Dhobis in various regions are likely to be of many different ethnic origins: their ancestors took the occupation of washing clothes, evolving over time into a distinct caste bound by rules of endogamy. Most Dhobis follow the customs and traditions of the region they live, so for example those in North India speak Hindi, while those in Maharashtra speak Marathi. The Dhobi rank themselves highest among the Scheduled Castes. The Census of 2001 returned Dhobis representing six per cent of the total Scheduled Caste population.
The Dhobi Community in Bihar is about 6% of total population. Dhobi have maximum concentration in Purnia and East Champaran districts respectively. The Dhobi community in Bihar is in Scheduled Caste Status. Among the numerically larger castes of SC, Dhobi have registered the highest over all literacy rate.
The Dhobi of Haryana are said to have originated from Punjab and Rajasthan. They are scattered throughout the state. Like other Hindu communities, they are divided into clans called gotras. Some of the major gotras are the hathwal: Chauhan, Shukravar, Rajoria, Tonwar, Panwar, Badera, Satmase, Akhasriya, Mahavar and Basvadiya. These clan names are also used as surnames. Their main occupation remains washing of and drying of clothes.A small number of Dhobi are marginal farmers.They are classified as OBCs.
In Karnataka, there are Muslim Dhobis, they are also called as Agasa, Dhobi, Pakzade & Parit. Their population is spread over Karnataka. Mainly in Bagalkot, Belgaum, Bijapur, Dharwar, Haveri, Davangere & Gadag Kumta, Sirsi, Ankola, Karwar, Mysore Banglore Gulbarga Ramnagar Districts. And their secondary language is Kannada & Urdu.
In Maharashtra, the Dhobi are found throughout the state, and are also known as Parit. They claim to have originally belonged to the Rajput community, and in particular the Chauhan clan. The Dhobi have been listed as Other Backward Class (OBC). They speak Marathi among themselves, and Hindi with outsiders.
The community are endogamous, and practice clan exogamy. Their main clans in Maharashtra are the Abidkar, Bannolkar, Belwarkar, Chawhan, Chilate, Chawlkar, Chewakar, Dudhmogre, Dhongde, Gaikwad, Ghousalkar, Harmekar, Hedulkar, Jangade, Kalyankar, Kanekar, Kalatkar, Lad, Motikar, Nandgaonkar, Nane, Pawar, Pabrekar, Palkar, Purwarkar, Sonone, Salekar,Sardar, Sewane, Tapke and Waskar. Marriage within the clan is prohibited.
The Dhobi of Mumbai wash their linen in the Mahalaxmi area known as Dhobi Ghat. This area is strangely popular with foreign tourists looking for a piece of quintessential "Indian-ness". Another region in South Mumbai, Dhobitalao, used to be a (now filled up) lake where British soldiers used to have their uniforms washed about 120 years ago.
The Dhobi of Punjab are said to have immigrated from the ancient city of Kannauj in Uttar Pradesh, and are now found throughout Punjab. They are further sub-divided into clans called gots from the Sanskrit gotra, and marriages are forbidden within the clan. Their main clans are the hathwal ~ Chauhan, Panwar, Tonwar ,Rajoria and Mandora. The Dhobi speak Punjabi, and their customs are similar to other Punjabi dalit castes. They are community still very much involved in their traditional occupation which is washing clothes. Some have also taken to other occupations such as dry cleaning, shop keeping, hosiery. A significant migration to the urban areas of Punjab and other parts of India has begun. Traditionally, the Dhobi lived in villages dominated by landowning castes such as the Jat, who acted as their patrons. This relationship has broken down, and any transaction now is made in cash. Each Dhobi settlement contains a biradari panchayat, which acts as instrument of social control, and resolves intra community disputes.
The Dhobi of Rajasthan claim descent from Rajput community, and are known as Dhoba. Although the Dhobi are found throughout Rajasthan, their main concentration is in Ajmer District. The Dhobi speak Mewari, although most also understand Hindi. They have been granted Scheduled Caste status. Like other Hindu castes in Rajasthan, the Dhobi community is further divided into clans known as ataks. Their main ataks are the hathwal Chauhan, Marwara and Hilogia. Marriages are forbidden within the clan. Most Dhobi are still involved in their traditional occupation of washing clothes. They are exclusively Hindu and their tribal deity known as Ghatmata.
In Uttar Pradesh, the community is strictly endogamous, and practice clan exogamy. Their main clans, known as gotras, are the Ayodhyabas, Belwar, Mathur, Jaiswar, Jaiswal, Belwar, Yadava & Chauhans from Ajmer in Rajasthan, practice hypergamy, with clans of lower status giving girls in marriage to those of higher status, but not receiving girls. They speak various dialects of Hindi, such as Khari boli, Awadhi Bhojpuri and Braj Bhasha.
The Dhobi are still involved in their traditional occupation of washing clothes. Traditionally, the community would wash clothes for particular families, and would receive grain and services from them. But with the growth of the cash economy, most Dhobi are now paid money for their services. A significant number of Dhobis are cultivators, and this particularly so in western Uttar Pradesh. They live in multi-caste villages, but occupy their own distinct quarters. Each of their settlements contains an informal caste council, known as a Biradari Panchayat. The Panchayat acts as instrument of social control, dealing with issues such as divorce and adultery.