Friday, 25 January 2013

Survival Day: White Australia has a Black history

White Australia has a Black history

As often happens at this time of year, in the lead-up to January 26, commentators and activists raised the suggestion that Australia’s national day be moved to a different date.

Writing in the January 21 Sydney Morning Herald, Aboriginal MLA in the ACT legislative assembly Chris Bourke said: “Which nation celebrates its national day on the date it was invaded by a foreign power? … The answer, of course, is Australia.”

January 26 marks the day that Europeans arrived in Sydney Cove in 1788 . Aboriginal people around  the continent – especially in the North - had been receiving visitors from abroad and engaging in trade long before then. But there was something different about Captain Cook and his mob. They weren’t here to trade, they were here to stay, to build a colony on behalf of the British Empire. Aboriginal people were in the way.

Each year on January 26, there is an outpouring of national pride and nationalism. Mainstream politicians  spruik everything that is “great” about Australia.

But, while some may ignore or downplay the ugly side of Australia’s history, there is no escaping the facts: January 26 is the day Aboriginal dispossession began. It marks the beginning of a process of genocide, of land-grabbing, unpaid wages, and the smashing of traditional cultures to replace them with what we now know as Australia. 

Is that worth celebrating? If so, it reveals something of the racism deeply imbedded in Australia’s history.

In Darwin, the Aboriginal Rights Coalition will mark January 26 with a screening of Murundak: Songs of Freedom. In Australia’s north, where colonisation happened much later, many Aboriginal clan groups have been able to hold onto some, if not all, of their land, languages and cultures – although these languages face the serious threat of extinction due to lack of government investment. 

It is perhaps appropriate that in Darwin, January 26 is known as Survival Day, and will be marked with a  celebration of Aboriginal resistance through music. For, indeed, much has survived. Despite all explicit and implicit government attempts to the contrary, Aboriginal Australia remains proud and strong.

In Sydney, where the invasion began, it’s known as Invasion Day, and is commemorated with the annual Yabun festival.

In Hobart this year, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre is organising a rally to call for a new date for Australia Day.

But whether survival or invasion is the theme, if January 26 is to remain a significant date, it should be the day we formally acknowledge that this country was – and is - built on racism.

Australia is a wealthy country because resource-rich Aboriginal land was stolen ; Aboriginal people were forced to work for little or no wages to establish a booming pastoral industry; rent was never paid and the Stolen Generations never compensated. No wonder the federal government can afford the hundreds of millions of dollars the racist Northern Territory intervention (now insultingly called “Stronger Futures”) is costing.

Bourke pointed out: “We cannot change our history, as much as we might desire it. We cannot ignore our history, because it has made us. But we can change our future.”

Changing the date of the national celebration is an easy, important first step, but there is no indication either of the mainstream parties wants to change Australia’s future, build something we could genuinely be proud of and celebrate.

Dispossession didn’t ever end – January 26 is not simply an historical anniversary, it is a painful and sobering reminder of the racism entrenched in mainstream Australian politics today. 
Aboriginal people are imprisoned at some of the highest rates in the world- rates that are rising as a result of federal and territory government policies in the NT. 

The health burden carried by Aboriginal Australians is shameful: in some communities, Aboriginal people are dying from diseases otherwise eradicated in this First World nation.

Aboriginal men and women die, respectively, 11.5 or 9.7 years younger than their non-Aboriginal  counterparts.

These appalling statistics, and many others like them, are deeply entwined with white Australia’s history: they are the result of what started in 1788 and continues today.

There is an alternative future, one that sees genuine engagement with Aboriginal communities – on their terms: treaties negotiated, reparations paid, original languages and cultures celebrated and protected. It is possible to imagine a future that brings true justice to Aboriginal people. 

But it won’t come from a society that celebrates invasion and dispossession as its national day - and that won’t change unless we, the people with the alternative vision, make it happen.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Indian women say it's time for change

When I was in India 3 months ago, I was quite confronted by the utter male domination of public space. I would often look around a busy street and think "I am the only woman in sight!". When checking into hotels, ordering food etc, I noticed that men (it's always men!) would completely ignore me, talking just to my father, even when I was the one paying, ordering etc.

People tried to assure me it was a sign of respect.

Well, it turns out, a reason Indian women may stay off the streets is because of the alarmingly high risk they face of being raped, murdered, set on fire etc etc. 

According to the all India Progressive Women's Association, while only 50% of rapes are reported, rates of rape have increased 791% since 1971. Meanwhile, conviction rapes for rape have dropped from 41% to 27%.

They have this outrageously demeaning and unscientific procedure called the "two finger test" , which defence teams use in rape cases to argue the survivor was "habituated to sex" - apparently it therefore goes without saying that she consented to the assault.

If that's not enough to dissuade someone from making a report, I don't know what is.

The recent unspeakably horrific gang rape and torture of a  young woman in Delhi, who later died as a result of her injuries, has brought women - and their male suppporters- out onto the streets in their thousands.

Kavita Krishnan, from the All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), recently posted on Facebook:

"What will be the touchstone for women's rights in this country? In the vocabulary of some of the media, those for death penalty/castration for rape are pro-women, and those against death penalty/castration for rape are anti-women! That makes the vast majority of women's movement organisations in the country, working amongst thousands of affected women, 'anti-women' by definition, while the BJP which nurtures goon gangs to police the morality of women wearing jeans or celebrating Valentine's Day become 'pro-women'! 
Gender justice needs to be brought and kept in the centre stage of the debate - not 'death penalty vs no death penalty.' To begin with, as Pratiksha Baxi suggests, let us demand that the govt pass an order to get rid of the obnoxious 'two-finger test' that is common in medical examination of a rape survivor, to establish whether or not she is 'habituated to sex'! Get the institutionalised gender bias out of the laws and the investigation mechanisms, and expand the laws to recognise the wide variety of crimes and sexual violence that women face, and usher in stringent punishment for each of those crimes - these will go a much longer way to ensuring justice in every case of rape and sexual assault."

The AIPWA blog has some incredibly beautiful and inspiring photos, posters, placards and poems from the string of protests and vigils that continue to take place across the country.

To all the Indian sisters, thank you for your bravery, strength and fighting spirit. Your struggle is our struggle.