Dynamics of Ethnic Identity Among the Siddis of Hyderabad

In: African and Asian Studies


The existing commercial contact between India and Africa since prehistoric times grew substantially since the rise of Islam in the 7th century, leaped to its climax during the middle ages and continued until the second half of the 20th century. This commercial relationship involved the trade in humans from Africa to Asia. Many African war captives were sold as slaves in India to serve as domestics and infantries among the aristocracy of rising Islamic kingdoms while some emigrated by free will and settled in India engaging in various occupations. Descendants of African slaves and immigrants, who are locally known as Siddis, presently live in various geographical pockets of India forming their own ethnic enclaves amidst their host societies. The main Siddi communities in India are located in Gujarat, Hyderabad, Karnataka, in the Bombay region and along the western coast, including Goa. The Siddis of Hyderabad, like the other Siddi communities are changing fast, yielding to modern demands and trends. National and global pressures strongly militate against their tradition and change in their identity has been inevitable. As a result of their intermarriage with other ethnic communities and adoption of either Indian or Arab identities, today's Siddis have little resemblance to their predecessors. This study shows that the Siddis are moving in divergent directions of assimilation. Many Moslem Siddis are assimilating into the Yemeni Arab community of Hyderabad while Christian Siddis identify themselves with the Indian Christian population. Moslem and Christian Siddis are accused by each other as being pro-Pakistan Islamic radicals and 'Hindu nationalism' adherents respectively. The Siddis, although historically constituted a single ethnic community, are in the process of a significant identity change by joining two ideologically differing groups.

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