It was between the 16th and the 19th century that the colonising Portuguese brought to India people of the Southeast African Bantu community. Captured and enslaved by the Europeans, about 50,000 members of the community still call Goa and Karnataka their home, long after the Europeans left. Today, they are known as the Siddis—the descendants of the Bantu tribe.
The Siddi people might have embraced Karnataka as their home, but they still live under the shadows of stigma and stereotypes. Seeing a Siddi sends off alarm bells inside a prejudiced mind—a clear sign that we may have come a long way from our colonised past and embraced the twenty-first century, but somewhere in our hearts, we are still stuck in the quagmire of preconceptions and biases.
While educating the masses and spreading awareness about the dangers of baseless stereotypes is crucial, a not-for-profit organisation in Uttara Kannada district of Karnataka is empowering the impoverished community through sports.
Bengaluru’s Bridges of Sports (BoS) is working to bring into light the history, culture and deeply embedded roots of the Siddis in India.
Explaining the cultural background of the Siddis in India, Nitish Chiniwar who founded BoS said, “Most of the athletes hail from an Indo-African tribal community called the Siddis based out of Mundgod, Karnataka and have struggled even for basic amenities due to lack of resources, barriers to social inclusion, and other opportunities.”
Nitish further explains that studies show that Siddis in Karnataka, much like in other parts of India, have remained isolated, economically and socially neglected, and predominantly settled in forest dwellings. BoS, through its community athletics league, scouts talented children from such underserved communities and provides them with a curated athlete pathway.”
Founded in September 2016, the NGO has mentored around 1,800 children and teenagers in various sports.
From athletics to team sports, the coaches take responsibility of the students in a manner that they improve their gait, diet, and physique to excel in the sport of their choice. Most of the young beneficiaries belong to families who work as plantation labour or coolies on railway platforms. What Bridges of Sports hopes to achieve is to exploit the natural ability of these kids and train them as sportsperson so the cycles of working menial jobs and earning a meagre income break.
18-year-old Ravikiran Franci Siddi, who has been associated with the NGO for over a year tells TBI that it was a chance encounter that brought the NGO and him together. “They had come here to audition another boy for athletics. He was a friend of mine and suggested I participate too. I ran the test 100 metre race and impressed BoS. Today, I train with 14 other athletes from the Siddi community and 10 Kannadigas. BoS has taken care of my diet and provide me with the dairy, dry-fruits, protein and fresh fruits required to maintain my physique.
It was a stroke of luck that helped me associate with them and now I hope to take athletics as a career and represent India on an international platform.”
Both of Ravikiran’s parents are farm labourers but his newfound passion has given them hope that Ravikiran would be a professional athlete and not a menial worker.
“Almost all of them had no prior training or exposure to athletics before our intervention. They belong to families who work hard to make ends meet. Through the program, these children are enrolled in a residential school, that we have partnered with, where they receive formal education and conditioning, beside the daily sports training,” says Nitish
Today, one in every four children have won medals at taluk and district levels. This program has also played a crucial role in reigniting hope for the Siddi community, who believe that sports could be their ticket to the mainstream society and would help alleviate poverty,” the 29-year-old adds.
To give children a chance to excel in sports, Nitish not only trained coaches to understand the basics of strength but also clarified to the children that stamina and speed are not the only two factors that matter in sports. Nutrition, mental health, and sports psychology play crucial roles in the training of these young athletes.
So sports became the avenue through which the disadvantaged children improved their diets, their mental well-being, and hygiene along with their athletics.
Now, 1,800 athletes strong, BoS hopes to pull the Siddi community out of their impoverished status one athlete at a time and thus help them rise above the stereotypes surrounding them. We must look beyond the lenses given to us by a prejudiced society and embrace different cultures. But through sports and social upliftment, NGOs like the BoS are also extending us a helping hand to #EndTheStereotype.
This story is part of The Stereotypeface Project, an initiative by The Better India that challenges 26 stereotypes, which continue to exist even today. We are showcasing these stereotypes through all the letters of the English language alphabet.
Stereotypes exist everywhere — they are passed down over generations. Instead of embracing and celebrating what makes us unique, we stand divided because of them!
We’ve unconsciously learned to stereotype, now let’s consciously #EndTheStereotype.
Visit www.stereotypes.in to know more about the campaign and support the effort!
How can you support this campaign?
1. Follow this thread on Twitter or Facebook
2. Re-Tweet / Re-share the stereotypeface that you would like to put an end to
3. Use #EndTheStereotype and tag @TheBetterIndia
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)