It is likely that Sidis have been in the region of Gujarat for many hundreds of years, with new immigrants aniving from different Akcan origins over the passage of time. Their contribution to the history of the region is not in doubt, at least as far as the academics are concerned (eg Commissariat 1938, 1957, 1980; Harris 1971; Ali 1996; Alpers 2000). On the ground, it may be a rather different story, illustrating that refmed arguments based on carefully researched details in books and journals may be going largely unheeded. It is quite possible that the majority of Gujaratis are unaware of the Sidis in their midst.As this community has been neglected and not expected this community and also by the looks and they are always treated as slaves. . The term habshi seems to be more easily recognised by non-Sidis, or sometimes the conjoined Sidi-badshah. The word badshah literally means ’emperor’, but seems open to dual interpretation: on the one hand, it harks back to a time when the Sidis were employed as soldiers and guards by Sultans and Nawabs, and is therefore said to imply a carefree disposition on the part of the Sidis. On the other, it may be used with ironic intention, making fun of their condition of poverty.sidis as were brought as salves and they are always kept backward than other citizen in the cityor any place they belong. showing contempt towards black people: the Sidis I asked did not recognise any bad sense in the use of the word. Sidis themselves recognised that Gujaratis use the word KaaDiyo as an insulting term for black people behind their backs.I3A number of misconceptions and prejudices about Sidis seem to be quite prevalent, some encountered among even well-educated Gujaratis whom one would expect to know better. A short ‘tentative’ film script proposed by a student of the prestigious National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad Their community lived a primitive but free life in the deep forest of the African Continent.They ones observed other kind of people coming to there continent . But it proved harmfull for there existence yhis other people were the west people who came to salve them . They also recognized their power and faithfulness. .. White people with help of strong powehl weapons, took over the Black people.. . Black people became slaves of the whites. They were heated brutally.. . A big group of such Black people was also taken as far as India.. . The land of grey people. First there seems to be an absurd ignorant notion in some quarters that Africans are all primitive creatures of the deep forest, as if this were their ‘natural habitat’ and Africa were entirely forested with no towns and cities. This finds expression in, for example Chauhan (1995: 234) on runaway slaves from Goa: ‘Being attracted by the forest regions, they formed their first destination there.’ (A more straightforward explanation would be that the forest was remotely located and offered cover from pursuit). Likewise: ‘These people are originally from jungles so the jungles of Gir may have attracted them.. .’ (Malkan 1957). Some Gujaratis would seem to think that Sidis gravitated to the environs of Gir forest, because, well, there are lions there, the only lions outside Africa, so it must be the natural habitat for Africans! The above pe scenario also would propagate another series of misconceptions, based on the notion that the Sidis were all brought to India by the ‘Europeans’ as slaves. While many slaves were indeed brought latterly by the Portuguese (and arelatively small number by the British and Dutch too), it is known that Arabs were engaged in the slave trade for centuries before these European powers even knew to navigate the Indian 0cean.’* Thus the duration of the history of African presence in India is very much greater than this ‘European’ assumption would im ply. In practice, ‘Europeans’ is often understood to mean that the Sidis were all brought by ‘the British’, which is somewhat misleading. This tendency to blame all the slavery on the Europeans also overlooks the complicity in slaving of many Gujarati (including Kutchi) traders, who were active in East Africa centuries before the Europeans (eg Harris 1971: 62; Mehta 2000). The sole emphasis on slavery overlooks the possibility that many Africans came freely, as seafarers, merchants and traders in their own right. Another example, from a book extolling ‘The Glory of Gujarat’ (Vyas 1998: 301): The Sidis were originally the habitants of the forests of Afiica. The whites caught them and sold them to European countries as slaves. They are dark black in complexion, their lips are very thick, nose flat and their hair are curly.16 Beyond the aforementioned errors, this example illustrates the classic stereotyping of Sidis that prevails: whereas in reality, there are many Sidis who are quite fair, and plenty of Indians with fat lips and flat noses. This illustrates a kmd of mentality that one would hope should belong firmly in the past, along with anthropometry studies (cf. Choudhury 1958: Plate caption ‘Negroid Sidhi with very thick lips’). It is also related to the prevalent myth that there has been virtually no intermarriage between Sidis and Indians: eg ‘Ethnically they have maintained their negroid features as they marry within the group’ Such language even finds its way into the official Government literature. The first thing the Tribal Sub-Plan Annual Development Programme has to say about Sidis is: Siddis is the only scheduled tribe possessing completely Negroid racial traits. They are strongly built, tall, black and curely hair protruding jaw, and thick black lips. Unfortunately, such simplistic understanding and misinformation about Sidis is being purveyed and perpetuated even by the authorised Gujarat state school textbooks: And more, there are the black Siddis found mainly in the Gir forest area in Saurashtra. Jarnbur near Jafarabad is their main centre. They are followers of Islam. It is believed that people of this race were originally from Afiica brought over to this region as slaves by the Europeans in the past. They are black in appearance and have thick lips, with flat, broad nose, and kinky hair. They have a traditional folk dance called Dhamal which is a delight to watch. . Apart from the points already covered, it is perhaps slightly misleading to refer to Jambur as ‘their main centre’: in terms of Sidi population, Jarnbur has the largest of any village in Saurashtra or indeed in Gujarat, and there is an important shrine of Nagarchi pir located there. However the Sidis’ main spiritual centre is the Dargah [tomb] of Bava Gor in Ratanpur village, Rajpipla. Sidis are also portrayed as ignorant and having no interest in education: eg ‘The Siddi have a real aversion for fonnal education. They prefer to lead a carefree life’ ‘It is evident that the backwardness [in literacy] of Jambur is not due to isolation of the habitat nor to any geographic reason but must be ascribed to the apathy of Siddis themselves’ . Such accounts are quite unfair, being typical of prejudice against poor people who, however much they might value education, may have little choice but to engage their children in work; there is also the possibility that the quality of formal education actually available was very low. It should also be mentioned that some of the recurring stereotypes about Sidis are complimentary, though sometimes a little patronising in their ritual expression, or mixed in their message: ‘Though their outside appearance and physical features may initially give us a scare, they are, however, by nature very polite, humble, well- behaved and soft-spoken’ . Positive images include the beliefs that Sidis are strong, honest, loyal and faithful . The belief in the strength of the Sidis finds expression in a couple of phrases mentioned by Mastar ‘Habshi-ki muuth’ and ‘Habshi-ka baal b~ka’.’~ The first of these translates literally as ‘Habshi’s grip’, implying a strong hold on something. The second proved more difficult to translate unambiguously, but may mean something like ‘you can’t hurt.habshi.
Black is Beautiful
There is a saying: ‘Sidibhai ne Sidka wahla’ (also mentioned by Malkan 1957: 238). The direct translation is roughly: ‘To a Sidi, his children are dear’. What does such a proverb signify about Gujarati attitudes towards Sidis Black is beautiful!
There is another saying or proverb in Gujarati referring to Sidis, originating in the, if anything? The saying is sometimes elaborated as a story: A King asked a Sidi to select several of the best children in the kingdom and bring them to him. So the Sidi went off to search for them. The Sidi went on and on and round and round and round, and couldn’t make up his mind. Ultimately he landed upon his own children, and realising they were the best, brought his own children to the King. In some ways, this ‘proverb’ is like a Gujarati version of the Shakespearian: ‘Love is blind’.
The problem with the expression is that it seems to be founded on a racist supposition, that Sidi children are self-evidently inferior. There is a further problem of interpretation here: if an Indian says that an African is not beautiful, is that simply because they are dark-skinned. In India, as indeed in Afica too, there is a lamentably widespread belief that fair skin is more beautiful than dark, so much so that precious income is spent on cosmetic creams that promise to lighten the skin. However, this widespread belief that lighter-coloured skin is more beautiful is no more sinister than notions among fair-skinned Westerners that a tan is more beautiful. It was pointed out that there are many such sayings in Gujarati, which make their point at the expense of some or other group within Gujarat: so, in that sense that Siddis are treated badly. Curiously, the Sidis did not immediately find fault in their skin tone for them it expressed above all the commendable fact that parents will love their children no matter what. But among non-Sidis, opinions vary as to whether the expression has offensive overtones.
Among those who find no problem with it are the well-educated people who want people to understand that it is not merely the color, but features and most importantly strength which defines them.
In Ahmedabad, the people of Siddi community mainly reside in the older parts of the city. Whenever they move out to the other areas of the city, people generally consider them as ‘Africans’ due to their skin colour.