The Siddi communities also known as Sheedi or Habshi are a small and shy community who migrated from Bantu people, Southeast Asia, 300 years back. This community has an estimated population of 50,000-60,000 in India. They are mostly confined to North Karnataka as well as Karvar and Sirsi in Karnataka and parts of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra pradesh. Siddis maximum population stays in Gujarat, tribes are settled down in Karnataka and AP. In Mumbai, there are only 8-10 families who are settled down. Few percentage of population has settled in Pakistan, Sindh and Balochistan. They speak in Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Urdu, kannada and konkani. Mostly Siddis are Sufi Muslims, where some are Hindus and rest are Roman Catholic Christians.
Many people from this community don’t know their proper origin. They only know that their ancestors were in India in 7th century due to which the present generation is staying in India. Siddis are mistaken as Africans by other citizens of the country because of their dark skin, curlicues of hair, snub nose and thick lips. In Mumbai, people were not renting out house to Siddis as they look like Africans and they faced lot of racism. Because of this they don’t feel united or comfortable. Sometimes they are even compared to chimpanzees.
Gir is home to the last remaining unknown-tribes, Siddi. Siddis landed on the shores of India as slaves of Arab and Portuguese merchants. Small number of population arrived as merchants and sailors. The Siddis in Gir were slaves to the Nawab of Junagadh who received them as gifts from the Portuguese. Eventually, Siddis were settled in village called Sirwan, which was gifted by the Nawab. They keep their culture alive by music and dance.
The sports authority of India had launched a pro-gram in 1980’s to tap the potential players so that they can participate in the 1984 Olympics. They travelled without slipper. They started getting trained. The siddi kids routinely started gettinuy g medals at the district, state and national levels.
Players like Kamala Babu Siddi (15), is a national record holder in the junior girl’s pentathlon. Kamala said showing her Olympics blazer (South Asian Federation Games, 1993)- ” This is from my first international meet, I didn’t really know about the specifics of the kit given by the government but I just knew that I wanted to wear the Indian color. Many people asked for it but it’s not something that you part with even after you die.” Philip Anthony Siddi, took part in 800M at Nehru Stadium in Delhi. Carl Lewis was the first player among Siddis to represent nation abroad. This pro gramme improved financial status of Philip as he could buy 2-acre plot and without sports he would have been nobody. In 1993, suddenly all players were given letter and asked to go back to their respective countries in spite of performing well. No body knew the reason as why the pro gramme got cancelled? Few people cried and went back and few stayed back in India.
Because they are know through sports, Siddis who stayed back in India spoke to government to restart SAG program. They started with few number of athletes. When ever Olympics gets telecasts on television; Kenyans, Tanzanians, Ethiopians or Somalians ( From East Africa) are seen so energetic that despite any resources they come right on top in the medal tally. That gap has to be reduced when it comes to the comparison of Siddis and East African players.
At present Dandeli has full fledged special area game center for young Siddi talent. The first batch of athletes are being groomed at the Loyola school in Mundgod (Uttara Karnataka) for 2024 Olympics.
In my opinion, like other communities in India, Siddi community should also get their right and be included in the backward community list atleast, to get recognition and for lifting the nations flag high by participating in Olympics. Siddi community should also get a social status where people leave their stigma and give equal job opportunity as well apart from sports. The situation is always going to be tricky when we try to differentiate between Africans and Siddis.
Long story short, they should get Indian citizenship plus all the equal rights that constitute has provided to the rest of the Indian community.