shirt) teamed with pajama (pants) or dhoti (rectangular piece of unstitched cloth that's wrapped and knotted).

But somewhere away from the cocophony of the elections, a brigade of dhobis (washermen) are working overtime to maintain the clothes of these politicians.

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Dhobi Ghat-No 15 in New Delhi, India's capital, boasts of its high-profile clientele. Located near the Parliament House and the residential quarters of politians, this open air laundromat is the place where the clothes of many leaders are washed, starched, bleached and ironed.

"Our work-load doubles during elections and parliament sessions," says Ram Prasad, 44. 

"Politicians are busy traveling and campaigning and once they are back, their men give us the clothes to wash and iron in bulk and often we also go to their house to collect laundry. We have been washing clothes for generations which was most done by hands but now we also make the use of washing machines."

Decades back, these washermen, mostly from underprivileged caste, had access to the houses of political bigwigs. They even knew some of them personally, but with the passage of time and a new generation of politicians, that has been lost.

Gaya Prasad, 63, is the oldest washerman in the dhobi ghat. He has washed the clothes of former Prime Minister of India, Chandra Shekhar. His father used to wash the clothes of Lal Bahadur Shashtri, the second Prime Minister of India. According to Prasad, he knew Chandra Shekhar personally and it was on his recommendation that some people were able to meet the former Prime Minister.

"I used to personally go and collect his clothes and would meet him regularly. The day his wife died, he had hugged me and wept," says Prasad.

"Times have now changed. I have never met the new generation politicians. Their clothes are sent to us by their house helps."