Rohit Majgul, a marginalized man, has returned to Africa and is prone to racism and rejection as part of a marginalized population – but he still dreams of sporting glory in his country.
Part of the 1-year-old teenager is practicing martial arts on a sun-baked farm near Jambur village in the western Indian state of Gujarat’s Junagadh district, where his parents work as manual laborers.
Growing up around open drains and swarms of flies in remote villages, he and other members of the local Siddi community have been tortured for their dark features and curly hair.
Majgul, who has dropped out of school, sees his judo training as the only way to escape poverty and inequality.
“No one believes me when I speak Indian,” he told AFP. “They think I’m African, they call me by different offensive names, they annoy me.
“I’ve also been thrown off the bus because of my color, but I quietly endure everything because I want to do well in sports and draw my own identity.”
Mazgul won silver in judo at the Asia-Pacific Youth Games two years ago.
His determination to represent India on the international stage was encouraged by a pressure from the government to identify athletes from the Siddhi community, who are believed to have come from the Bantu community of sub-African sub-literature.
Some are believed to have been brought during the Islamic conquest of the subcontinent in the early eighth century.
Many more were probably brought to India by the Portuguese three to five centuries ago, researchers say.
However, they are still seen as external.
‘Nobody cares about us’
When slavery was abolished by the British colonial authorities in the nineteenth century, the Siddi fled to the jungle for fear of their safety.
Gradually they settled on the west coast of India working as farmhand and laborers while adapting to the local culture and language.
According to researchers, India is now home to about 250,000 Siddis, mostly from Gujarat and Karnataka – both coastal states across the Arabian Sea facing the east coast of Africa.
Those who live in Gujarat have become targets of further discrimination in Muslim, Hindu-majority India.
“No one cares about us. There are no facilities in our village – no piped water, no proper toilets, nothing, ”Majgul said.
Near his house, tangled, washed-haired children ran barefoot through the narrow streets lined with Shanti.
In the last century, Indian athletes won only nine gold medals in the form of a project launched in 1987 by the government eager to encourage the country’s desperate Summer Olympic Alliance.
Athletics coach R Sundar Raju, who is part of the project, told AFP: “We were looking into whether Siddi had any genetic advantage.
“It usually takes a few years for an Indian athlete to come to the national level, but Siddiqui has been doing it for only three years.”
Authorities, however, spread the project seven years later, realizing the poor accomplishment and becoming more interested in a linked program that encouraged Indians to pursue sports careers with their highly-anticipated government jobs.
“They came from such a poor family that when they got a job under a sports quota they missed the opportunity and left training in the middle,” Raju said.
‘I would curse my fate’
In his later years, some Siddiqui in Gujarat made a living instead of performing dance for tourists or being trained as forest guides for the endangered lion sanctuary Gir National Park.
The state government revived the program in 2015, focusing primarily on judo and athletics. The promised Siddi youths are now training at a government sports academy.
A non-profit team from Karnataka is also advising 50 aspiring athletes from the community.
Nitish Chinibahar, founder of Bridges Sports Foundation, said, “We feel that this particular group has high potential but they have been highly neglected.”
Shahnaz Lobby, an ambitious shot-letter from Jambur, jumped at the chance of a sports career after fighting to feed his working father to his family.
“I would curse my fate. But one day I found out about sports trials and I took part in them, ”he said.
The lobby told AFP that he dreamed of competing in the 2024 Olympics.
“I was selected and sent to the state sports academy. I don’t have any friends there but it doesn’t bother me. I just want to win an Olympic medal and let the world know that I am Indian. “