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Australia Day Is Stained With Blood And It's Time We Moved It

Somehow, many Australians have obliterated the gory reality of colonialism from their memories.

25/01/2017 10:29 AM AEDT | Updated 25/01/2017 10:29 AM AEDT
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"In Australia, colonialism heralds the beginning of the frontier wars that resulted in the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people."

Believe it or not, when I arrived in Australia in 1992, January 26 was not even a national holiday. Despite the current nationalistic fervour and the 'love it or leave it' attitude, the idea that our national day has to be celebrated on the same day marking the beginning of colonisation is a relatively new one.

Don't get me wrong. I think a day celebrating Australia is important, but I am firmly in the 'change the date' camp. I do this knowing full well the vitriol spouted at those who dare call for the change of date of Australia's national holiday, even though it is only 23 years young.

I think at the root of this is the different ways colonialism and colonial settlement is viewed. I imagine for many Australians, 1788 brings visions of the 'Old Sydney Town' version of history, with red coated soldiers and convicts subjected to cruelty for an arrogant English aristocracy.

But for others, it has a completely different undertone. A reality tainted with dispossession and bloody violence.

In Australia, colonialism heralds the beginning of the frontier wars that resulted in the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people. It is also an undeniable fact that since then, for over two centuries, Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people have been targeted by the worst kind of oppression, discrimination and racism through government policies.

Yet, somehow, many Australians today have either obliterated this gory reality of colonialism from their memories or tend to ignore all negative associations with it as we throw another shrimp on the barbie and happily party on 26th January every year.

I would never presume to speak for what colonialism means for First Nations people in Australia, but as someone who grew up in Pakistan, which was part of British India for many years, colonialism does have rather horrible connotations for me. I grew up hearing harrowing stories of my family's dangerous journey across the border during the partition of India and Pakistan in August 1947.

While it is not in doubt that the British exit from India was necessary and long overdue, the swift partition of India and Pakistan was bloody and devastating. It dislocated millions of people and tore apart families, friends and colleagues, many of whom had lived in peace and harmony for generations but suddenly found themselves separated on either side of a new border. British rule set in stone a legacy of conflict, resulting in wars between India and Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. This legacy continues to this day.

Apologists for colonialism may point out the benefits -- such as the railway, communication and irrigation systems -- but the main beneficiaries of these technologies were not the Indians, but the British. As historian Mike Davis has pointed out, communities that lived nearest to railway lines suffered the worst during famines under the British, as their food stocks were easily transported away for export.

Colonialism by its nature is exploitative, extractive and deliberately provokes differences between communities in order to fulfil its divide-and-rule mentality, which was so successful in subjugating people. In British India, which encompassed what is now India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, The Raj was, in many ways, a regime characterised by incompetence, intolerance and violence. For the British, pre-partition India was nothing more than an economic opportunity, paid for by the lives of those who dared to resist.

Clinging to the myth that invasion, occupation, colonisation and settlement are somehow peaceful processes and something to be celebrated continues to hurt us all.

Colonialism has left a trail of destruction, division and resentment wherever it was inflicted. It is always predicated on the taking of something -- for South Asians it was resources, for Aboriginal Australia it was, as Stan Grant put it, a shattering of their lives -- and always under the constant threat of violence.

Clinging to the myth that invasion, occupation, colonisation and settlement are somehow peaceful processes and something to be celebrated continues to hurt us all.

Is it too much to ask that we see things from another point of view? To take off the rose-tinted glasses through which we view Australia's colonial history and move forward together?

We can't change history, but it is in our power to move the celebration of our beautiful multicultural country and its people, those who've lived here for tens of thousands of years and the ones who came after colonialism, to a day that all Australians can enjoy.

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