One day – January 26 –changed the course of two nations under British rule. Poornima Koonath looks at why – and how — Australia and India save the date
26 January – two nations celebrate this day with much fanfare, zest and zeal. India as its Republic Day and Australia as Australia Day. But what does it mean to the people of these two nations and has the relevance of the day changed over the course of time? Let’s delve into history of India and Australia – two nations that have a lot in common but are still so different.
Both these countries were British colonies, but while India gained its independence from British rule, the British stayed on in Australia.The East India Company came to Indian shores for trade purposes but very soon gained dominance. This dominance is believed to have started after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the first Governor- General, Warren Hastings, was appointed in 1773.
Down Under, in 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip landed at Port Jackson to take ‘formal possession’ of the Colony of New South Wales. In the 18th century while India started off as a trade hub, Australia started off as the ‘convict’ destination.
The day Captain Phillip landed was 26 January – the day of occupation, the day of the foundation of a colony that was decisively British and Imperial. This day is seen as a ‘Day of Mourning’ by indigenous Australians and on this day even today, rallies are organised to draw attention upon the ‘lack’ that still exists in all aboriginal communities across the country. It was not until 1946, the Commonwealth Government and all States and Territories finally agreed to observe 26thJanuary as Australia Day.
In India, 26 January 1930 was the day the Indian National Congress announced the declaration of complete independence from British rule (Purna Swaraj). And though India became independent from British rule in 1947, it was only in 1950 that the drafted Constitution made India a Sovereign Republic, a government of the people, for the people and by the people. Thus 26 January was declared India’s Republic Day.
Republic Day celebrations in the Indian capital city of New Delhi showcase the civil, social and the military tapestry that is woven into the fabric we call India. The grand parade includes the various marching contingents from the three wings of the Indian Armed Forces and the various branches of the paramilitary forces. The tableaus from the various states and the live performances and bands show the world the rich cultural heritage of the country, its multiculturism and diversity and also the various technological advancements made in the fields of Science and Space.The parade on the Rajpath fills the heart and soul of Indians all over the world with a feeling of pride and nostalgia. The highest Civilian and Military awards are presented and Indians excelling in various cultural and sporting fields are honoured too. There is an air of awe, reverence and the sacrifices of those who laid down their lives in the service of the nation are recalled and revered. For Indians, Republic Day is not just a national holiday. On this day our regional and religious identity takes a backseat and the whole nation comes together as one. These celebrations and the ideologies behind this day haven’t changed in the last 67 years.
The Australia Day celebrations have a very different feel and have changed since the celebrations first began in 1808 with ‘drinking and merriment’, which was a privilege of the select few. Slowly this day started including sporting events (which continues to this day with the backyard cricket). And the iconic Australia Day Regatta, which has become the oldest continuous regatta in the world, was started in 1837 by a group of seafaring friends from Sydney. With an ‘expanding’ Australia the attitude towards the day began to change and in 1960 the first Australian of the Year award was conferred. It began with people who had achieved international acclaim but slowly the focus moved to honour ordinary Australians making extraordinary contributions to the community. Thecelebrations marking Australia Day has changed and progressed with the passing of time as the colours and hues that make up the fabric of this nation has changed. It is no longer seen as a day of colonization or British settlement, but more as a day where every Australian, regardless of ethnic background, celebrates being an Australian. Since the late 20th century, with the broadening of the focus of Australia Day, Australians have been encouraged to share their own stories in their own ways and to engage in debate on issues of national identity and values.
While 26 January means the same to every Indian citizen, the same is not true of every Australian citizen. So when an Australian says “Happy Australia Day, mate” it means something very different to when as Indian says, “Happy Republic Day”. But one thing is true – “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” Dalai Lama XIV . So the next time we greet someone on Australia Day or Republic Day, let us ask ourselves what we have done to make it so.