Siddis are an ethnic group of East African (Bantu tribe) origin inhabiting India and Pakistan for several hundred years now. There are around 250,000 Siddis residing in India, mostly in Karnataka and Gujarat.
The SAG Scheme (1985) by Govt of India
The government at the time believed in creating a program focused exclusively on population groups that were considered to possess a natural advantage over others in particular sports. For example, a Siddi who is of African origin could excel in running, especially long-distance running. A tribal community from Kerala that is adept at boat races could be good at rowing and sailing competitions, and a similar tribal person from Jharkhand could excel at archery. Thus, the Special Area Games (SAG) scheme was launched in 1985. Athletes from the program performed well, garnering state and national records and even participating in international events.
Archer Limba Ram represented India at the Olympics between 1988 and 1996. Juje Jackie Siddi was part of the second batch of SAG trainees, chosen in 1989 for the athletics program. However, the program came to an abrupt halt in 1993. All the good work done for 6 years was thrown out of the window, and it was back to square one. The Siddi athletes had to go back to looking for jobs to ensure their own survival. The program was later revived in 2014, a good 21 years later.
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Ravi Kiran Siddi
“He participated at the Karnataka University Meet last year where he came second. It was unfortunate that he lost the gold medal by 0.04 seconds. Had he qualified, he could’ve participated at the Khelo India University Games. He has plenty of potential. Our next big aim is to see him qualify for the World Athletics Under-20 Championships,” says Nitish Chiniwar, founder of Bridges of Sports, a not-for-profit organisation helping children from tribal communities train in sports.
The Way Forward
NGOs like BoS are doing the right job in trying to uplift one Siddi at a time through sports. Similarly, GOI are doing their bit through the SAG scheme.However, if we are to expect a medal from the Siddi community, it would require a lot more focussed effort from various organisations over a long period of time to create athletes who can compete. Consistency is the key here.
About the author
Abiram Lokanath leads marketing for one of the Big 4s. He is the Co-founder of a Not-For-Profit football club - BTM FC, who are plying their trade in “A” division in the KSFA league. He was also the founder of TAL (The Amateur League). He loves trekking the himalayas and going on long solo rides on his bicycle. While not doing any of these things, he likes to contribute his thoughts and opinions on sports here.
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