Farm-to-fork is a marvellous idea. What’s not to like about cultivating one’s own food and having a stable supply of fresh, healthy and aromatic ingredients at the snap of a twig! While this works for fruits, vegetables, herbs and greens, it fails to apply to the anaj we eat. This is because grains and cereals need to be processed after being harvested. Little do we realise that this processing involves multiple steps, all of which are labour-intensive activities largely undertaken by women.

This is antithetical to the image we tend to have of farmers: worn, middle-aged men toiling away under a baking sun. This is a myth. Farming in India is a female-dominated industry. Nearly 63% workers in agriculture are women. In fact, in the production of major crops, participation of women is as high as 75% according to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Much of this agricultural work entails toiling away for hours in threshing (separating the grain from the straw/stalks), hulling and dehusking (removing the covering or coating of grain/cereal), cleaning (removing undesirable material such as specks and pebbles), grading, polishing, milling into flour and storing. These tasks are often carried out in groups as a communal activity. Women have turned to verse to alleviate the drudgery and to vent about the back-breaking work. Listen to Savitra Ubhe as she sings: दळता कांडता, चोळी भिजूनी पदर वला, चोळी भिजूनी पदर वला, निवत्या दुधाला कढं आला (Grinding, pounding grain, my blouse is drenched and sari pallu is wet. My blouse is drenched and sari pallu is wet, like cool milk heated to boil); this is one of the many verses about farm labour that are part of the grindmill songs project.

Read the full article about women’s drudgery in agriculture by Marisha at India Development Review.