Activists favour grant of Scheduled Tribe status to Siddis across Karnataka

The state has the largest concentration of the Afro-Indian community but ST status is granted to them in only 1 district

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Friday 08 February 2019
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Collage Credit: Vijayendra Pratap Singh/CSE Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Collage Credit: Vijayendra Pratap Singh/CSE

Activists favour the granting of Scheduled Tribe (ST status) to Siddis, South Asia’s unique African-origin, all over the state of Karnataka, which has the largest population of the community.

“I have been recommending that the ST status to Siddis should be extended to the entire state rather than just one district,” Kiran Kamal Prasad from the Bengaluru-based non-profit, Jeevika, told Down To Earth (DTE).

The Karnataka government recently sent a formal proposal to the Union government to recognise the Siddis of Belagavi and Dharwad districts as STs.

In Karnataka, the Siddis are located around the Yellapur, Haliyal, Ankola, Joida, Mundagod and Sirsi taluks of Uttara Kannada district. But they are also found in the Khanapur taluk of Belagavi and Kalagatgi of Dharwad district, which are contiguous to Uttara Kannada. According to latest estimates, there are around 3,700 Siddi families in the state, with a total population of 17,000-18,000.

“The Siddis have been excluded from the status in these two districts as a result of pure bureaucratic oversight,” says Prasad. “However, I feel that today, given the fact that the Siddi population is spread across the state, this status should be extended likewise because they are still backward in many respects,” he added.

There are various theories regarding the arrival of Black Africans in the Indian Subcontinent, with most ascribing it to them being brought as slaves and soldiers from East Africa by the Arabs, the Portuguese and the British as part of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade. Today, they are divided into three distinct groups namely the Sheedi in Pakistan’s Sindh province, the Siddis in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and the city of Hyderabad and the Ceylon Kaffirs in Sri Lanka.

In India, the Union government on January 8, 2003, classified Siddis under the list of Scheduled Tribes. They are also recognised as STs in Amreli, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Junagadh, Rajkot and Surendranagar districts of Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka (Uttara Kannada district) and the Union Territory of Daman & Diu.

“A lot of Gujarati Siddis have migrated in recent times to Mumbai,” says Prasad. In Hyderabad, where they arrived as soldiers of the Asif Jahis (Nizams), the Siddi community has resided near the Masjid Rahmania. Their status in Maharashtra, Telangana and Karnataka is what activists seek to change.  

“They are included in the Centre’s list of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups. They are a very fragile community. They need official support in the form of affirmative action the most,” noted tribal rights activist, Ganesh Devy told DTE.

Devy also explained the process of conferring ST status in India. “The notification of any community as ST is the prerogative of the state government,” he said. “But the state informs the Centre about any such notification so that the said community can get benefits under central schemes as such schemes are largely theoretical.” If the state sends an erroneous notification, the Centre can draw its attention to the frivolousness of the notification.

It is also binding upon the state government to inform the President, who is the constitutional head of the Republic of India, about any such notification, said Devy.   

Under Section 342(1) of the Indian Constitution, the President will, with respect to any state or Union Territory, after consultation with the Governor, by a public notification, specify a tribe as Scheduled Tribe in relation to that state or Union Territory.

Which is what is happening right now in the Karnataka case. The proposal received by the Centre from the Karnataka government is awaiting clearance. Once this is done, the Union government will issue a special order and include it in the Central Gazette. 

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