The Identity Series
SEASON 1, EPISODE 6: MEERA GHANI
In our sixth podcast episode, Inaya Hussain from The Rights Collective is joined by Meera Ghani, a facilitator and community builder, who has been working with various NGOs on climate change and human rights for twenty years. Meera shares her experiences working in activist and environmental spaces both in and outside of the diaspora, as well as her journey in cultivating a #cultureofcare, which she describes as the antidote to systems of violence, where wellbeing, care and love are central to survival.
UPBRINGING IN PAKISTAN & COMMUNITY
Meera was born and raised in Pakistan and moved around a lot as her father worked as a civil servant.
“Growing up in Pakistan, I was shaped by the geopolitics and politics there. I grew up during a military dictatorship and then for a brief moment - during my teens - we had some sense of democracy, then back to dictatorship. I think the authoritarian regimes and oppression that comes along with it has defined some of my life and experiences.”
For Meera, a defining feature of her life has been the search for community and belonging. Moving around so much as a child meant she could never form a stable community of friends around her.
She goes on to share how these experiences have led her to chase community, to make up for its absence in her early years.
“I’ve been chasing community for most of my life, that’s what I try to now create wherever I go, because it’s very important to me to form lasting, sustainable, reciprocal, caring relationships.”
After spending her formative years around violence and oppression, Meera is now trying to find home and community in people rather than a place.
LIVING IN EUROPE AS PART OF THE DIASPORA
Upon moving to Europe, Meera experienced a dissonance between her experience of identity and how others perceived her.
She shares how she went through a period of trying to fit in with Western society, even distancing herself from the other South Asians around her so that she could make herself more palatable to the White people she was surrounded by:
“When I went to University in the U.K. I deliberately did not interact with the Desi community - I probably just had one friend who grew up in the U.K. but, his family was originally from India.”
Despite her efforts to assimilate, Meera did not feel accepted. She shares how, unlike in Pakistan where she experienced patriarchal discrimination due to her being a woman, in Europe, her racial and religious identities invited far more discrimination than her gender.
“Not only being an immigrant, but a brown woman, a Muslim woman, a queer woman.”
Over the past couple of years, she has embarked on a journey in her own life to gain what she lost - cultivating her community of care and living as her true self:
“No matter how hard you try to fit in, they will never accept you, so why not just be who you are, and be more forthright in that struggle, and claim your space and show up as your full self.”
ON WORKING IN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Meera's background is in climate science and she works at the intersection of science and policy. Her role is to ensure that there is an intersectional approach to policy making:
“I work mostly now with grassroots communities but before that I worked with some of the bigger environmental NGOs. There, it was just doing a lot of lobbying with governments and institutions - European institutions - and also trying to manage some of the strategies that really shift governments to act on climate.”
Meera shares the difficulties she has faced when trying to bring a more holistic perspective and analysis to the sector, especially given the prominence of white leadership among such organisations. Throughout her career, she has only come across three organisations which were led by a woman of colour.
“As a movement it is very white-led, very male middle class. You will hardly find any women leading some of these environmental NGOs and it is very rare to find a woman of colour.”
Such organisations often overlook or dismiss Meera’s attempts to disrupt the status quo, so she tries her best to surround herself with people of colour in her work, as a form of community and safe space in a majority white industry.
Meera shares some intimate details about her experience of motherhood, from the birthing process to raising her child away from her family, and the transformative journey which accompany having and raising a child.
Meera recalls how, just a few days after her C-section, she was up, doing the dishes and continuing to function as normal. She ruminates on the lack of healing she had after birth, and how she has been inspired to draw on the healing process and medicinal remedies prevalent in indigenous South Asian culture.
“In the community that I come from in Pakistan and South Asian communities, there is this concept that the birthing person is taken care of for 40 days. The community takes care of not just the child but the birthing person, so they have these 40 days to heal and rest.“
She goes on to talk about how the community comes together in birthing and grieving and how they practice care. Meera discusses that care is intrinsic to how we as people operate.
Meera discussed the challenges she faced in raising her daughter away from her family and her home, especially given that her daughter is bi-racial, which she shares will add a completely different dynamic to her life.
“I have realised more and more that it really does take a village to raise a child. Specially during the pandemic it has been so isolating and difficult to be doing it on your own.”
Meera spoke about how having a child has changed her:
“The reason I say birthing changes you is because I feel like I've lost parts of me. While that’s not something very nice to say, in a way, because motherhood is put on a pedestal where it’s supposed to be the most joyous experience of your life - which it is - in this process I really lost parts of myself. It’s not just about being able to have hobbies or do things, it’s about mental space. I have no mental space to think about me.”
When she fell ill a few years back, Meera’s focus had to shift towards herself a little more, and she shares how she began re-centring herself as part of her healing:
“When a lot of my chronic illnesses manifested, I had to think about myself again, and centre myself again, and think about what I need in order to heal. It wasn’t just time off or medication or treatments, it was really thinking about how I reconnect with myself and my being, and how I come home to myself.”
Thank you to the Podcast team who worked on this series, including Inaya Hussain, Tasha Mathur, Nishma Jethwa and Minnie Bhullar.
Music produced by Substeppers
Substeppers are British Asian bass music duo combining the precision of Sunny Banger, with the mastery of Vxks. After a long hiatus, they are back to capitalize on their early success and send ripples of their new sounds all around the world. With consistent support from the likes of BBC, MTV & Mixmag, their newest EP entitled Bollywood Trap led them to become the BBC Introducing's first British Asian production duo. The Substeppers project aims to take people to another world with their latest single & explore eastern themes combined with progressive ideas, through the lens of electronic world music.
Artwork produced by KakiKasi
KakiKasi is currently based in the Bay Area, California with roots in the American Midwest and Punjab. They are an artist, writer and overall community-centred creature. You can find some of their artwork @KakiKasi and some of the work they’ve curated of South Asian queer and feminist art @popadumart.