Significantly different January 26
Two countries observed January 26 as an important national day yesterday for its significant history. In 1950 India put into active practice its Constitution as a republic and democratic nation. The governance committed itself to uphold the values of democracy as a nation that had freed itself from the colonialism on the 15th of August, 1947. The tradition of celebrating January 26 began with colour and confidence. The day also became a message of showcasing the nation’s development in various areas and what the major language-states represented. In addition to celebrating August 15 as the Independence Day with much pride and joy I also eagerly, with awe, followed the proceedings of Republic Day Parade in New Delhi as long as I lived in India. Over the years I also learnt, with hurt feelings, that many Indian Indigenous peoples still remained as the Other, in a democratic nation.
As a migrant in Australia I never celebrated Australia Day. However, I followed the day’s events with curiosity. I mostly saw white Australians celebrating the day boisterously. As my historical awareness of how Australia Day came to be developed, I tried to reflect on what it meant to Australian Indigenous peoples and their generations.
In 2010, for the first time in my Australian years, I watched a television clip showing the march of the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The 26th of January in 2010 made a lot of sense to me personally too. For, just that afternoon I and my children were subjected to racial discrimination by our next door neighbour and his friends. The men in our neighbour’s backyard shouted “We are Australians. This is our country. Go back.” Men, their women and children had stared at me and my children when we were in our backyard for a few minutes. My husband had felt alarmed by the loudness and contempt in their voice. When my primary school-aged son asked me what the men meant, I told him that may be they didn’t like us as their new neighbours. Then he said “Why did they say they were Australians? Are we not Australian? I was born here. This is my country.”
I reassured him that he was Australian. May be those people meant I was not Australian, therefore they didn’t want me there. They might have thought it was their home and I was an intruder – arriving in their home without an invitation and then occupying it just because I liked it. So, they said go back to me.
My experiences of racism in Australian cities and towns, in this twenty-first century, have left me with disbelief. Revolutions have happened for freedom and are still happening as we are witnessing them today. However, racism and discrimination based on skin colour continues to thrive in modern, English-speaking and developed Australia, which is described as a democratic nation.
What and where is the missing link? How can it be found? What constitutes the meaning of, feeling of and the identity of ‘Australian’ or any other nationality? We do know the answers. We do have the solutions. However, when one chooses to treat the other with discrimination based on injustice, inequality and disrespect – visibly or invisibly, overtly or covertly – human freedom is crushed, mutilated and lost. We can change. We can choose respect, dignity and equality.
I will end this blog with Mrinal’s words from Letter from a wife (Ravindranath Tagore, 1914): “I found myself beautiful as a free human mind.”
Cheers, Vinathe Sharma