Meet the Siddis, India’s Lost African Tribe
With the Black Lives Matter protests and wave of racial and social injustices against the Black community surfacing around the world, most of us Indians see this as a remote issue. People on social media are trending this topic. In India, the Siddi community faces the same racism. The freedom to choose how one wants to live seems to be an unattainable ideal for a large part of humanity.
This article discusses the lives of the Siddi community in our country. Beginning from their history, their culture and their situation in the current scenario. The racism they go through every day just because of their physical appearance. It is quit hypocritic of people in India sharing Black lives matter when in their own country there are people going through racism. The problem is that there is very little information about them most people don’t even know about their existence. Articles like these may help educate people more about them.
The unrest growing across the world with the Black Lives Matter movement is in response to the death of the 46-year-old African American man George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May which was triggered by police brutality against black people. The Black Lives Matter hashtag has been trending and the rising protests are rapidly gaining in international attention and momentum. With this, we are reminded of some uncomfortable truths closer to home. In the wake of India’s own inherent issues of casteism, racism and the heart-breaking stories of migrants that we have seen and heard recently, there are so many cases of coercion depending upon the cast or race they belong to. Diverse India’s socio-cultural is filled with relegation and coercion. Several marginal clusters are persecuted persistently at the order of prevailing power structures. The Siddi community with a population of more than 20,000 of an African-origin ethnic tribe is one such minority group. They are living in total anonymity in India for centuries. They are our very own country’s harboured tribe of African descent. These Siddi people are living a life of hardships and oppression. Most of us won’t even know about them but they do exist and, in every way, the Siddis are ‘Indian citizens’.
Siddis are believed to the descendants of the Bantu people in East Africa and according to Census 1931, Siddi, as a category, was used to refer to Africans who, under British imperial surveillance in the nineteenth century arrived in India through the ports of Bombay. These communities continue to be categorised as ‘Siddi’ in contemporary official government documents such as the Indian Census. There were also the Several Siddis came to the subcontinent as traders and sailors. Although, many Siddis were either military conscripts or domestic slaves, The chronicle stating that Siddis are the descendants of slaves tends to represent them in that way which is the reason behind the foreignness and variance of present-day communities with associations to African peoples.
The African Indian communities in India trace their origin back to times when people, mostly indentured labourers from different countries across the African subcontinent, were forcefully made to immigrate to India by the imperialists. In India, the first Siddis are thought to have arrived in 628 AD at the Bharuch port. Then the followers of the first Arab Islamic conquest of the subcontinent had arrived in 712 AD.Then an army of soldiers who came with Muhammad bin Qasim’s Arab and were called Zanjis are believed to be the second group of Siddis to come to India.
The Deccan Sultanates also brought Siddis as slaves to India. Siddis were used as domestic slaves by wealthy Arab families as well, most prominently in the princely state of Hyderabad in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By navigating travel networks established by kinship ties with families already living on the subcontinent or who held positions in the British military several Siddis also arrived in India of their own desire. The Portuguese, later, on brought the Siddi population in addition via Bantu peoples from Southeast Africa as slaves. Later most of these migrants became Muslim and a small minority became Hindu. The Siddi got the recognition as a scheduled tribe in 3 states and 1 union territory: Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka and Daman and Diu. Their main population is, however, concentrated in Junagadh district.
Siddi communities, although classified as a tribe by the Indian government (in order to receive benefits), primarily live in agricultural communities where men are responsible for farming and women are responsible for the home and children. Outside of their communities, men also tend to be employed as farmhands, drivers, manual laborers, and security guards.
The dressing fashion is typically Indian of women and men. For instance, Siddi women wear colourful saris and don bindis. Men wear what is generally appropriate for men in their communities. The Siddi community thrive through their traditional song and dance — an integral part of their cultural identity. Manuel is a farmer in Mainalli village in Karnataka’s Uttar Kannad district. In his free time, Manuel gives free dance workshops to local children so that they can pass on the Siddi culture to the next generation.
The Sports Authority of India decided to begin a Special Area Games Project to give professional training to the Siddi children in the year 1980s. This was to turn their athletic abilities, owing to their African origin, into national achievements.
Living in obscurity for centuries, the Siddi people are living a life of hardships and oppression. Due to a lack of opportunities, they are majorly forced to work as farmers, leading their lives constantly foreshadowed by poverty. The lack of educational opportunities is another obstacle that adds to their bothered position of sense of an outsider in their own country. They are They live in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka in India. They self-identify as Indians – they speak local languages, wear native clothing and tail all the same local customs and traditions, but still, they are widely regarded as ‘outsiders’ and live together in small communities in rural areas and wastelands just because of their physical appearance. They still struggle to be acknowledged as Indian citizens. They have faced racism throughout their life. Now, the Siddi people are one such example of a legacy which have reduced to just some lost pages of Indian history. Although, there are things changing for them like the Special Area Games Project which was made to train Siddi children in athletics. Recently, Shantharam Budna Siddi, a 55-year-old African-origin Siddi tribal, is elated on being nominated as a Karnataka Legislative Council (MLC) member by Governor Vajubhai Vala. This is just a few initial steps but it’s not enough. We need more policies especially for them, to uplift them and provide them the rights that they deserve.
Siddis’ history is India is hard to track mostly because of the lack of interest shown by the government authorities and fellow citizens. However, some of the markers indicating their importance in history is still nurtured in the form of architecture. The beautifully carved tree-of-life latticework into the stone windows of Sidi Sayed Mosque, Ahmedabad, is one of the finest examples of their craftsmanship. The community is still struggling to get land rights and mark their presence at the higher positions in the hierarchy. The inclusion of a tribe member as MLC may bring some hope and change for the community.
As Indians, can we recall a single incident of our encounter with people of color where our minds were not crossed by the ‘N’ word, or feelings of unsettlement, paranoia and prejudice based on assumptions associated with people of color passed on to us by society? The problem of racism and the oppression of communities based on the color of their skin has always been there, but now it has become even more exigent.
Institutional and individual racism is not just a problem for societies across oceans, but a very deeply rooted issue in our own nation, and now is the time to work towards fixing it. It is upon us, the youth of the nation, to change the narrative and dismember these stereotypes.
Q1.Who are the Siddis?
Q2. Are Siddis Indian citizens?
Q3. When did they come to India?
Q4. What is their current situation in India?
Q5. What culture do they follow?
 Mamdani, ‘The Sidi: An Introduction,’ 16.
 Mamdani, ‘The Sidi: An Introduction,’ 9.
 Ali, The African Dispersal in the Deccan, 193.
 Padma, ‘Histories from Fragments’.
 Shah, Anish M.; et al. (15 July 2011). “Indian Siddis: African Descendants with Indian Admixture”. American Journal of Human Genetics.