Author: James Micklem
Title: Sidis in Gujarat
The Sidis, Indians of African descent, are a tiny minority in Gujarat: better estimates of their population in the state are expected from a currently on-going census, but the total is probably around ten to twelve thousand. It is likely that Sidis have been in the region for many hundreds of years, with new immigrants arriving from different African origins over the passage of time. In the past, some Sidis rose to important positions, yet the Sidis are now considered by the Gujarat administration as among the most backward minorities. Few Gujaratis are even aware of the presence of Sidis, let alone their important contributions to the history of the region. One of several prominent Sidis in the history of Gujarat is Sidi Saiyad, who built a mosque in Ahmedabad that is famous for the unique artwork of its perforated windows Galiyo) carved in stone. One of these, known as the Sidi Saiyad jali, is almost a symbol of the city of Ahmedabad, if not the state of Gujarat itself. Yet there is widespread ignorance, even among the well-educated, that this monument was built by an African. Surprisingly, even those who know about the Sidi community often fail to make the obvious connection to the name Sidi Saiyad. Perhaps Sidis can reclaim this symbol of their heritage, as one way to raise their status in Gujarat and elsewhere in India. The Sidis of six districts in Rajkot Division of Saurashtra have been designated as a Scheduled Tribe (ST) since 1956, which brings various benefits in forms of financial assistance, and especially reserved places for educational institutions and government jobs. Along with four other tribal groups, these Sidis have since 1982 been further accorded the status of 'Primitive' group, which entitles them to additional financial assistance from the government. For the Sidis living elsewhere in Gujarat, an important issue has been their wish to be recognised as ST like the Sidis of Saurashtra, if not as 'Primitive' group too, and their as yet unsuccessful struggles to obtain this status.