What is perhaps one of its kind initiative in India, two women started Grindmill Songs project that aimed to empower women belonging to “downtrodden rural communities” in its own unique way. Hema Raikar and Guy Poitevin, both social activists and distinguished scholars, founded the Centre for Cooperative Research in Social Sciences in Pune in 1996. Together they collated, transcribed, translated and classified over 10,000 folks songs of Maharashtra over a period of 20 years. These songs are usually sung when women use grindmills or performing other household chores. The grindmill is a simple device women use to grind grain into flour.They perhaps understood the self-expressive power of singing at the grindmill before sunrise as a collective feminine act of speech
According to ruralindiaonline.org, Close to 30,000 of these songs have been digitally recorded and 40,000 translated into English from the original Marathi under Grindmill Songs Project. Some 3,302 performers across more than 1,000 villages were involved in this phenomenal recording of a poetic-musical legacy.
The Grindmill Songs Project is now associated with PARI (People’s Archive of Rural India, started by P. Sainath). With PARI’s involvement, the project has been recently revived together with a host of old and new collaborators. The 70,000 untranslated songs are being tackled by Asha Ogale, a former documentation officer at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune, and her colleagues Rajani Khaladkar and Jitendra Maid.
It’s recorded 3,302 women from 1,107 villages in Maharashtra singing ‘ovis’, or grindmill songs, and the website has over 10,000 songs recorded at the present time. The songs touch upon issues like caste, political movements, mythology and religion, and it’s just a really precious and unique resource.