Siddis or Sidis, sometimes called Sidi Badshahs, residing mainly in Saurashtra bear the testimony of the rich maritime trade Gujarat had since several centuries with the african land lying on the other side of the Arabian sea. Now immersed with the Gujarati cultural landscape, genetically aligned to the DNA of Bantu people from Africa siddis also demonstarte the existeance of slave trade in the past,
Siddis appear to have reached shores of Gujarat and present-day Pakistan on the maritime ships either as labourers on the ships or more likely as slaves from Abyssinia (Ethiopia of today) – that is from where the word ‘habshi’ come from. Total population of Siddi’s is estimated to be around 8,50,000 individuals.
In Gujarat, major concentration of Siddi’s had been in some districts of Saurashtra region. As per the 2011 census, siddi population in six districts of Saurashtra was 8611 from 3645 in 1961. Often economically and socially marginalised as a community, Siddi’s residing in the six districts of Junagadh namely Junagadh, Jamnagar, Rajkot, Surendranagar, Bhavnagar and Amreli are included as Scheduled Tribes.
However, some of the leaders of the community rue the fact that the siddis settled outside of these Six original districts and the carved out districts from them are not considered as Scheduled Tribe. There are around 50,000 Siddi’s residing in parts of Gujarat other than those whose resident Siddi’s are considered STs.
The Siddi leaders argue that since they are not considered STs despite being from the same ethnic group, they are left out from various government schemes addressed to the scheduled tribes communities. Now, they are putting in efforts to convince the government to include all the persons of Siddi origin to be included into the Scheduled Tribe.
Now in various trades and businesses, the Siddis also perform their ‘Dhamal’ dance and ‘Goma’ dance in the various resorts around Gir. It has become kind of customary for the Saurashtra hosts to show the Siddi dance to their distinguished guests.
Famous Siddis of the past include Malik Ambar (1548 – 13 May 1626), a Siddi military leader and prime minister who became a kingmaker and de facto ruler of the Ahmadnagar Sultanate in the Deccan. Siddis once ruled Bengal as the Habshi dynasty of the Bengal Sultanate. Another famous Siddi is the Sidi Saiyyad in the service of Bilal Jhajar Khan, general in the army of the Sultan Muzaffar Shah III of the Gujarat Sultanate, who built Sidi Saiyyad Mosque in Ahmedabad in 1572.