Run with the Siddis

A documentary reveals how a change in sports policy affected the fate of an African-origin community of India

In the first shot, a little boy merges naturally in the environs of a picturesque Indian village. In the second, another one looks through a window in melancholic silence, caged. The cinematic metaphor fits in easily as the Siddis, who this documentary is about, are Indian citizens of African origin living in the country for centuries but caged by stereotyping and harassment.

Juje Jackie Harnodkar Siddi with a fresh batch of Siddi athletes
Juje Jackie Harnodkar Siddi with a fresh batch of Siddi athletes

The film follows Juje Jackie Harnodkar Siddi as he narrates the everyday struggles of the community in India. Why do they prefer living in the villages and jungles as opposed to cities? And how an initiative to showcase the community’s talent was later shelved.

On track
This film, Siddis: In It For The Long Run, is part of 101 Traces, an ongoing initiative to bring to the limelight fascinating stories of dwindling or forgotten communities in the country. The previous story in the series was on the Chinese community in Mumbai. The next film will trace the life of a Parsi man, who still repairs typewriters.

Siddi children in a still from the documentary
Siddi children in a still from the documentary

Released on June 2, it places issues of racism in context, given the recent violence on Africans in the country. Media guru Cyrus Oshidar, the spokesperson for the film, however, clarifies that it was not the intention.

Juje Jackie Harnodkar Siddi
Juje Jackie Harnodkar Siddi

“Though the release of our film is around the same time as a few heinous attacks on Africans, the timing is coincidental. In the film, the problem of racism does emerge as our protagonist tells the story of his life, but it is only a part of the story,” Oshidar says.

Kamala Basu Siddi is among the many athletes from the community, who were touted as India’s Olympic hopefuls in the 1980s and 1990s

We come to know from the film that in the 1980s, a programme was set up by then Union Minister of Youth and Sports and Women and Child Development, Margaret Alva, to nurture athletes from the community as African origin athletes have done remarkably well in world platforms. There was an effort to train athletes from among the Siddis. A lot of them started doing well too, winning at national and international levels.

Cyrus Oshidar
Cyrus Oshidar

“The film covers the Special Area Games (SAG) Scheme for Siddis. We have focussed on how people, who were part of the programme, were trained and some even represented the country in international games and won awards. A lot of people do not know what the programme is and what it was meant for originally, since it was discontinued is 1993. Although the programme restarted last year in principle, nothing has really moved yet,” Oshidar says.
The film makes a strong case for restarting the SAG programme that saw a rise in fortunes and offered a platform to showcase the talent of the tiny community of Indian Africans.

Who are the Siddis?

The Siddis were originally brought into the Indian Subcontinent by the Portuguese as slaves towards the end of the 17th century. Today, the community can be found across the states of Karnataka, Gujarat and Hyderabad.

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