Food from soil, grit and sand

These women literally extract the last grain to feed their families

Food from soil, grit and sand

This everyday occupation symbolises sifting through life’s myriad problems for these women, belonging to a sub-sect of the Bovi community, a Scheduled Caste.

Of late, for lack of threshing spaces in villages, farmers all over the State spread the ears of grain on the road, hoping that the wheels of the speeding vehicles separate the grain from the ears. A part of the grain gets  scattered and falls on the mudpaths along the roads. For the farmers, such grain mixed with soil is not worth their while to collect. For the poor women of Srinivaspur that can make a difference between food and starvation.

The Bovi women pile up the soil, sand grit containing ragi and then separate the grains using a ‘mora’ (chaff separator).

This is indeed a job involving skills that these women have learnt from elders in the family. The men of the community too collect the ragi that rodents would have hoarded in their burrow holes, by digging them. The women dry such grains in the sun and separate the grains from the chaff, by beating grain in the husk with sticks.

The grains they gain at the end of the day is never commensurate with the back-breaking labour they put in from dawn to dusk. Also, they can depend on the grains mixed in mud only during the harvest season. Poverty has pushed many in several villages in and around Srinivaspur to this extreme.

During the non-harvest season, the women and men work as construction labourers. The heavy earth movers that are being used in construction work lately have robbed the community of even such low-paying jobs.

But the larger community has a lesson to learn from these never-say-die beings. Their determination to look for the last morsel of food even in mud, is a lesson in the optimum utilisation of foodgrains. It is also a message about the importance of indigenous food sources in an age of global food chains.

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