Ahmedabad: Last week, Chitravad village near Talala town of Gir-Somnath district was abuzz with activities as hundreds of children belonging to Siddis, an African-origin tribe living around the Gir forest, competed against one another to prove their inherited and rustic talent.
The Sports Authority of Gujarat (SAG) has launched a first-of-its-kind talent hunt exclusively for children belonging to the Siddi community.
“For the first time, such an initiative was launched among children from this African-origin tribe and encourage them to take up sports. Siddis inherit natural talent and we plan to train them in a professional manner. In fact, we went from village to village to convince their parents to send them for screening tests and provided them with all logistical support. As many as 197 Siddi girls and 262 Siddi boys took part in the talent hunt,’’ Kanji Bhalia, senior coach of Gir-Somnath district, told News18.
“About 60 children have been identified and now, they will be taken to the government-run Nadiad sports complex for further training and orientation. Once these kids pass basic screening tests, they would receive all facilities (academic and sports) free of cost,’’ Bhalia, himself a record-holder sprinter, said.
Siddis, who fall in the primitive tribes’ category in Gujarat, are mostly confined to 35 villages in Junagadh and Gir-Somnath districts around the Gir forest. According to an estimate, there about 9,000 Siddis living in the two districts.
Siddis trace their ancestry to the Bantu people of east Africa who were brought to India as slaves by Arabs in the 7th Century and later, by the Portuguese and British.
Siddis, who live in abject poverty, are engaged in agriculture as daily wagers and follow Islam.
“Children from this community have shown promising performances in national and international sporting events. Who knows, one of them might even make India’s Olympic dream come true,’’ Ghanshyam Rajput, a judo coach at Nadiad academy, told News18.
Five Siddi youths are receiving judo coaching under Rajput at the sports academy.
“We have very high expectations from these aspiring youths. Two of them have already won medals in the Commonwealth Judo Championships. While 15-year-old Rohit Masgul bagged a gold in the pre-cadet boys (42 kg) category held in Jaipur last year, Makwana Mehrok won a silver in the pre-cadet girls (52 kg) category,’’ Rajput said.
Last month, Muskan Chotiyara (17) won a bronze in the 3,000m run during the 16th National Youth Athletics Championships held in Raipur. She is being trained as a sprinter at the state’s Devgadh Baria Sports Academy.
“Most of the Siddis are socially, economically and educationally backward and we have to spend a lot of time in nurturing them and retaining them in professional sports schools. However, as we see medal-winning hopefuls among them, the effort seems to be worth it,’’ said another coach.