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A Community Forgotten And Marginalised: The Siddis Of Gujarat

Human migration can be described as the movement of people from one region to another for various reasons such as lack of employment, diseases, war, etc. People can either choose to move voluntarily or be forced to move by some ruler, trader, landlord, etc.

Migrations have taken place throughout human history, beginning with the movements of the primitive human groups from their origins in East Africa to their current locations within the world. One of the most astonishing examples of immigrants from Africa who settled in another part of the globe is the community of Siddis who migrated to the Indian Subcontinent from the African continent.

The famous Siddi tribe of Gujarat, one of the most unique cultures living in today’s India, is actually of African origin. It is assumed that this community originally belonged to the Bantu tribe of sub-Saharan Africa.

But today they exist as an ethnic group living in different parts of India, predominantly in Gujarat. Slaves from the Eastern and Southern coasts of Africa were taken mainly to the Indian Ocean region, where they were required mainly as domestic servants and bodyguards.

African by origin, Indian by nationality with Gujarati as their language – the Siddi tribe lives in a village called Jambur in the heart of Gujarat. Most of the Siddi population belongs to the Sunni sect of Mohammedanism. But there are some Christian Siddis found in Saurashtra.

Today they appear to be fully Indian but they clearly show the Negroid racial strain, in their physical features. And also some of their customs reflect their African origin. For example, their folk dance which is called “Dhamaal” has some African elements in it.

The first documented record of Siddis in India dates back to 1100 AD when the Siddis settled in Western India. By the thirteenth century, substantial numbers of Siddis were being imported by the Nawabs and therefore the Sultans of India to function soldiers and slaves. The immigrant Siddis came from various parts of the African continent and at different intervals of time.

It is believed that some Siddis interrupted their journey in other countries and even stayed there for many years before they arrived in India. Some came to India from Somalia and Zanzibar via Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other Gulf countries. They lived in those countries for a considerable time working mainly near the ports. They learned their Arabic language too.

siddi tribe of gujarat

They also tried to assimilate their culture which led to the wrong assumption that the Siddis belong to the Gulf nations. But since they arrived in India, the Siddis have assimilated almost all the Indian cultures but they also demonstrate some African traditions too. Some others travelled through the trade routes via the European countries and might have acquired some of their traditions too.

At present, the Siddis are living in the western part of Gujarat. Their main concentration is in the Junagadh district. The government of India has put the Siddis of Gujarat in the list of Scheduled Tribes whereas the Siddis living in other parts of India come under OBC (Other Backward Castes).

According to the 1981 census, the population of the Siddi tribe in India was 54291. But Siddi who is designated as a scheduled tribe is 8662 out of which 4417 are male and 4245 female consistent with census 2001. According to the most recent census of 2011, the current population of the Siddi community in Gujarat is approximately 20,000 to 30,000 individuals.

Occupations And Livelihoods

siddi tribe of gujarat

Very few Siddis are land-owning agriculturists. Those who live in cities and towns are engaged in various occupations such as driving vehicles and motor repair work. Some Siddis are engaged in government services. Child labour does exist in society.

The number of casual labourers is increasing day-by-day thanks to landlessness and lack of other economic resources. They sell their cash crops like sugarcane, groundnut, cotton, baajri (millet), etc. to the local Seths (traders).

Some of the Siddis have been benefited from the rural development program for the development of agriculture. Firewood, cow dung cakes are their main fuel resources. Their attitude towards saving is favourable but a large section is still dependent on money lenders.

The present social condition of the Siddi community is of the marginalized. Most of them are unaware of the economic development of the country and are believed to slowly get assimilated in the local Muslim population because of their close resemblance and small numbers.

In my opinion, it is an irony to say that we are a developing nation because a country where an entire community is forgotten and is marginalized cannot be called a developing nation. Before boasting of the economic growth and capitalizing on communal hatred, our government should focus on backward communities such as the Siddis of Gujarat and work towards the social and economic improvement of such classes of our society.

There are several other communities in India whose social condition is very similar to that of the Siddis of Gujarat; for example, the Gondi tribe of central India, who are still engaged in tribal customs. The government should implement programs to spread the awareness of development among such communities.

References and Sources:

    • Indians of African Origin – D.K. Bhattacharya
    • Siddi: Primitive Tribal Group – gujarat.gov.in/siddi
    • The Siddis: African Descendants in India
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