Battered by COVID-19 pandemic for the last two years, washermen making a living on the banks of the Kollidam river are slowly coming to terms with the harsh situation they are in.
Many are, in fact, leaving the vocation to eke out a living elsewhere. For P. Kannan and his family who have been living on the banks of the Kollidam, near the old bridge, the crisis has caused a financial crisis.
“Our preceding generation washed clothes and dried them along the bank, and we grew up learning the profession. However, remaining in the vocation now is a huge question mark”, Kannan says.
While at least 300 families used to live in the washermen colonies, now less than 100 remain. A washerman charges ₹10 per piece of cloth, and will be able to wash around 100 clothes a day. But, they have to invest more than half of the money they make into buying various products they require for washing, starching and ironing clothes.
“We use more than 10 different products, including bleaching powder, soap powder and soap oil, fabric whiteners for washing, starch and also coal for the iron boxes,” Kannan says.
With no orders from hotels and private hospitals that used to provide them with a large chunk of work, they are unable to make ends meet.
“Many do not give us clothes to wash due to lack of business as number of visitors has fallen apparently due to fear of contracting the viral infection,” Kannan’s mother, who also takes part in the business says.
The washermen also complain that contaminated water is let off into the river, due to which they are contracting infections. “I had a skin infection on both my legs. I had to spend nearly ₹1,000 on hospital bills. But I have to continue to feed my family and have to return to work,” Kannan says. The government, too, has paid no heed to their woes.
The washermen lament that they have not received any solatium from the government for the losses incurred.
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