Assorted 25,000 descendants of East Africa's Bantu have been living in the Indian forests of Western Ghats. Siddi's ancestors were vastly brought to India as slaves. Even today, they remain to live in ostracism and poverty. The Siddis are a community of African-origin Indian individuals inhabiting primarily in India's states of Karnataka and Gujarat. They self-identify as Indians, they communicate in regional languages, wear native clothing and obey the same regional rituals and traditions yet because of their physical appearance, they are widely considered as outsiders' and reside together in little communities in rural locations and wastelands. India possesses a long history of people's movements within and across its perimeters, under differing situations and this has considerably contributed to forming the nation as one of the most diverse in the world. In contrast to what is frequently observed from the outside, India has multiple faces. Today, the Siddi community is a representation of a legacy missed in the pages of Indian history.
Where does the name 'Siddi' come from?
There are various assumptions considering the origin of the title 'Siddi'. While some tell it is a term of respect in North Africa, others tell it arrives from a title borne by the captains or "sayyids" of Arab ships that initially brought them to India. They are also recognized as habshi, the phrase originated from the common title for the captains of the Ethiopian/Abyssinian ships, which was furthermore the first to carry these people as slaves to the subcontinent.
A brief narrative of Siddis in India
The Siddi community is an Indo-African tribal community that descended from the Bantu community of Africa. Their existence in India can be traced back as early as the 7th century. The most likely reason for their first arrival in India was slavery, brought over by Arabs and later, Europeans during their colonizing of India. When slavery was invalidated in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Siddi community are suspected to have escaped into the dense forest regions and deserted areas of India where they are still observed to be residing to this day in tiny settlements. Few have furthermore said that they arrived as troopers with the Arab community and independently as sailors and traders. For over 800 years, this African tribe has called India its home. Its women wear saris, and the men, children, and elders communicate in the same languages that we do. However how well do we understand them?
It is assessed that around 20,000-55,000 Siddi people are residing across India and Pakistan. Here, they are primarily settled in Karnataka, Gujarat, and Hyderabad, while in Makran and Karachi in Pakistan. They are Mainly Sufi Muslims, some are Hindus and Roman Catholic Christians as well. Hiriyaru, or the ancestors, is an aspect that connects all of the community people together, irrespective of religion.
Siddis as Indians
At initial look, Siddis stand out due to their physical appearance. Despite having inhabited in India for centuries, the Siddi community has managed to preserve their naturally African characteristics because they marry within their communities. It's very unusual for them to walk down the aisle with an individual from outside of their community. They dress in a similar way as other residents and they communicate in regional languages fluently. Men generally work as drivers or security guards while women remain in the home and their staple foods comprise primarily of rice, dal, and pickles. This popular tribe of India, one of the most extraordinary cultures residing in today's India, is precise of African heritage. It is speculated that this community originally pertained to the Bantu tribe of sub-Saharan Africa.
What did they bring to the nation?
The Sidi Saiyyed Mosque in Ahmedabad was established in 1572 by Sidi Saiyyed, a slave of Sultan Ahmad Shah. In 1987, the Sports Authority of India commenced the Special Area Games Scheme that concentrated solely on training developing athletes from the Siddi community. Before the strategy was abolished in 1993, these athletes symbolized India in the international arena at various times.
Occupations and Livelihoods
Extremely few community members are land-owning farmers. Those who inhabit towns and hamlets are employed in several livelihoods such as driving vehicles and motor repair jobs. Some community members are employed in government services. Child labor does prevail in the community. The volume of informal laborers is rising day by day thanks to landlessness and scarcity of further financial resources. They sell their cash harvests like sugarcane, groundnut, cotton, baajri, etc. to the regional traders. Few of the community members have been assisted by the rural development program for the betterment of agriculture. Firewood, cow dung cakes are their major power resources. Their behavior towards saving is favorable but a vast portion is nonetheless dependent on money lenders.
Acceptance in India
This community was extensively living neglected until the 1980s when they captured the national spotlight for their detected athletic potential. Because of their African heritage, the Sports Authority of India determined that their biological athleticism could be utilized to win medals for India at world sports tournaments. Numerous children of this community were chosen to be trained as athletes once the Special Area Games Project was established. The proposal accomplished generosity for both the Siddi community and the nation. It generated social acknowledgment to Siddis and facilitated them to earn jobs while India won medals. A renowned member of this community, Kamala Mingel Siddi, is still considered as one of the promising national and international Siddi athletes. Unfortunately though, after some years, the policy was cut and Siddis were asked to retreat to their residences and back to their lives as foreigners. Numerous endeavors have been made to revive special sports programs for the Siddi community, regardless, none have been successful.
This community is yet struggling for social acceptance even after inhabiting here for centuries and calling it their home. Such communities need to be supported for a better future with harmony and peace for all.