Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Martin Luther King– their impact on human society is unquestionable. But most of us don’t know there are people of African Origin residing in the dense forests of Western Ghats (Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka) of India since last three centuries! The Siddi tribe whose origin hails from Africa, though living in India since long time, had failed to mingle with the mainstream of Indian society. Striving to uplift this community by day and night, is this man who is also an eloquent speaker, environmentalist, and amateur singer – Shantaram Budna Siddi. SHantaram was one of the five people nominated this week to Karnataka’s Legislative Council by the state government.
In the 1970‘s this tribe were literally forest dwellers and were leading a nomadic life, foraging for food. Shantaram considered himself lucky as he was one of the kids to have the opportunity to go to school. Despite being an ace student, his parents decided to stop his education after grade 7. Moved by his dedication toward his studies the people from his village pooled in a total of Rs. 150 and sent him to Ankola for higher education.
All through his formative years Shantaram faced discrimination and was ridiculed for his appearance and curly hair. Determined to do something significant for himself and his tribe, Shantaram stayed focused. He is the first person in the entire Siddi community to hold a degree in economics.
He returned to his village and started a hostel for the tribal children (Siddi, Gauli, Lambani etc) to whom education was a far-fetched dream. Starting with just two, today hundreds of tribal students are getting the opportunity of higher education. Shantaram later joined ‘Vanavasi Kalyana Sangh’, a national level organization, committed for the welfare of tribal people. He travelled to Meghalaya, Gujarat and Andaman and interacted with several tribes understanding their diverse cultures and traditions.
It struck him; how little it would take to bridge the tribal to the rest of the world. Shantaram widened the movement of educating them. He offered the them free healthcare, skill- development programs, founded a co- operative society to ensure fair trade for all products manufactured by them. He strengthened the community be organising cultural and sport events gave them moral teachings through bhajans and motivational talks, created awareness about environmental protection. Today many Siddis are in high-profile jobs including Civil Services and Law.
About the author
Aarti Aruldas is our in-house chef and is always cooking up a storm as our VP Operations & Strategy Planning at IndSamachar.
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