A Look into the Siddi Tribes of India: A Pluralistic Analysis

This article tries to support this very idea of the implications of pluralism in India by discussing a case study of the Siddi Tribes of India. It discusses their history and also talks about what their lifestyle looks like all over India. It concludes with discussing tribe policies of India and analyzes if the policies aid the Siddi tribe to be equal Indian citizens.

Pluralism is known to be an interpretation of social diversity (Yumantle, 2014). It is perceived in many stances like cultural, metaphysical, or political but it mainly refers to the interplay of a system of government or organizations that consists of different groups that identify themselves in various ways but co-exist as a whole. Pluralism exists in a system with democracy where different people can voice their opinions and receive equal treatment. In specific, cultural pluralism consists of important aspects like religion, language, and ethnicity that build a person’s identity, and the freedom to practice these aspects freely while coexisting with other different cultures is the main idea of pluralism (Yumantle, 2014). Globalization and migration play a huge role in the pluralistic society which shows us how modernity and pluralism go hand in hand. Furthermore, globalization and migration result in the mixing of different ethnicities and nationalities coexisting together while sharing ideas and maintaining their identities. Ethnic pluralism also comes with the diversity of different religions and languages as people from different cultures identify in their separate ways. Religious pluralism is when every individual in a religiously diverse society is given the freedom and protection to practice a specific religion or not based on what they believe in (White). Western societies have always feared that diverse societies might lead to the disappearance of their main religion but what this leads to is deep pluralization or the recognition of multiple religious ideas and having the freedom to pick and choose what ideas to believe in (Yumantle, 2014). For example, democratic countries like India and the United States freely let people participate in religious activities and festivals even in public institutions. Linguistic pluralism refers to when a community or organization recognizes and uses multiple languages in a diverse society.

A Look into the Siddi Tribes of India: A Pluralistic Analysis

While the concept of pluralism might give way for people to live in a diverse society, the same society is proven to be extremely hierarchical. Even though India is the biggest democracy in the world, its pluralistic values are always under attack as no matter how intersectional the societies evolve into as the idea of equality still has not come into the picture which is the main aspect of a pluralistic society. India has always had a huge history of diversity and migration, various languages and religions which is supported by a democratic system of government and constitution that promises equality and freedom for everyone but looking at the current situation shows us that India is still not yet a proper pluralistic country, no matter how diverse their culture and people are. This article tries to support this very idea of the implications of pluralism in India by discussing a case study of the Siddi Tribes of India. It discusses their history and also talks about what their lifestyle looks like all over India. It concludes with discussing tribe policies of India and analyzes if the policies aid the Siddi tribe to be equal Indian citizens.

A case study of the Siddi tribe

A brief background on the Siddi lifestyle

The people of the Siddi tribe belong to small pockets of isolated groups in Indian states such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, and so on. Experts identified their origin from East Africa, specifically, the Bantu people. They were largely brought for the means of slavery in India by the Arab tribes in the 7th century. This was succeeded by the British later on and other than being brought in as slaves, a lot of them also came to India for the means of work. With the abolishment of slavery in the 18th century, the Africans who were now settled in India fled to the jungle to avoid furthermore social trauma. Since then, they’ve settled in the jungles themselves leading a segregated tribal life. Experts have identified that Siddis were originally called the Habshis which means Abyssinian in Persian. However, the name Siddi was given to only people who belonged to the higher ranks as the name Siddi was possibly derived from the word Sayed, which means master in Arabic. It is unclear about when the switch happened but they are officially recognized with the name Siddi now.

The Siddi tribe may look “African” but they are equal Indian citizens as generations of their tribes have been born and brought up in India. They’ve assimilated into the Indian culture, language, and religion. Their culture currently has transformed into a fusion of their East African origins and Indian culture. They kept their dominant practices in sectors such as music and dance but they also practice regular societal traditions such as marrying within your creed or caste. Moreover, they prominently work in the agricultural sector where the men go out and work on the farms while the women take care of house duties. Men also go for labor such as drivers and security guards to make a little more than the low average the community makes. Pertaining to religion and language, the Siddis dominantly practice Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam but many practices of theirs are shared due to their intersectionality. No matter which religion they practice, they have common events that most Siddis celebrate due to their intersectionality. The event is based on their respective leader and after they fulfill their common practices, they move on to practice their specific religion. Some examples of this intersectionality would be Siddi marriages. Irrespective of their religion, they still have common marriage customs. They also commonly are devotees of Yellama and perform puja even if they belong to different religions. Their importance to the tribe’s common practice also leads them to commonly celebrate Hirayaru every year. While the Siddi tribes themselves have diverse cultures based on their geographic location but the dominant customs remain the same.

Based on their history, it is known that Siddis are dominantly Sufi Muslims and according to experts, this might be because the Mughals employed and influenced their ancestors. This also backs up the dominance of Catholic Siddis in Karnataka due to their ancestors being employed and influenced by the Goan and Portuguese people. Their geographic locations determined their spoken language and due to their high concentrations in Goa, Karnataka, and Maharastra, their main languages are Urdu, Marathi, Konkani, and Hindi. However, due to their diverse backgrounds, they’re bilingual and speak other languages such as Telugu, Swahili, Balochi, Sindhi, Gujarati, Kannada, and so on. They also speak their language called the Siddi Basha.

Current issues and condition of the tribe

While pluralist societies are supposed to foster equality of all citizens socially, economically, and politically, while also enabling their people to express themselves through diverse linguistic, cultural, and religious frameworks but the case study of the Siddi tribe shows that India seems to be lacking on the actuality of pluralism. A country assimilated with so many diverse cultures for generations continues to discriminate against people based on skin color, religion, caste, and creed. While the union government passed a law including the Siddi tribe in the Scheduled Tribes category in 2003 and have also listed them in the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups, they haven’t received major help from the government, leaving them with an extremely segregated and poverty-stricken livelihood. One of the biggest issues of the tribe is that a majority of them are illiterate. While sending kids to school has increased with time, kids have also been dropping out immensely due to discrimination and the lack of opportunity. Girls are discouraged to go to school after reaching puberty leaving them with unfulfilled dreams and marriage at a very young age. Their physical features are often the main form of discrimination in mainstream society, this causes them to not be involved and assimilate with the outside world. This backlash causes them to be stuck in their segregated world with no opportunities to help them grow as a community.

Even the government has not taken up many initiatives to raise awareness about equality and to help them ease into society. A major effect of discrimination has been alcoholism. This widespread problem within the community has affected families immensely due to a large portion of the family income being dedicated to the purchase of alcohol. Alcoholism has also increased ill health, poverty, violence against women, and major neglect of children. Moreover, the tribe mostly working in the agricultural field and the forest field has them working with local merchants who exploit these people and give very low wages due to lack of market facilities. The extraction of forest products such as honey, cinnamon, and soft gum requires hard work and proper materials but the tribe barely receives any money which discourages them from economic development. This leads them to work multiple low-paying jobs and also leads them to continuously take out loan interests from local money lenders. With them not being able to earn enough money to sustain their daily needs and pay off their loans, they get stuck in a cycle of exploitation and low wages that creates a major barrier to the development of the tribe.

Conclusion

In conclusion, pluralism refers to the coexistence of different cultures in a society. While most democratic countries have pluralistic societies due to globalization, hierarchy comes along with it. Pluralism positively affects society by promoting equality and freedom, but it also allows ethnopolitics as dominant cultures have an advantage over the other cultures. As discussed throughout the paper with the example of the Siddi tribe shows how pluralism has its strengths but also has many weaknesses. Currently, activists are working towards forming a Federation of Siddi to aid them to bring the community together and to give them a voice to discuss their issues. A comprehensive development plan will also be implemented to promote the Siddis to assimilate them into the mainstream society and they also plan on implementing furthermore economic reform for the community by strengthening their land and livelihood rights. Additionally, facilities such as schools and societies under the Karnataka Souhrada Sahakari Act will be implemented to support the tribe. Recently, a lot of people have stepped up to support the tribe and take cases to court regarding illegal grabs of land belonging to the people of the tribe. While the progress of development is still slow, the recent wave of awareness and activism has helped with social and economic development for minority groups. People continue to raise awareness about pluralism all over the world in hopes to get rid of the ills of pluralism and push for a more equal and stable society.

Also Read: Tribal Communities in India

References

Neha is currently pursuing a degree in Sociology paired with International Relations and Media Studies. She aspires for a global career as an academic researcher and advocate of humanitarian action. She is deeply passionate about human rights and social justice, and she profoundly researches socio-economics, politics, and public policy to better understand the society and its institutions. One of her biggest accomplishments would be starting a free school in her backyard for kids with no access to education during the pandemic.