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South Asian Australians too hot to celebrate Jan 26

No liberation exists without Blak liberation


“I feel disappointed and embarrassed seeing the willfully ignorant, insensitive and outright racist displays of nationalism and white pride that 26 January encourages and panders to,” says Shyamla Eswaran, founder of South Asian dance group BINDI BOSSES.


On January 26 1788, Sir Arthur Phillip raised the British flag at Warrane (Sydney Cove) to claim the land as a British Colony and that marked the beginning of brutal colonisation, theft and pillaging of the lands of Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Shamefully, this day is officially recognised as ‘Australia Day’ and is declared a national holiday.


I moved to so-called Australia in 2017, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t know enough, if at all, about Indigenous history. In India, all you really saw about this country were white men on surfboards asking you to visit Queensland in ten-second TV ads.


As someone who had never left India before, through my initial conversations with fellow South Asians, it quickly became evident that White Australia’s Blak history remains unacknowledged and unrecognised in diasporic communities.

 

BINDI BOSSES with Gomeroi woman Gwenda Stanley at Nurrangingy Reserve Corroborree, Nov 2020

Growing up, January 26 had always been a day of celebration. It’s the day the Constitution of independent India came into existence, penned by the anti-caste social reformer, Dr B R Ambedkar, an icon for Dalit-Bahujan peoples across the world - including myself. 


It is easy to paint January 26 as a sign of ‘similarity’ between India and white Australia, resulting in corporate events of curry & cricket, elite PR messaging of a shared connection and most of all, a growing vote bank of South Asian migrants. 


But, the main similarity between the two countries is neither curry nor cricket; it is British colonisation.


“As graduates, homeowners, business owners and recipients of universal health care, all of our privilege in Australia as South Asians has been gained at the expense of First Nations peoples,” says Shyamla. “Yet, at the same time, we have much more in common with First Nations than we think and care to acknowledge. The hard truth we fail or perhaps refuse to acknowledge is that we have suffered and are still emerging from the trauma of colonisation ourselves.”


There is an insidious attempt in white Australia to make January 26 look like a day for migrants to be thankful for. After all, they are here, leading an apparently better life and must share their gratitude by observing a day that marks the ongoing colonisation of the oldest continuous culture on the planet


So, what should they do instead?


“For starters, don’t recognise it as “Australia Day”. Call it for what it is - Invasion Day, and Survival Day, and a Day of Mourning,” says Priyanka Ashraf, founder of The Creative Co-Operative, a 100% migrant women of colour led business. “Every day is a day to recognise and respect the owners of these lands and support by donating funds to organisations who have long been advocating such as The Dhadjowa Foundation.”

 

Priyanka Ashraf, Founder & Director, The Creative Co-Operative

 

Since the 1991 Royal Commission, five hundred Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody in Australia. 


Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman and the first Aboriginal Senator from Victoria, has called it a matter of national urgency. “It’s been 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and the Morrison government has failed to show leadership and implement all 339 recommendations. What’s the point of a Commission if you ignore its findings?” she asks. 


As a migrant, a common observation I have come across is that the newly arrived do not have the capacity or the privilege to either protest or fight the system that essentially grants them visas to stay. 


To which Sonia Sofat, the co-founder of Hue, Colour the Conversation, a racial equity-focused organisation, says, “We all have a lot going on in our lives, but whether you have 5 minutes or 5 hours, there are so many ways to show solidarity and be a good ally. For some people, it can look like attending Invasion/Survival day marches and events; for others, it can be self-education by learning more about First Nations history and culture.”

 

Only about 3% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples represent the current Australian population. A popular ‘bare minimum’ expected from settler Australians is to stand in solidarity with Indigenous folks by voicing their demands and amplifying their businesses. However, there isn’t an exhaustive to-do list for non-Blak folks to show their support.