Finalist in the 2019 Eric Hoffer Grand Prize

Finalist in the 2019 Eric Hoffer Grand Prize

This just came in the mail today! Attestation for finalist in the 2019 Eric Hoffer Grand Prize. Am super excited and feeling extremely grateful.

Okay, I know this is not the Man Booker. Oh, what would I give to win one like the incomparable Ondaatje or Atwood. Still, Eric Hoffer is a serious literary organization spearheaded by a US Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee and is where university presses and publishers vie for attention. So I’m stoked. As a debut novelist, I couldn’t ask for more.

Yes, my books don’t have the tortuous entanglements of a Salmon Rushdie novel. Nor do they have the weighty complexities of an Umberto Eco tome. I too write about the social ills of this world, but I work hard to make my stories accessible to everyone. I want every women, man and teen to read my books and open their eyes and ask themselves how they can make this world a better place for everyone, especially the most marginalized of our societies.

That 130 million girls around the world have been pulled out of school by their own families, to be married off, bartered, or sold for labour breaks my heart. That the majority of the 800 million illiterate people on earth are female deeply saddens me, especially since books have been my oxygen ever since I could read my ABCs. This is what happens in cultures where women are considered second class.

And since these girls and women have no voice, since their words and dreams are stifled and silenced, I will speak for them. I will tell their stories the best way I can.

I’m currently reading Michio Kaku’s fascinating book, The Future of the Mind, where he talks about AI, robotics and the ethics of how we treat our robot workers. I can’t help wonder, though, if we must first consider the morality of how we treat our own human compatriots before we worry about how artificial intelligence “feels.”

That young girl who is pulled out of school and forced to become the fourth wife of a forty-year old man has so much untapped potential that will be buried with her at death. What if we free her and allow her to flourish, live a fulfilled life (not to mention a physically safe one) and contribute to society with her innate talents? Because that’s all she yearns to do in the end, just like you and I.   

Elon Musk dreams of taking us to Mars soon – a commendable goal for the human species, one which I excitedly await to see myself. But I believe there is much work left to do right here on earth before we look outward. And I will do my small part here.

So, the Eric Hoffer Foundation doesn’t do galas. I have my little black dress but nowhere to go…. 🙂

Sentenced to 38 years & 148 lashes for wanting to remove her hijab – March 2019

Sentenced to 38 years & 148 lashes for wanting to remove her hijab – March 2019

We Still Have Far To Go

Most of us are so fortunate to live in free and open societies, but many of our sisters around the world are not.

They are bound to second, if not third, class citizenship in their own families, in their own communities and in their countries simply because of their gender. Having lived on four continents now, I have seen this first hand.

Just look at what’s happening in Syria where 3-5 year old little girls are being sold off to be “married” to older men. Married? Community sanctioned pedophilia is what this is. Depraved doesn’t even cut it.

Just look at that degenerate country of Saudi Arabia – a blight on our planet earth – where servant girls brought from Asia are routinely abused in horrific ways and even killed openly. Recently, this government ordered a death penalty on a Filipino servant girl who spoke up about being raped by her “master/owner.” For that, she got beheaded.

It boggles the mind that such barbaric savagery exists in 2019. How many more suffer in brutal silence, I wonder.

It is from this same blighted country that Rahaf Al-Qunun, a brave and intelligent eighteen-year old girl, maneuvered her escape and fled to distance herself from the restrictions of her culture. (Canada did the right thing and welcomed her with open arms. Thank goodness.)

And what about India? It has the temerity to tout itself as the “biggest democracy on earth,” when so many good people are still fighting against forced marriage, child brides, honour killings, female genital mutilation, discrimination based on the caste system, the horrific treatment of the LGBTQ community and transgendered persons, and other abhorrent practices that belong in the stone ages.

The hypocrisy is nauseating.

Girls from Indian communities are pulled out of school to be married off to older men even in our own backyard. But Indians living overseas hate admitting to this and brush them off as “minor issue.” Minor? That certainly demonstrates your priorities.

And it clearly undermines the hard work of your own fellow country people, like the amazing superwoman Dr. Sunitha Krishnan, Urmila Chanam, Kavita Krishnan, Sampat Pal Devi who are trying to right the wrongs for the every day Indian woman.

Take care of your sisters and daughters and teach your sons to respect women first, before claiming to come to the 21st century.

There are mosques and temples around the world and right here in Canada where a woman cannot walk in through the front door which is reserved for men only. The back door and the back of the room is relegated to women. And menstruating women must sit at the very back.

It is preposterous that this backward practice still occurs today. It is so acceptable in Canada now that public schools allow this to happen in prayer rooms in their own premises. School administrations are loath to speak up lest they “offend.”

It is we who should be offended that such dehumanising practices are permitted in our public funded institutions, educational institutions, no less.

Let me be clear, in case you haven’t grasped this concept yet. Whether you tell me to go to the back of the bus or the back of the room based on my race or my gender, the bigotry is same. The ignominy of such an act is the same. The hurt you will mete out on me is one and the same. I say this because I have experienced this and know exactly what it feels like.

That one would treat their own daughters, sisters, mothers, and female neighbours in this way is nothing but shameful.

Rosa Parks, I’m sure, is turning in her grave.

Then, there’s Iran. Women and girls aren’t allowed to leave their homes unless they cover their hair with a headscarf and cover up their arms and legs with loose clothing. The astoundingly courageous and amazing human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh wanted to change this and she was jailed for it. Now, she’s been sentenced to 38 years and 148 lashes. Just for the want of walking free down her own street.

What kind of regressive Neanderthals make such heinous decisions?

And NO, I will not couch my language. Nor will I speak lightly of these matters to make someone from any culture, religion or region “save face” or “feel good.” Neither culture nor political correctness must EVER trump obscene human rights violations such as this.

Your mere discomfort from reading this pales in comparison to the unimaginable pain our sisters around the world go through.

The women who are subjugated to such horrific practices are just like you and me. They could be us. We could be them. We were just lucky to have been born in the right place.

With great privilege, comes great responsibility.

It’s our duty to call out on the abuses our sisters around the world face. It’s time to stop hiding behind our fancy lattes and say “Oh, but it’s racist to talk about other cultures. That’s just the way they are.” That’s not just utter horse manure but an ignorant and abhorrent view to take.

Today, we decry racism with such a sense of superiority and smugness and are quick to throw the race card on the table at a moment’s notice. Yet, we look the other way quickly when the same or even harsher practices are targeted at women.

It is this kind of absurd pussy-footing around serious issues that has allowed Saudi Arabia to become chair the UN women’s rights council (to gain political points elsewhere, of course) in 2017 and again in 2018 and they now sit on the UN’s Human Rights Commission.

Yes, you read that right. The United Nations has become a farce because too many of us are too scared to point these abominations out for worrying of offending another culture. Well, this is the outrageous result.

What all these women around the world simply desire is to live happy and free lives for themselves and their children. All they want is education and economic opportunities that will open amazing doors to them and the next generation of women. They’re no different from you and I.

So, let’s stand up for human rights violations everywhere. For heaven’s sake, is that so hard?

If your culture, your community or your religion treats women as chattel or as second class citizens and demeans and discriminates against them, it’s time to stand up and speak up. Your silence means you are an accomplice to these vile injustices.

Stand up. Speak out. NOW.

PS/ Yes, Canada has work to do too, especially in supporting our aboriginal sisters around the country to improve their safety, security and standard of living.

At the same time, I’m well aware that I can only speak the truth I share here because I live in an open and free society. If I’d spoken these same words as a national or resident of any other nation where misogyny is so ingrained into culture, they can hardly see it, I’d be pilloried, ostracised and perhaps even worse.

Over here, I’ll get haters especially from those ethnic enclaves who will not like me showcasing some of their insidious customs out in the open. But I will take haters any day. I am thankful I do not live in a country that would imprison me for 38 years and lash me 148 times for standing up for human rights. 

Freedom of Expression for All Women, Everywhere?

Freedom of Expression for All Women, Everywhere?

This week, many of our brave sisters in Iran are risking their lives by standing in public without their mandatory – legislated – head covering. Yes, a woman not covering up is tantamount to a criminal activity, not just in Iran, but in other parts of the Middle East and Asia. Yes, this is 2018 and we’re still dealing with these barbaric and backward practices. Depressing, isn’t it?

But there’s something that depresses me even more. I have a hard time understanding why some Canadians and other Westerners – many who call themselves liberal and open, and bend over backward to be politically correct – vociferously defend face, head and even fully body coverings that are usually dictated by archaic traditions and customs where women are treated as second class commodities, with very strict rules and roles to follow.

Such women are usually told the coverings are for their “safety” – as twisted that logic is. This kind of sentiment is not just degrading to the women, but disrespectful to those men who are more than capable of controlling their impulses and live in society as normal, law-abiding citizens.

If this practice is so “noble” – as some purport it to be – then why is it only forced upon women? Why is this practice enforced in communities where women must sit in the back of religious institutions while the men sit at front? Is this what egalitarianism looks like?

Yes, there are some adult women who dress a certain way willingly, as a sign of their beliefs and faith – and to those women, I offer my respect for their freedom to express themselves as they wish.

But a majority, especially girls and young women, are coerced by their own misguided mothers, patriarchal fathers and brothers, as well as community and religious leaders, and told if they will be ostracized if they don’t comply. As we, humans, typically live in group environments and seek validation from our community, these young girls follow through, not wanting to be punished or be seen as not being dutiful.

Remember that young woman in Quebec who wanted to cover her full face in public institutions? She was never without her male guardian. Then, a journalist asked her if, just like she wants the freedom to cover up fully anywhere here in Canada, would she confer that same freedom of dress to her sisters in Iran and Saudi Arabia who are currently fighting this oppression enforced by legislation. Her answer? “No, they MUST cover up.”

The hypocrisy is deafening.

Yet no one raises their voice to defend this type of subjugation that comes from misogynistic practices common a thousand years ago. No one wants to offend these cultures. If we acted with the same mind-blowing apathy about other issues, we’d still have slavery in America and apartheid in South Africa.

For those who say “but it’s their culture,” I’d like to remind you that girls are human too, regardless of their culture, race or background. They have feelings and dreams, and desire freedom of speech, dress, movement and education just like any of us. Don’t take away their dignity by treating them like some alien race.

Your silence only thickens the age-old cultural veils behind which blatant human rights abuses hide. Your silence allows these backward practices to continue today. And that’s really a shame.

If you want to learn more about Iranian women’s fight for their rights, here is a great place to start: http://mystealthyfreedom.net/en/

EDIT – 1 February 2018

Some have asked why I wrote what I wrote here. Here’s why.
There’s a group of almost a million determined and brave women who have gathered under the banner My Stealthy Freedom and who are fighting for their basic rights and dignity in Iran. I’ve been quietly reading their stories for the past two years, feeling lucky that I have the opportunity to live in the free world.
Then, on Tuesday these women came out in force and asked on their forum whether we – those of us living in the West – care for women’s rights around the world. They asked if we even know what’s going on and asked why we’re so silent? That made me sit back and think.
I know many of us who look away and pretend nothing’s wrong, lest we offend another culture. Many have chided me for bringing international women’s issues up because that can be construed as “racist.” This mindset, I believe, only aids and abets the abusers and enables heinous crimes to carry on under our own watch. I certainly want no part in that, so I told these women that I’m a writer and that I will write.
I told them that what I’ll say will not be popular, but my feelings of discomfort or any concern for losing popularity are nothing compared to the human rights violations these women go through. So I wrote this to open everyone’s eyes. And I did so unapologetically. Because I’d never want to get to the end of my life, knowing I remained a silent coward while others suffered.
If speaking up for women’s rights and for the most vulnerable population on earth makes me a racist, so be it. I will wear this badge proudly.
To my sisters around the world, I say, stand strong. Even if no one else will, I will stand for you.

Time is always right to do right

Time is always right to do right

Every morning, I do my exercise routine at home listening to motivational talks from a Youtube playlist called Top Ten Rules, and it just happened that I clicked on Martin Luther King today – on his 89th birthday.

I write stories based on how young women around the world are mistreated by their own families and communities, and I realized as I listened to Mr. King that the struggles these women, and especially girls, face in these traditional cultures are no different to what African Americans faced during his time. Forced marriages, honour killings, female genital mutilation, suppression of freedoms of movement and of speech are just the tip of the iceberg. These practices are shockingly entrenched – yes, even in 2018.

Then I heard Mr. King say this: “We must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts of persistent work of dedicated individuals. Without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. So time is always right to do right.”

I felt my chin lift a little higher and I stood a little straighter. Yes, we must not be too complacent, hoping one day these societies will modernize. We must never be too fearful to speak up for fear of offending other cultures. Human rights violations are human rights violations, regardless of where or when they occur.

As much as we’d like to think all traditions are sacred and cannot be criticized, we should never fear to speak up when we see atrocities, especially when the victims are girls, mere children.

“Time is always right to do right.”

The Immigration Question

The Immigration Question

Many of you are not going to like to hear this.

Immigration is not the answer to the world’s problems. It’s a band aid, feel good (for some) solution that does little to progress the planet as a whole. And I say that as an immigrant myself.

We must empower people within their own nations and force their leaders to value their own people. Having lived on four continents and travelled to countless places now, I’ve observed and experienced, time and time again, gut wrenching corruption, unbelievable nepotism, mass scale and at times legislated discrimination against women, entrenched abuse against the poor, the disabled, and LGBTQ community and other marginalized populations. These problems are rampant and chronic.

There are many countries where young girls are still subject to forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour killings—barbaric acts perpetrated and upheld by community and political leaders. You’d be surprised to know this happens even in our own backyards, within communities that quietly engage in these stone-age practices. These happen because we allow it to happen. These happen because we’re too afraid to offend “their culture,” and turn a blind eye to blatant human right violations.

Just like we rallied against apartheid, we must call abusers out even if it means losing trade or business opportunities or make us “politically incorrect”. We must hold foreign leaders and community leaders accountable to how they treat their own people and not reward them with charity, aid or business which only lines their own pockets, while the majority struggle to make a living.

It’s astounding to see the ruling families of some countries been driven around in luxury super sedans while right next to them are slums where their own people scrounge for food. It’s heart breaking, frustrating, maddening.

There’s something inherently misaligned when we’re solving some of the biggest science and technological problems and even considering becoming an inter-planetary species by populating Mars, while girls here on earth are still denied an education by their own families and children don’t have enough to eat everywhere.

We must stand up for what’s right and do so unapologetically. We must stop tolerating the intolerable.

DISOWNED – Book Launch Chat – LIVE

DISOWNED – Book Launch Chat – LIVE

DISOWNED Launched Today.

The first novel of the Red Heeled Rebels series went live today.  So I decided to do a live Facebook chat explaining a little bit about the series, the book, launch promotions happening right now and a contest where you can win one of three print books.  Click on the video to learn more.

Where to get the first novel of series: https://books2read.com/Disowned. The launch sale on till 13 January 2018 and you can grab the e-book at $0.99.

Where to get free prequel short story, BEGINNINGS: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/xr3wx9f490

Where to win a copy of Disowned: https://tikiriherath.com/red-heeled-rebels-contest-details

Where to go for more information on the series: www.RedHeeledRebels.com

Enjoy, And a Happy New Year to all!