African-origin Siddi tribal elated on becoming Karnataka lawmaker

Bengaluru, July 23 (IANS) Shantharam Budna Siddi, a 55-year-old African-origin Siddi tribal, is elated on being nominated as a Karnataka Legislative Council (MLC) member by Governor Vajubhai Vala.

“It is an honour to represent our tribal community in the legislative council but to serve everybody. Service to people is service to God,” a beaming Siddi told IANS on phone in Kannada and Hindi from his village Hitalahalli near Yallapur taluk in Uttara Kannada coastal district.

Yellapur is 425 kms northwest of Bengaluru in the southern state.

Siddi is among 5 persons nominated on Wednesday to the upper house to fill vacancies caused after the term of the incumbents lapsed in the 75-member legislative council.

The four others are former ministers A.H. Vishwanath and C.P. Yogeeshwar, academician Talwar Sabanna and BJP women's wing president Bharathi Shetty.

“I am grateful to the state government for giving our community a voice in the legislature and an opportunity to make laws for the benefit of all,” said Siddi.

First in the community to graduate in BA, Siddi is the secretary of Vanavasi Kalyana Ashram, which he joined as a young cadre in 1989.

“Though I had an offer to join as a school teacher on graduating, I preferred to do farming in our agriculture field and work for the welfare of my community,” Siddi recalled.

Siddi, however, runs a common hostel for tribal boys and girls in his village so that they could study well and become independent.

“The Siddis are an ethnic group who descended from the Bantu-speaking people of South-East Africa and were brought to India by Portuguese merchants 400 years ago,” Yellapur local body official D.G. Hegde told IANS.

Though they are a small community of 6,000 people, with a majority of them dwelling in the forest fringes across the Western Ghats, the Siddis have their own identity, language (Siddi bhasha), culture and food habits.

“Like their ancestors, Siddis sport thick curly hair and are dark in complexion. They are strong and healthy. Many of them work as labourers in plantations and agricultural fields,” pointed out Hegde.

The state government has recognised the Siddi community as a Scheduled Tribe for extending its benefits, including reservation in education and jobs, besides voting rights.

“As a member of the Western Ghats conservation task force, Siddi has been working for the welfare of other tribal communities like Gaulis and Lambanis in rural and forest areas over the years,” added Hegde.



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