Gender Equality & its Unintended Victims

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Source: The Odyssey Online

Talking about gender equality is the in thing of the 21st century. It is also the 4th identified SDG goal by the United Nations towards attaining sustainable development across the globe. I do understand and acknowledge that the term is one that has been coined out of sheer necessity due to intense marginalization efforts targeted at women since the beginning, born out of the need to drive the momentum of equal rights for everyone, regardless of their gender.

However, it is at times interesting and a bit jarring to observe just how skewed this drive for ‘equality’ becomes in the face of certain events that takes place. For instance, on 21st of February 2017, a 71 year old man from R. Dhuvafaru became a victim of an acid attack, who is now undergoing treatment at state run Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) for the injuries he sustained.

What surprised me the most was there was nothing about this attack on social media platforms that are usually abuzz with every little thing that takes place. No one was talking about the fact that the contact lenses he was wearing melted in his right eye owing to the attack. That the attacker had been lying in wait when the victim had been on his way to the mosque for his dawn prayers. No one was going aghast over it. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration on my part to say that pin drop silence was what remained.

However, when a 50 year old woman was attacked on 24th of December 2016 with bleach in Sh. Lhaimagu during the early hours of the morning (similar to the attack on the victim mentioned above), the storm that became Twitter for instance was one to behold. Everyone was quick to condemn the attack, link it to extremism, the rise of fundamentalism and of course the fear that acid attacks on women might become an emerging trend as in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and even Afghanistan. NGOs were quick to condemn the attack while the same NGOs weren’t heard from this time around.

Another circumstance where I came across the same was a discussion I had with a fellow classmate on trafficking victims. When I asked her whether it was just females alone who are victims of trafficking in Malaysia, she didn’t particularly have a response or seemed to care. I have come across Amnesty International reports done on foreign labor in Malaysia where there are horrific accounts from trafficked victims who are male, who are exploited, beaten or worse by employers and even authorities who mostly get away with victimizing these groups of people.

While everyone focuses on women and children when it comes to victims of trafficking, perhaps for the obvious reason that they are the more vulnerable out of the three, it is still unsettling to know that just because these victims happen to be male, they are not considered as victims as much as females are. This is what I find wrong with the whole skewed machinations behind the advocation of and implementation of mechanisms that addresses gender equality.

A victim is a victim regardless of gender. Be it male or female, they are still victims under circumstances that should never have taken place, should never be. Condemnation should have the same vigor behind it, if we are going to do it at all. Otherwise we just become hypocrites who in the name of gender equality have lost sight of the bigger picture.

Getting Control of Your Anxiety & Depression

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Source: everydayhealth.com

The spiraling loss of control of your own emotions and life, not being in a position to steer the course of your everyday activities; that is the stark reality of the lives of people who undergo symptoms of panic, anxiety, phobia and depression or worse. Most of the time the four seems to work in tandem with one another. Someone who has anxiety has heightened levels of panic associated with phobic tendencies that tends to increase depressive thoughts which at times takes them to the edge of having suicidal thoughts.

Treatment of course relates to the mind. The brain being the complex organ it is, is a mystery that continues to elude scientists even today, even though they are making inroads in advancing their way into understanding the intricacies of the human mind. Owing to the complex nature of it all, no two patients at times responds to the same regiments of treatment. This of course makes one who already has enough unhealthy thoughts clouding the mind have a tough time in trusting doctors and treatment regiments.

While some allude to the fact that mental illnesses like anxiety and phobia are hereditary as well, one obvious and blatant fact that cannot be denied is that increasing numbers of people are identified with symptoms associated with ill mental health across the world. October 10th is marked as the World Mental Health Day by WHO, in a bid to raise awareness and to increase mobilization of efforts to tackle a most prevalent issue in societies of today. Perhaps it is the fact that people are more aware of what mental illnesses entail and are able to identify it as such and tend to seek treatment more than before which increases the number of patients recorded per year across the world. Or perhaps it is the highly advanced, competitive and stressful lives we lead today that is the underlying reason behind the increase in numbers.

Regardless of whatever it is that triggers symptoms, it is imperative that a person be able to identify which is which and seek treatment before things escalate to a point where the person is unable to move sideways from the intensity of the fear projected by the mind. It is tough, especially for those who do not believe in doctors, medicines and hospitals and scoff at the very idea of seeking medical help, even when they are in need of it.

In my battle with mental illness, symptoms of which rears its ugly head every now and then even now, I have discovered certain things that I am going to share, which may or not help you, but regardless, I’ve felt that reading about other people’s experiences makes one feel less alone in the at times severely debilitating circumstances mental illnesses puts one through.

Knowing your own body:

I’ve discovered that when it comes to people who have issues of anxiety, phobia and panic symptoms, we tend to be a bunch who are hyper aware of our own bodies. Every twitch and thump of our body becomes magnified to an extent that causes you to go online, and check symptoms, the ending of that particular story which we all know rather well. It usually ends with the self made diagnosis that you have contracted a life threatening disease and are counting the days till life as you know it ends. Which of course adds to the cycle you are already going through because you tend to believe in the worst that life has to offer when you are depressed. The worst case scenario becomes the ‘best’ case scenario when you are feeling this way. 

What I have found is that undertaking a medical checkup at least annually goes a long way in putting to rest a lot of your fears that crops up on a daily basis. It allows your rational mind to overtake the scared shitless one and tells you that things have been declared fine by your physician. And if not, your doctor has already addressed your concerns and given you a course of treatment to put it to rights.

But, all this is easier said than done, especially if one is phobic about seeing a doctor. But pushing past this fear is a must, if one is to start on a path to regain control of one’s own life.

This is a battle I myself face when I have to undertake my own medical checkups. Sometimes it feels like the whole process just adds on more tension to your life than what it’s worth. But believe me, it is worth the tension, the headache and the worrying you go through once all is said and done. It allows for peace of mind to reign, at least when it comes to those odd beats and thumps and aches of your body without taking you into a state of frenzied panic every single time.

Seeking medical help:

There is no shame in seeking medical help when one is in need of it. It is in fact a shame that people tend to put off going to the doctor when symptoms of any illness are easier to identify and treat than wait around until things reach a point where it becomes more complicated to diagnose and start treatment.

The tough question here is how do you decide when it is you need help. This of course varies from person to person. Sounding dumb and feeling like an idiot for thinking there is something wrong with you after you have seen the doctor is way better than sitting at home and going mindless with worry.

This relates to what has been highlighted earlier in a large way. If you have a physician that you usually see, who knows your personality, your issues, it is always a good idea to see him or her and discuss how you are feeling. Some doctors of course tend to scoff at the idea of mental illnesses and psychologists, but I believe that that is a trend which is reversing and slowly changing in the circle of medical professionals.

Something that my physician relayed to me when I was going through the worst of my symptoms has stayed with me even till today. He told me that my body would let me know in subtle and the not so subtle ways when I am in need of medical attention. So listen to your body. Listen to what it tells you. If things are that dire, your body will signal its need for medical attention.

If your physician is astute enough, he or she should be able to pinpoint that what you might in fact be in need of is a treatment course to address your mental health problems rather than any physical manifestation of illnesses. If not, if you are constantly plagued by depressive thoughts, if you are constantly unhappy in a way that is difficult to shake off, if you are constantly cranky, unable to sleep or sleeping too much, have no appetite or have been consuming food excessively, and small things that are considered inconsequential by the rest triggers in you a state of panic and anxiousness, then it is a good idea to seek the opinion of a psychologist to see whether there is a need for you to start a treatment regiment.

Trusting your doctor:

Trust is a difficult thing when it comes to mental issues. Your mind is not working in tandem with you, but rather opposes you in most of the things you want. Your mind has a ‘mind’ of its own and it is rather difficult to overcome this.

But, it is imperative that you find a doctor that you are comfortable with, someone who puts you at ease, yet, someone who is firm enough to tell you exactly what you need. Mollycoddling ones fears doesn’t help. Nor does it help to totally disregard the way you feel. It is a balance that your doctor must try to achieve in being empathetic towards your plight, yet be true to his duty in laying out a course of treatment that addresses your needs.

It is your right to ask your doctor questions, have them answered in a manner that is satisfactory to you. If you have fears about taking certain medications because of course Dr. Google helps you to identify the one thousand and one side effects associated with every medication that is known to mankind, you should clear them up with your doctor. If you are unable to take a particular medication, you should discuss your concerns with your doctor rather than stewing about it on your own.

A lot of medications out there that treats these symptoms does come with lousy side effects attached to them. Doctors will tell you that it will take at least 2 weeks for your  body to adjust to the onslaught of chemical warfare going on inside your mind once you start on your medications. If side effects are severe and you cannot cope, it is something that once again you need to discuss with your doctor.

When I was getting treated, I found myself getting immensely tired, needing to nap after work when I am someone who usually shies away from sleeping at odd hours. But combined with bad bouts of insomnia, it was a matter of riding through the worst of it to get to that point where I could see the light at the end of the tunnel flickering and guiding me towards it.

Another point of importance is that trusting your doctor does mean following his advice on other matters related to your treatment as well. I was advised to find a way to deal with stress, which otherwise my doctor pointed out that I might forever have to depend on medication to get through the daily grind. Someone who is loathe to exercise, I found myself in a position where I had no choice but to face my intense dislike for physical activity and get myself out there. In order to give the stress (which I had no idea had accumulated to that much of a degree) an outlet, I had to force myself to regularly exercise. I am glad to say that it all worked out in the end.

Keeping regular hours:

I have found that this is crucial if you are to get your body and mind back in shape once again. Keeping regular hours includes taking meals on time, sleeping a certain number of hours at night and ensuring that you keep to a schedule until your body adjusts to the process. If you are battling insomnia, it helps to read something to keep your mind from veering in directions that could send you spiraling down the black hole once again.

Even if keeping to a schedule is difficult for you, it is imperative that at least you try. Your body will adjust in time as humans are creatures of habit at best.

Confiding in people:

Keeping your worries about life and perhaps the circumstances of your life that contributes towards your symptoms to just yourself is another way in which you can keep mounting stress on yourself. Trusting people might be hard, and you might consider yourself as the type to shoulder your own burdens whatever happens. You might even be proud of the fact that you do not talk about your life, the symptoms of your illness with anyone else. This is wrong.

You have to find at least one person who is understanding and empathetic of what is happening to you, someone who can listen to you and help you voice out regarding what is happening to you. Perhaps you might consider your doctor as the only person in whom you can confide in. There is a sense of shame that people experience when they go through mental illnesses, perhaps because physical symptoms do not manifest on the outside for most, and some people can be quite insensitive to what you are going through.

Even today, I find that some of my friends brush aside my concerns regarding certain issues that I talk to them about. What I have learnt along the way is to stop talking to them about those things. If they ask, I just give them an abbreviated answer which most of the time satisfies them without going down a road where they can either piss you off or hurt your feelings or both.

Being diagnosed with depression and anxiety can be a pretty solitary affair for most. I experienced pretty much just that when I went through the worst of it. Looking back on how things were like back then, I make it a point to reach out to friends or even people I might not know very well if I feel that they are going through a hard time as such. You cannot have too many people who understand what you are going through and are willing to sit and talk with you. I believe that finding someone you can confide in and relax with, that is one of the most important aspects of combating the symptoms.

Removing negativity from your life:

This I know, is easier said than done. Your work environment for instance, under most circumstances lies beyond your control to change. Your family, of course you cannot walk away from.

For those things that you cannot change, you just have to make peace with it and move on. If negativity is around you when it comes to your family and work, avoid getting into situations that gets you stressed out. Try to spend minimal amount of time as much as possible with those that stresses you out and unhinges you. All that negativity can definitely bring you down. Trust me, I definitely know what I am talking about.

If it is an unhealthy career choice that is making you stressed out, try to find a way to move on from that position. You should love yourself first above everything else. If there is even the remotest possibility of finding something else that could make you more content, go for it. Your mental health is more important than climbing up the corporate ladder at the cost of your sanity.

If it is friends who are bringing you down, move on from them. I know that that sounds rather harsh. But you do not need that kind of negativity from anyone. Friends, at least you can choose whom you want to be with unlike family and work colleagues. This, at least you can control. I have walked away from my fair share of friends when those relationships stopped working for me. When things got too toxic. Love yourself enough to walk away. That is a mantra to live by.

Pushing your comfort zone:

Being phobic, anxious and depressed could mean that you become quite dependent on the comfort zone that you make for yourself, that zone in which  the worst of your symptoms are mostly held at bay. We all clutch at the straws when we are desperate, and it is this desperation that makes us create this zone around ourselves when we are afflicted with symptoms as such.

However, one must be careful not to get into the habit of becoming too comfortable in this zone. Because this could mean a life half-lived, without challenging yourself to come out of this hole you dig for yourself.

I constantly remind myself to do things that would push the boundaries of my comfort zone. Of course, I have to make peace with the fact that I would never ever be able conquer certain fears I have. Situations where I would never want to find myself in. I know for instance that I would not wake up one day and decide to go skydiving because I want to push myself.

Take small steps. Be it even a walk around the neighborhood. Or going to a nearby shop to buy something. When you are anxious, large crowds can definitely be daunting. Meeting up with friends and socializing can be exhausting when you are depressed. But try. There is no harm in trying. If you have at least one friend or a circle of friends who are understanding of your illness (if you are lucky), then they would understand your sensitivities as well. Once you start pushing yourself, your mind rewires your fears with positive thoughts, because it starts to understand that there is no danger to be had from what you are attempting to do.

If people constantly keep telling you that you should not do this, you are not ready for this, something which I face at times, be strong enough to move past all that. If you need help, ask for it from someone who would understand. If not, try and make an attempt. Somewhere along the way, your mind will stop fearing the unknown and accept the fact that there is no need for a flight response, which is the most common reaction to the nonexistent dangers perceived by the mind.

Being mindful of your physical and spiritual wellbeing:

This is another very important aspect when considering a holistic treatment regiment for your symptoms. If you are someone who believes in religion, in the existence of a higher being, it is always good to reflect more, spend more time on spiritual cleansing.

I myself found a lot of solace in my prayers when I was going through the roughest of times. Reciting verses from the Quran when I feel as if the walls are closing in on me is something that I do even now. I never forget the fact that above all, contentment of the heart and soul comes from my spiritual wellbeing. For that to happen, just like I feed my body with food to keep it functioning, I have to look after soul in the same way.

For those that do not believe in a religion or existence of God, I am guessing there are other ways to keep the mind occupied rather than let it flounder and get lost in the abysmal despair the mind can subject you to. Try what works for you. Do things that makes you feel happy. That is always a start.

Similarly, physical health is as important. A 20 to 30 minutes brisk walk everyday could immensely improve your mood as exercise releases chemicals in your body that reduces your stress levels and also makes you feel better and happier about yourself. You do not have to join a body combat class and punish yourself to feel this way. Start out small if you are someone who has never been in the habit of exercising. If you persist and persevere in your efforts, you will definitely find yourself on the other side of the tunnel. It might not happen today or tomorrow, or even a month down the line, but it will happen. You just have to be patient and work through the worst of it.

May we all be happier and more content tomorrow than today. That is my prayer, for every one of us.

Hitler and the Rise of Fascist Governments in the Modern World

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I recently watched Hitler, the Rise of Evil, a mini-series of sorts that depicts Hitler’s rise to power through the ranks of the National German Workers’ Party before World War II took place.

I believe that there would exist very few who haven’t come across Hitler’s name and heard of the atrocities that he committed in his attempts to wipe out the Jews from Germany. But having watched this, I believe that people have come to forget what it is that once gave Hitler his voice, what made it gain momentum, and what finally made him a force that was answerable to no one but himself, up until he took his own life, having become a name that would be splashed across the pages of history books forever.

Hitler himself wasn’t born a German. The irony behind this is there for everyone to see. Born in Austria, Hitler’s childhood is depicted to be one filled with abuse at the hands of his father. Growing up, Hitler was determined to become an artist – a dream that remains unfulfilled.

Having come to live in Germany, Hitler becomes of the mind that everything that Germans should rightfully own is being taken away by the Jews living in their midst. Even then, though not a German by nationality, somehow or the other Hitler had started to identify himself as one. Of course all this stemmed from sentiments that other Germans also held, but not with as much vigor as that held by Hitler.

Hitler was basically a nobody, who was given a place to voice his hate filled rhetoric by the circumstances he finds himself in when he joins the ranks of the National German Workers’ Party. His anger, the passion behind his words that echoed sentiments of a greater German race is one that finds its way into the hearts of the people who attend these meetings. Today, we see the same when leaders of the contemporary world use divisive and hate filled politics to drive the wedge deeper in a bid to get what they want.

As time goes on, Hitler’s audience grows in number, the rich and affluent backs him, all the while thinking that they would be able to manipulate and control him for their own needs. No one tries to stop him and his hate filled speeches that grows larger crowds than ever, until a tipping point comes where Hitler and his allies try to stage a coup which fails rather miserably. Once again, driving home the point the need for accountability that comes with the concept of free speech, an aspect that many liberals tend to have problems with.

Hitler returns a couple of months down the line to win seats in the parliament for their party, via which he controls the entire dynamics of politics at play until finally he is given German citizenship, which paves the way for him to force the hands of the powers that be that makes him the Chancellor of Germany.

Hitler was a maniac, a narcissist, a man who couldn’t see beyond his hatred for the Jews. A control freak that couldn’t abide by anyone who defied him, Hitler was a man that should have been stopped, had society had the foresight into what he was and what he represented.

Responsible for the murders of millions of Jews in concentration camps and otherwise out of whom many were children, the most interesting aspect of the story for me was the role played by Fritz Gerlich, a German journalist who refused to tow the line when it came to Hitler. He saw the dangers behind what Hitler represented, he wrote and tried to get the message across at great cost to himself and his wife, his sole purpose being to educate people on what they were getting themselves into. He finally paid for it with his life in one of the first concentration camps that was set up.

What was scary in the extreme for me was the way Fritz saw the disregard people showed towards anything of the nature he had to say. Few believed him. Rest couldn’t care less. The detached nature of society towards the evil that was emerging from right in their midst, that’s what I can see among us even today.

Hitler’s absolute control of the institutions once he came to power is one that we should all learn lessons from. This enabled him to promulgate the laws required, to change the constitution as he saw fit, in order to finally bring to life the plans that had always lurked deep in his psych.

We see the same happening in our own country when it comes to control of the legislative body and perhaps with Donald Trump’s ascension to the American presidency, with Republicans controlling both houses of their legislature, I believe that the potential for the same thing happening in the US is just as great. The slogan of “Make America Great Again” drips with the same sort of vile rhetoric that was used by Hitler to win the Germans over which helped him to finally execute his plans.

The rise of fascism and governments that hold strong beliefs of superiority of own people over minorities is an increasing trend in the world once again today. Donald Trump’s win in the US has actually emboldened a lot of far right movements within Europe itself. Their blatantly racist and hatred filled speeches are becoming a thing of the norm, the accepted norm once again.

Watching the series, I just couldn’t help but think to myself, when would we as humans ever learn from our pasts. When would we stop being so complacent about everything, just because we are not at the receiving end of the wrongs that is happening around us. I say this because majority of us seems to have lost our ability to identify wrong from right, what is acceptable from what is not, and we are all uncritically satisfied with our own actions or lack of, in the face of the rise of leaders who are hellbent on destroying the very fabric of democratic societies that emerged as a need to eradicate even the remotest possibility of a new Hitler rising to power from the ashes ever again.

The Insidious Nature of Modern Day Slavery

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Nepali girls recruited into the sex industry in India. Source: Glamour Nepal

Recently one evening in class, a student used the example of modern day slavery to explain a concept, something which the lecturer had a hard time accepting, at least to my observations. When people talk or believe modern day slavery to be something that is nonexistent, I guess the only thing their minds can conjure up is the fact that slavery of the kind that saw the blacks and convicts shackled, bound and collared ended a long time ago. The days when people were sold off as slaves in countries like Australia, and this too in broad daylight in the open market places, that day has perhaps long come and gone. But slavery in itself, it exists in many forms even today, and I do not believe that the concept of enslaving people would ever die out as long as we humans continue to exploit our resources, human and otherwise, in our quest for power and wealth.

Slavery is the concept that drives and thrives in the example of the little Nepalese girl brought to India in the name of giving her an honest wage earning job to make ends meet back at home, the girl who is then sold into prostitution in a bustling city that cares naught how or where the underage child who services you comes from. This girl who finds herself saddled with HIV or some other sexually transmitted disease with devastating consequences, or a pregnancy way before she is past her teens, or most often than not, the whole package deal. The shackles of slavery are what the baby she gives birth to is born with, a life of servitude in the oldest profession in the world, or worse.

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On Child Labor in Philippines – Source: Al Jazeera

What is it other than slavery when child labor is exploited in different parts of the world, for instance in the carpet weaving industry in Turkey, where young and nimble fingers are overworked until they are cracked and bleeding, until their fingers are no longer able to work through the weaves and loops. What can you call the concept of children who are forced into doing dirty, dangerous and difficult jobs such as gold mining in the Philippines where young ones are lowered into pits as deep as 25 meters on a rope, pits where oxygen is pumped in manually, shallower pits not even getting this, which as a result has seen many a death of child laborers through suffocation? What do you call this, but modern day slavery when these children are forced to leave school, leave their childhood behind and start earning their keep for survival?

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Migrant Worker Exploitation. Source: Amnesty International

What do you call the Bangladeshi man for instance, who sells off his assets, mortgages his property and becomes embroiled in a vicious cycle of debt that prevents him from seeking a better life for himself or his family ever again, all because he had to pay off the agent at home who promised him lucrative work in a country like Malaysia or Maldives? He arrives in host country only to find his passport has been withheld, forcing him to work in sectors that provides little or no occupational and safety measures, working for mere pittance in jobs that the locals shun. He is exploited in every single manner possible, churning in a hopeless situation that doesn’t seem likely to improve in countries that look upon their migrant workforce with abject hostility. What do you call this vile form of exploitation where either he dies from a work related accident that could have been prevented, or he returns home years and years later, having finally served off his debt, a broken shell of a man from the one that left, the one who was optimistic that he would be able to turn his family’s luck around.

What should people call most city dwellers caught up in the cycle of “work -> pay rent -> die”; all because they were not lucky enough to be born into the 1% of the families of the world that holds 90% of its wealth? They live their life paycheck to paycheck, not because they spend frivolously, but without having made a frivolous expense all their lives, just surviving in the demands made on the urban poor living in a city that mocks at them with how far they are lagging behind the rest of them.

Modern day slavery may not take place in broad daylight, where auctions are held at the market to sell off little girls and boys into the world of prostitution, whereby they are treated to the ugliest side of human nature, where no one hears their cries for help. Modern day slavery is more insidious and vicious an animal in the way it manipulates, eludes and evades the established systems in place. Majority of us are shielded from this ugly side life here on Earth. Perhaps, the most blatant hypocrisy being that this form of exploitation is even “accepted” when it comes to the capitalist theory of development, where capitalist exploitation of the working class of nations lying on the semi-periphery and periphery are seen as the unnecessary evils of development.

Modern day slavery thrives in every corner of the globe. As consumers, most of us are guilty of contributing to this cycle. Buying that t-shirt manufactured in a barely standing with multiple hazards in existence factory in Bangladesh which might burn down any minute. The love for handwoven carpets that has you buying one at an exorbitant price for your father who loves the intricate designs, only mere pittance of which is paid to the child whose nimble fingers are now no more. Perhaps the gold necklace that you just bought for your wife that contains gold mined by a child whose life has been extinguished by the lack of oxygen in the pit in which he worked more than 12 hours a day; until modern day slavery took away his life, the slavery which some cannot bring themselves to believe exists.

Such is modern day slavery.

Such is the insidious nature of human exploitation at work.

Maldives and the Not So Curious Case of its #CWExit

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Foreign Minister of the Maldives – Dr. Mohamed Asim. Source: BBC.com

It is a widely accepted notion amongst intellectuals of political science and international relations that foreign policies of countries for the most part remain stable over long periods of time. It is not so without reason. International relations are forged, developed and nurtured over long & hefty periods of time. Countries put great effort into these relations because it somehow or other mutually benefits them to be in a state of cooperation than conflict. Because if otherwise, a misquoted statement from a public official of country A about country B could pave the way for potential disaster, if not for the first line of defense provided by the diplomatic ties established between these countries.

Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), i.e. entities formed by states coming together such as the United Nations (UN), The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to name a few, are established for various reasons. Whether for economic or defense needs or to strengthen bilateral or multilateral relations, these entities form a platform for countries to engage in and benefit from each other, in terms of trade deals and other such mutually beneficial ventures.

Entities like the UN, even though might not hold absolute authority over countries given the state of anarchy that exists when it comes to a universal government of sorts to oversee affairs of all nations, even with the limitations present, it however does provide nations with a sort of check and balance mechanism within the existing framework of the establishment. This helps member countries to work with especially those nations that are considered to be taking a turn for the hostile or are seen shortchanging their citizens on issues of human rights, democracy and freedom etc., so that its citizens in the least have somewhere to turn to when all avenues of justice and hope they seek are not to be found on their home turf.

Similarly for the Maldives, ever since it gained its independence from the British in 1965, it has formed bilateral and multilateral ties with a lot of nations on the diplomatic front. For a country such as ours that is small and seemingly insignificant when considering the larger scale of things, these ties are essential to our very existence. A country, a large part of whose income is derived from high end tourism is in no place to snub the international community over reasons that are as or more abhorrent to say the least.

The news yesterday that the incumbent government of Maldives had finally had it with the Commonwealth and decided to leave the body was one that sent shock waves through citizens of the nation. Considering the fact that Maldives has been a member of the Commonwealth since 1982 and going 34 years – not a small number of years in my opinion, this time, Maldives has with pride, joined the ranks of esteemed countries like that of Zimbabwe which in 2003 announced that it was leaving the Commonwealth after being suspended in March 2002 over serious issues in its elections.

The Commonwealth

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Flag of the Commonwealth. Source: Flags.net

Formerly known as the British Commonwealth, the Commonwealth of today came into formal existence in 1949 and forms a loose association of former British colonies and current dependencies, along with some nations with no significant historical ties to Britain. It was not until 1947 when India and Pakistan achieved their independence from the British that the Commonwealth as we know it today emerged. Even though the word British was dropped from the name then, the British monarch remains the official head of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth charter sets an ambitious agenda for member countries. To bring together values such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law – asserting its commitment towards the development of such societies in its member states, all of which spells trouble for countries like the Maldives, that continually seems to be testing the boundaries of what would be acceptable or perhaps of late, not giving a damn about what is the accepted norm for a government that spouts democratic principles to be part of its establishment and setup.

What the Commonwealth Brings to the Table

Unlike the UN, in theory, members of the Commonwealth have equal say, and this does not depend on their size or economic status. One of the benefits to member states being the fact that it gives smaller states just like the Maldives, a platform in the arena of international politics and diplomatic circles – in other words it lends a voice to punitive nations like ours and the room to engage with bigger nations that could prove to be helpful in outlining economic and other such policies that have a broader positive impact on the country and its people.

While most would argue that a Heads of Government Meeting every two years is hardly something to boast about, the Commonwealth does come with benefits for member states in areas such as that of immigration. Especially during a time where Muslims are under constant scrutiny and threat of being denied entrance into certain parts of the world owing to the rise in threat of global terrorism, being a member of Commonwealth does afford citizens of a member country like that of Maldives, a cushion from the blowback if otherwise.

As a Commonwealth citizen, if you are looking to immigrate to Commonwealth nations, you maybe entitled to visa-free entry if the country you are traveling from is deemed to be in “good standing” – a line I believe that the Maldives has already crossed. Bringing to mind the harrowing couple of weeks right after Maldives snubbed its neighbor India on the GMR deal where citizens had to line up near the Indian High Commission from dusk till morning in the hopes of getting their visa approved in order to seek medical treatment in India suffices as an example of how difficult things can get – if countries were inclined to do so.

In terms of immigration, it the Commonwealth also does help member states when trying to gain entrance into non-member countries as well. Maldives is not a country with many embassies established on our shores. This means that, as a Commonwealth member, the British embassy or consulate can step into play the role as required for you to get the proper documents.

Being a Commonwealth member also offers member states with access to participate in the Commonwealth Games, an international sporting event that countries like the Maldives would be hard-pressed to gain entrance to if not. This is tied to the dreams and aspirations of many a young athlete who works with sheer determination and focus towards making a name for themselves in an international setting such as what the Games offer.

The Commonwealth also comes bearing for the studious amongst our young to seek fully funded study opportunities to developed nations which if otherwise, children from even middle class families of a country like ours can only ever dream of. Once again, the aspirations of the young who would lead our country tomorrow are tied to a valuable resource that is hard to come by these days, especially given the lack of scholarships forthcoming from the government itself, not to mention how scarce these chance are, even from other such international organizations and countries that are keen on providing students with such golden opportunities.

Needless to say, though the benefits afforded might not seem to amount to much in the face of 150 million US$ dollars that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia can grant to the Maldives, being a member of the Commonwealth does offer certain privileges to citizens of member states, the loss of which might not be so easy to deal with in the long run.

The Criticism towards Commonwealth

Commonwealth is largely criticized for the passive role it plays when it comes to actively promoting the values embedded in its Charter. It was only in 1995 that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was established with 8 ministers, its sole purpose being to deal with governments that are unyielding in their violation of the principles of the Commonwealth. CMAG also comes equipped with the power to take punitive collective measures such as imposing sanctions or suspending members who are seen to violate its Charter and principles.

Even with the establishment of CMAG, Commonwealth is seen to be an entity that takes the easy way out more often than not. Commonwealth’s lack of actions consistent with its principles in the case of Sri Lanka’s human rights abuses under the reign of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is notable. Another example is of how Nigeria was partially suspended in 1995 for hanging a human rights activist Ken Saro-Wira, while the body largely ignored the abuse of the Ogoni people that had been the root of Saro-Wira’s campaign.

The Commonwealth is also damned for its “insidious postcolonial politics” that prevents Britain and other affluent members such as Canada and Australia from providing a better leadership that could perhaps bridge the gap between the Commonwealth and other more focused and efficient entities such as the European Union.

CMAG & Maldives – A Tale with a Bittersweet Ending

A CMAG meeting in action. Source: vnews.mv

A CMAG meeting in action. Source: vnews.mv

It was the CMAG’s involvement in the affairs of the Maldives following the coup which took place on February 7th of 2012, that ousted the first democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed that saw emergence of rhetoric from members of the rogue government that Maldives should leave the Commonwealth. Some members of parliament were seen mocking the head of the Commonwealth herself in their attempt to sound important enough so that the powers they worship would be well impressed with how they were earning their entitled position.

CMAG placed Maldives on its agenda following the coup from March 2012 to March 2013, until a Commonwealth backed inquiry into the power transfer found it to be a constitutional one. Going into the nitty-gritties involving how this particular event unfolded is beyond the scope of this article. With the establishment of the “truth”, the rhetoric to leave the Commonwealth also more or less died down along with it, not surprising given that the pressure on the Maldivian government eased off for the time being.

It was in 2015, just last year, during the turbulent political trials that saw the arrest and imprisonment of top opposition political figures in the country and some influential members from the government’s cabinet itself that saw CMAG once again intervene into the affairs of the Maldives.

Ex-Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon then is reported to have said that the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it were to be placed on the agenda of CMAG for a second time in 4 years. Furthermore, Dunya criticized CMAG for continually pushing the Maldives for reform when no “serious” violations existed in the country and also lamented the fact that the Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma was too trigger happy to take action without giving Maldives the time to follow due process. Dunya also bemoaned the fact that being placed on CMAG’s agenda posed reputational risks to the country, putting its economy and democratic governance at risk.

So what made the government finally bite the bullet and make a decision that made Maldives appear in headlines of almost all major global newspapers? The reason being that the Maldives once again found its way into the CMAG’s agenda on the meeting that was held on 23rd of September of this year, where CMAG expressed “deep disappointment” in the worsening political situation of the country. This meant that the Maldives had to buckle down and show CMAG that they mean business when it comes to the reforms they have been promising to the group in a bid to buy time to do whatever it is that the government wanted to. This decision by the CMAG of course did not come without reason.

CMAG listed out 5 concrete reasons as to why Maldives might face imminent suspension, some of which includes the flawed and politically motivated trials to imprison those that were deemed to be political rivals of the incumbent President, how the parliament of the country has been hijacked by Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and is used as a tool to oppress the people – the recent ratification of the draconian Defamation Bill suffices as just one example, and furthermore, the government’s seeming reluctance and will to stem the spread of radical ideology which was also raised as a point of grave concern.

Intervention attempts by various teams such as the UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers which in 2013 recommended the Maldives to strengthen its judicial independence, which of course has gone unheeded, and attempts by the CMAG itself to try and work out a way to get all political parties together to discuss a way forward, the latest of which involved requirement for all party talks which was headed for trouble right from the onset.

Thus, a regime that seems to be distancing itself further and further away from nations and entities that actually demands of the government to uphold principles of democracy and good governance upon which the country’s Constitution itself is based on, it should be of no surprise that the ultimate decision made by the executive is to leave the Commonwealth, thus plunging the citizens of the country into times of more uncertainty, questions about most of which could not be answered by representatives of the regime themselves. “The decision to leave the Commonwealth was difficult, but inevitable” does not suffice as an explanation for a judgement reached by the executive, that could plunge the lives of Maldivians into unforeseeable difficulties in the near future.

If one were to ask why the need to isolate ourselves from those nations and entities that would attempt to interfere? They would have to look no further than the damning evidence reported on Stealing Paradise, Al Jazeera’s recent documentary into the massive corruption allegations involving the core political elite of the country, which ultimately points the finger towards the man himself.

I rest my case.