A Kiwi-Indian literary-activist is on an ambitious mission of expanding people's understanding of non-Eurocentric worldviews and help break ignorance on racism, both within New Zealand and globally.
Rowena Bahl is the founding editor of The Lovepost – a web-based social good platform, dedicated to tackling social and environmental issues, with office in New Market, Auckland and readers, creators and contributors spread all around the world.
The story of Rowena Bahl, a young Kiwi-Indian who had overcome her initial self-doubt and disillusionment about her own Indian and mixed heritage, during growing up years in New Zealand, to eventually evolve into a literary-crusader with tonnes of passion for changing the world - is nothing less than inspirational.
From working in web designing and marketing in New Zealand's magazine publishing industry to launching her own web-based social good enterprise, Rowena's journey has been phenomenal.
The Indian Weekender’s initial interest in this wonderful alternative socially responsible web-platform was a story on the forgotten Sikh women who paved the way for a better world which recounts how some inspirational women in the history have left a significant mark on the humanity.
However, what further sparked our interest beyond the series Decolonise your mind and The Lovepost was the young Kiwi-Indian face, who had pulled together some incredibly talented people, both locally and globally, to work on such inspirational project – all while purging her own self-doubts about her own heritage.
The Indian Weekender speaks with Rowena and understands her passion and commitment to provide voice to those who are voiceless and renegaded to the periphery and experience bias and discrimination on a daily basis.
IWK: Rowena can you tell us about yourself?
Rowena: I'm the founder and editor of The Lovepost, an alternative platform dedicated to solution-based stories. I work with incredible creators from around the world, and together we offer positive solutions to the troubles of the planet. When I'm not working on The Lovepost, I am a freelance creative and copywriter.
IWK: Tell us a little bit more about your Indian heritage, childhood and early forming years in New Zealand?
Rowena: I was born in Patna, India—that's where my mother's family were based. I was only there as a baby so I don't remember much. My earliest memories are from when my family and I were living in Pune. We then moved to Delhi and stayed there until I was 8 years old after which we moved to New Zealand. Primary, secondary and tertiary education were completed in New Zealand. I studied architecture for a few years and realised it wasn't for me. I then studied graphic design at Media Design School which I absolutely loved. While I was studying graphic design, I worked as a web and marketing person for The Magazine Marketing Company (TMMC), the New Zealand agent for magazines from around the globe. Stuart Shepherd, who was the director, had a real passion for magazines and it's actually where I got my first taste of the publishing world.
After TMMC, I worked at Destinations magazine—New Zealand's longest standing travel title. Sadly, I heard that the magazine closed shop a year or so ago—they held on for as long as they could—over 20 years I believe. I started as art director there at the end of 2011 and was made editor a year later. I spent five years at Destinations and I learnt so much working there. I travelled a fair bit too. I started The Lovepost a year after I left Destinations.
Tell us about the series/theme Decolonise Your Mind? What is the main objective and how you intend to achieve this?
Rowena: The main objective is in the title of the theme itself—to decolonise people's minds. Decolonising people's minds is about opening their eyes to the relationship between historical and present-day realities, bringing to the forefront the worldviews of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour from around the world. It's about educating people on why the world is the way it is today. To answer that question, we decided to take readers on a journey from human origins to present day. So what you'll see at the beginning of this edition's timeline is human origin stories, creation stories, stories about why we look different even though we’re genetically very similar. From there we explore pre-colonial and colonial stories and then we finish up in the modern world (that's where we are in the theme right now) dealing with racism in the modern context. The theme will run all the way into March so we have a lot more stories to come! We believe, by approaching our theme in this way, we are able to provide the full picture and really help people understand what has been going on.
What was the idea/inspiration behind starting this social justice-related internet-based platform?
Rowena: There were a few motivations: sensationalism, lack of diversity in the media sphere and problem-engrossed journalism. We were absolutely tired of sensationalist stories that further divided people. We were also tired of constantly seeing the problems that existed in the world without any real solutions being offered. We noticed there was a gap in the market when it came to humanitarian journalism, and that's the gap we are trying to fill.
Why is it important to you to amplify the voices of BIPOC people all over the world?
Rowena: It's important to amplify true stories, stories that speak about the diverse world in which we live. This world is not made up of a single colour. Our planet is colourful. Even though we chose to oppress the colours of humanity for so long, it was only going to be a matter of time before they burst out. And now that they have burst out, these beautiful colours have important stories to tell.
What does a decolonised world look like to you?
Rowena: To be honest, I'm not really sure. It's a big question and there isn't a single answer. I believe the answers to that question are slowly revealing themselves through the discussions that are currently taking place. Through Decolonise Your Mind, we are asking that question too. The more we explore our diverse stories, the better understanding we will have of what a decolonised world might look like. It's a collective vision and we are forming it right now.
How did you come to embrace your Indian and Sikh heritage? What were the ups and downs of that journey?
Rowena: I would say that I am in the process of embracing it—I have not embraced it fully yet. I believe to fully embrace my Indian heritage is going to take the same amount of time I spent trying to erase it. When people used to ask me where I was from, I would always say, "India... but I am not fully Indian; I am a mix of Portuguese, Dutch and Indian." While this is true, I feel that I used to hide my shame of being Indian under my mixed heritage. It was almost like I thought adding the extra layers would make me less of an outsider. But I was an outsider—my thick Indian accent gave it away, my skin tone gave it away, my dark curly hair gave it away. It got easier to hide the older I got, as my accent became the same as those around me. If anything, after the Indian accent faded, I was exoticised. I dealt with a lot of othering growing up, and my father dealt with a fair bit of racism. He probably would not want me talking about it because he is a very private person but looking back on it, it was pretty disgusting. I have recently started embracing my Indian side a lot more because hamara dil hai Hindustani—that's the only way to explain it. My heart knows that side is the link I was missing for so long. I am finally coming into who I am. What made that happen? It's been simmering in my heart for a while, but I only began getting more vocal in the last few years.
Can you share some background on the people who are behind the pieces in this issue apart from yourself?
Rowena: Our creators come from around the world—India, US, UK, Australia, New Zealand. Our team is quite diverse when it comes to occupation too—we have scientists, journalists, lawyers, poets, photographers, illustrators and filmmakers all working together to make this platform and this edition what it is.