Defamation Bill & Its Un-Islamic Defense

Censorship

Source: The English Law Students’ Association

It is being talked about with much fervor today, the Islamic viewpoint behind criticizing the leadership and governance of a country and its head of state. Last year, right after the Independence Day celebrations were held, I wrote about how the government was imminently going to pass legislature that is “required” to put us behind bars for exercising our right to free speech, especially when it concerns the government and its elites. Today would most likely be the day upon which this prediction is going to become a reality, depending on whether government aligned party members pay heed to the sentiments of the people or bow down to their own greed, which has seen them profit most handsomely in recent times.

With the Defamation Bill submitted to the Parliament for the second time around, it went into the committee stage where religious scholars from the Fiqh Academy in the country were invited to have their say. Unsurprisingly, the sheikhs who turned up were in fact in agreement that the Defamation Bill is crucial and an important bill that needs to be passed, and furthermore went onto cite that defamation in fact, is considered to be a criminal offense in Islam. These sheikhs further went onto elaborate how criticizing the leader of a country is not to be done, how Islam forbids this, how Islam asks of society to obey their leaders, even if they turn out to be tyrannical monsters.

Islam on Oppression

Up till now, I have tried to refrain from saying much on the issue, because for one thing, I might not be the best of people to talk about things from an Islamic perspective, given that my knowledge when it comes to the Sharia’ and laws via which Islamic jurisprudence is governed is pretty much limited in comparison to the high heeled scholars of the country, the ones who go through their entire lives with their third eye blind, unable to see or hear of the cries of the sheer injustice that has become the norm in this country of ours.

My knowledge of Islam, the religion I follow and love, which is very much a part of who I am, does not jive at all with what the esteemed sheikhs revealed at the committee floor. In fact, I went on to do some reading to find out what I could about the scriptures being quoted often by the sheikhs who are in support of such a law being passed.

I found out that Sunni scholars agree upon the point that a leader should be obeyed, regardless of how corrupt and tyrannical he or she becomes and tramples the law of the land as they see fit. The only avenue left, according to these groups of scholars, is to advise the despot in place, hoping that his non-existent conscience grows a limb or two before the whole country is engulfed in misery and suffering.

On this note, Shiite scholars disagree and goes as far as to say that a ruler needs to be even forcibly removed from office, if it were to come to the point where he or she starts to trample on the rights of the people, when corruption becomes the accepted norm along with injustice that becomes rampant. According to these groups of scholars, corrupt and tyrannical rulers are not to be obeyed, and they hold the viewpoint that it becomes a “must” upon the people to remove such a leader from that position of power upon which they reside.

Of course, given the Sunni-Shiite split that pretty much makes anything the other group has to say blasphemous over the other, this clearly does not give much insight when it comes to how exactly Islam views the concept of leaders, the sheer magnitude of the responsibility that is thrust upon them, and how society should react and be able to act when it comes to less than stellar behavior from the leaders that govern.

Islam as a religion comes bearing peace amidst above everything else. This does not mean the peace of the kind that exists merely on the surface, but peace of the kind that reigns when there justice to be had in a society, regardless of race, skin colour, blood line or your status of wealth.

Establishing justice in its truest form, the way Allah SWT decreed it might be an impossibility in the context of the world, with its inherently corrupt people, the shifting areas of grey within the established man-made laws and the differences of opinion that arises in defining what the laws mandate, which sometimes are as vastly different from the other as night is to day.

In Surah An-Nisa, Allah SWT says, “O you who believe, be persistently standing firm in justice as witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. Follow not your desires, lest you not be just. If you distort your testimony or refuse to give it, then Allah is aware of what you do. [Ayah 135].

Abu Dharr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:Allah the Exalted said: O my servants, I have forbidden oppression for myself and have made it forbidden among you, so do not oppress one another.

Furthermore, Anas (R.A) has narrated that Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) said, “Help your brother, whether he is an oppressor or he is an oppressed one. People asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! It is all right to help him if he is oppressed, but how should we help him if he is an oppressor?” The Prophet said, “By preventing him from oppressing others.” Volume 3, Book 43, Number 624: Sahih Bukhari.

What does all of the above indicate? The simple fact that establishment of justice becomes paramount in a society, more so when we claim ours to be an Islamic one, standing firm in its principles. Thus, it becomes the duty upon the ruler appointed by the people to manage their affairs to establish the system of justice that remains removed from other influential forces at work. It becomes a must upon the ruler to appoint judges who are able and remain uninfluenced by corrupt practices, and to create check and balance mechanisms that works properly to weed out vile practices that breaches the establishment of trust that is forged between a people and their government.

Hence, it becomes imperative upon the people to voice out against injustice, corruption, and mismanagement of the kind that hurts the people and society. What the Defamation Bill is geared to do is to stop any voice of reason out there that sheds light on any such practices of the government in the management of our affairs. It is targeted towards instilling fear in the hearts of those that do not want tyranny, injustice and corruption to be the way of life for Maldivians, but are helpless to do much more than voice out their discontent. With humongous fines cited as punishment, not to mention jail terms if people are unable to cough up the fines payable to the state in millions, the Defamation Bill closes the door on the rights of the citizen when it comes to “preventing the oppressor from oppressing others”.

Islamic History & Its Lessons

Looking into the history of how Islam as a religion was propagated through different times, up until the last of the Prophets, Prophet Muhammad PBUH was sent, there exists lessons for all of us in what took place then.

If one were to ponder upon, for instance, why Prophet Musa (AS) was sent upon the people of Egypt, the Pharaoh being notorious in the tyranny that he was imposing upon his people, I believe we would identify what is wrong with the statements of the Sheikhs from the Fiqh Academy. Of course, Prophet Musa (AS) undoubtedly was sent to show the people the right way, but he was also sent to liberate the people who had been suffering for years under the tyrannical rule of a leader that was becoming more and oppressive and paranoid by the day. Paranoid enough that he wanted all male offspring born to the people be killed, for fear that the vision of a leader who would end his reign may come true.

A lot of people talk about how Prophet Lut (AS) was sent upon the people of Sadoom and how it all relates back to acts of homosexuality that was rampant amongst their people, to the extent which men preferred their own gender over women. But what most fail to pinpoint is the fact that there existed more severe problems in their society than homosexuality. Injustice was the law of the day, where judges were corrupt, awarding justice to the highest bidder. The poor bore the brunt of the unequal practices of the state and no message that Prophet Lut (AS) delivered upon the people were heeded upon. The sheer injustice of the people of Sadoom, who had become a law unto themselves was a pivotal reason why they perished under the punishment of Allah SWT. But few of the esteemed Sheikhs remember to tell this part of the story when they regale the life of Prophet Lut (AS).

Moving on, let us think of why Prophet Muhammad PBUH was sent to us, as a blessing upon mankind. Of course once again, he was sent as a guidance for the Ummah, until the Day of Judgement is upon us. He was sent as the last Prophet, not only for the Arab race, but for all mankind, across the globe. But while establishing the principles of Islam such as oneness of Allah SWT and that one should turn to Him and only Him, what else did the Prophet PBUH propagate and teach and establish during his life?

He taught the Ummah the importance of establishing justice, the benefit of seeking knowledge, the peace that would never be found in a society unless the rights of the collective people are seen to and established. He taught us to listen to the voices of the people, to hear both sides of an argument and the importance in establishing the truthfulness behind testimonies taken into as evidence when delivering punishments and verdicts on civil and criminal cases that arose during his time.

He showed the value behind respecting the other, regardless of the differences, even be it when it comes to their faith. He liberated the people that were suffering under the tyranny of the rich and elite in Mecca from a life of servitude or worse, and he showed us that democracy is not a “modern” or rather “un-Islamic” concept as most would like to point out, but democracy in its truest form comes from the practice all of the above.

Subjugation of the People – What makes it so Easy

Why are societies so afraid of giving power back to the people where it rightfully belongs, so inherent in subjugating the people? Why do tyrannical leaders such as Bashar Al-Assad of Syria, late Saddam Hussain of Iraq, Hitler from Germany and even Pol Pot who led the infamous Khmer Rouge, find their footing in society and are able to repress people in a manner that is incomprehensible to the freethinker?

Perhaps, the answer lies in a mix of factors which includes religion in its midst. Religion that is used as a political tool to suppress, a tool that is used to silence the voice of dissent, the discontent that people feel, to impress upon them the fear of the sovereign being upon which their faith resides, all the while forgetting that the Creator looks upon leaders of society just as much as its people.

Leaders tend to forget that we all share the commonality that is death. Whether one believes in the Hereafter or not, we are all going to die someday. Humans, though we would like to assume that we are the most advanced of species to walk the Earth, have not yet figured out a way to prevent death, or perhaps the secret to an eternal life. Thus lies the stupidity in thinking that as leaders they are invincible. That just because they sit on that throne today, they will be there forever.

We the people cast our votes to elect our leaders, be it our representatives at the Parliament or the head of state of the country. While the system has in place organizations specifically geared towards establishing the check and balance mechanism that should rightly work to remove the unhealthy practices of corruption and injustice, when that mechanism fails, there should be other avenues for the people to address the issue, be it even the last resort of removing an elected official from office. There should be legal avenues that protects the rights of the people to this extent, so that they are not left vulnerable in the hands of madmen who are willing to cross every single line out there to serve their needs.

The lesson that leaders, especially those that claim to be Muslims need to learn is that even if people were to listen and obey them forever because they are left with little choice but to do so, there would indeed come a day when that power would be stripped from them, where they too would face the bitter taste of death. Where I believe that they would face a worse torment than what the people could have delivered if they had the inclination to, where they would be answerable to their Creator for all that they had done in this world.

“The best jihad is the word of justice in front of an oppressive sultan.”

The Politics that Governs Gang Violence

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“You can’t compare us (Maldivian gangs) to the ones in the UK or to other countries. We are very different…Maldivian gang violence can be much more brutal and frequent as this is a small community and people can’t hide in places for that long.” – Gang member
(Rapid Situation Assessment of Gangs in Male’ – report by The Asia Foundation published in 2012)

The recent deaths of two 14 year old boys just this Friday (03rd June 2016), has once again stirred the outrage of the public when it comes to the existence of gangs and associated violence, especially in the capital. Calls on the authorities to take action has been pouring in from all sides, while the Home Minister Umar Naseer tried politicizing the issue as he is prone to do so to in order to earn his paycheck.

All the voices will die down eventually in a couple of days as it usually does, because for one, there is not much people can do apart from going onto the streets and playing out their own form of vigilante justice, secondly, the issue is far more complex than the very obvious resultant effect of violence and bloodshed, and thirdly, the law enforcement and the justice system has been in a loop of repeated failure for far too long for it to do an abrupt reversal and start being true to the principles of the establishments in question.

The Numbers

“Before we went out to attack…not to kill, but now… we use Nite 10; 30-40 tablets of 10mg each, drink alcohol and smoke cannabis, then we are numbed out and feel no pain when we kill.” – Gang member
(Rapid Situation Assessment of Gangs in Male’ – report by The Asia Foundation published in 2012)

While research into gangs and resultant behavior has been far and few when it comes to Maldives, The Asia Foundation published  a report on “Rapid Situation Assessment of Gangs in Male’” in 2012 which highlighted the reasons behind the emergence of gang culture in the country. A National Values Survey (NVS) conducted by the Foundation in 2011 brought to light that there existed about 20 – 30 different gangs operating in Male’, with 50 – 400 members in each group. I can only imagine that the numbers must have increased by now.

The research while primarily conducted in Male’, conducted 24 in-depth interviews with gang members and held focus group discussions with gang members as well. The picture that emerged then was a harrowing one at that, with gang members themselves expressing concern about escalating violence.

The website mvmurders.com lists down homicides that have occurred in the country, an attempt to document the lives that has been lost to senseless violence. Though not all of the murders recorded resulted from gang violence, most of it in fact can be attributed to just that. With 57 murders recorded, 49% of them have taken place in Male’, while 12% in other islands within the Kaafu Atoll and 7% in Laamu as well as Haa Dhaalu.

In terms of years, the highest percentage of murders (18%) were committed in the year of 2012 followed by 2015 in which 14% of the recorded murders from 2011 to-date have taken place. 2016 is following closely on the heels of 2015, with 6 murders already recorded, and we have barely made it halfway through the year.

For a country with a population that was recorded to be just 344,023 according to the latest census carried out in 2014, 38% of whom live in Male’; the numbers paint an alarming picture, given the continued inadequacy of the institutions in place to take constructive action to address the issue.

Emergence of Maldivian Gangs

“I had a very rough family… had many problems…my Dad used to beat me up. One time my Dad was so mad at me that he stepped on my neck…I see the gang as my family… they are much better…” – Gang member
(Rapid Situation Assessment of Gangs in Male’ – report by The Asia Foundation published in 2012)

It is only natural that the incumbent home minister be blamed on a large scale for the insensible deaths that has taken place. While I agree that he is indeed responsible in a big way since he has been occupying that position for over 2 years now, the inevitable truth is that the culture and existence of gangs that we see so prominently now, emerged during President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s regime.

President Maumoon’s policies on centralizing development created the cesspool that is Male’ City, which in turn led to the unraveling of socioeconomic differences on a large scale. Thus spurred the establishment, growth and activism of gangs in the country, largely centered in the capital. This culture has been for the most part supported by the elites in the political structure, which is how gangs survive, become stronger and more embedded within the system.

According to the report from The Asia Foundation, one of the core reasons driving youth to join and participate in gang-related activities stems from the widespread breakdown in family structures which made them seek out ways of belonging in order to replace the breakdown of their familial structure. Because they want to turn away from problems at home, they seek out the companionship of the less than savory, which in the end means these children become part of the structure that forms these gangs.

Report also highlighted the weak democratization in certain areas which contributed to the problem. The political and business elite making use of gang members as a means to an end forms the cycle of exploitation and indebtedness that exacerbates the issue. This also means that for the youth, gang related activities also become their way of earning a paycheck – as difficult a pill as it might be to swallow this fact.

Lastly, the report also highlighted on the harsh sentencing carried out for youth committing minor offenses, the resultant effect being increased disillusionment among young people about the system that governs.

Ground Reality

“If one of the gang members is harmed or killed…we will have it in our hearts forever…we will only get peace if we take revenge…we will only be satisfied when we have killed the person.” – Gang member
(Rapid Situation Assessment of Gangs in Male’ – report by The Asia Foundation published in 2012)

A little bit of walk down the memory lane helps form the picture that relates back to the findings of the report discussed above. It was in June of 2008 that “gangs declared peace” in Male’, by announcing a new “alliance” or “peace treaty” in a press conference renouncing violence against each other. According to the press conference, the group would work with the government on issues such as blood donation drives for thalassaemic patients.

If I recall correctly, this was following an increase in violence on the part of gangs, which required the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) to come out into the streets to show to the public that they were indeed worthy of their monthly salaries. I also vividly recall one of the officers giving an interview to the press on how they had worked together with the gangs to hammer out this deal. In time, people also forgot.

Since then, gang related murders has become a sort of norm in the country. Periods of violence and lulls that people have more or less gotten desensitized to. The murder of Bobby in 2012 remains forever prominent because he was an innocent killed along the way, a case of mistaken identity.

Stories of how the senior judges of the Criminal Court have special procedures in place when it comes to gang related cases is also something we have heard over time. Police officers who are committed to doing their jobs, compiling evidence and presenting them in court to convict members of gangs on the offenses committed does not seem to make much headway when it comes to an issue that is riddled with corruption and vested interests of politicians.

One has only got to bring to mind an incidence that took place during Abdulla Riyaz’s reign as Police Commissioner, who faced the issue of a police officer that refused to testify against a member of the notorious Masodi gang for doing him harm. I remember Riyaz being livid over it; he might have been one of the executors of the coup in 2012, but from what I saw, he was someone who was big on establishing the police culture within which most law enforcement agencies in other countries thrive. But once again, the politics involved, the fear of being faced with a worse fate meant that even the police officer backed down on giving his testimony to court that would have convicted the gang member.

Moving on, we come to the current home minister’s reign. The man, as pompous as he might be, had a vision of grandeur in tackling drugs and gang related crimes in the city. Investment in the dog squad was one such move. Enforcement of MoniCon (monitoring and control) orders was another.

It was Umar Naseer’s move on former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, a man who has been pictured many a time with various gangs along with his beloved President and wife, that clipped the wings of the golden unicorn that Umar rides on. His powers as the Home Minister were basically cut down to the point where he could still sound like pomposity itself while twiddling his thumbs at work. This was largely attributed to Umar’s orders to low ranking officers within the police service to investigate then Tourism Minister Adeeb for alleged unlawful activity.

In 2014 Maldives Police Service (MPS) launched an operation to dismantle huts used exclusively by gangs in the capital. The operation however, was a short lived one. What began in August of 2014 was quickly brought to a halt in September when President Abdulla Yameen decided cease the dismantling operation. As he stated it, the operation was being brought to a stop “until a solution could be found after studying the whole problem”. The President also stated that, though the operation had been undertaken with “good intentions”, dismantling the huts alone would not provide a long-term solution. So here is where one needs to ask, where does the long-term solution that the President was hinting at lie? And how soon, if ever,  would we see it?

Recalling the speech that was delivered by the President after jailing ex-VP Adeeb on various charges, which includes the alleged assassination attempt on the President, is also evidence enough of the lack of political will behind the rhetoric echoed by the government on gang violence. On a televised speech, President Yameen confessed that gangs were given money by Adeeb, and that an alternative arrangement needs to be sought when it comes to maintaining that particular line of “friendship” after Adeeb had fallen out of favour.

These I believe were statements delivered by the head of state, live on national television. One has to look no further to realize that gang related violence and other such activities are here to stay, as long as politicians who are in power continue to bankroll, make use of and back them.

One interesting development along the way, before the recent murders took place, was the incidence where Special Operations (SO) officers of MPS ransacked three gang hangouts, with no protocol or official mandate backing this “operation”. Equipment used by gang members were smashed to smithereens, blood was shed, though luckily none of it resulted in loss of lives; the story that emerged was that one of their officers had been threatened by a gang member or something of the sort. I believe threats of the sort must be hurled every now and then and that SO officers are more than able and thick skinned enough to handle a few slurs and insults.

This makes me believe that something more happened, something which their superior officers didn’t want to deal with officially, resulting in the officers taking matters into their own hands. While I don’t condone the act itself, I believe that this hints the level to which the issue of gang related violence and other such crimes has fallen – there is no justice to be had, so might as well take matters into own hands to ensure that the gangs receive the message loud and clear. Do not mess around with SO officers.

Not much news emerged in an official capacity on what took place afterwards. There was talk of SO officers being shuffled here and there, but we all know that putting up with SO is a ‘necessary evil’ by the government of the day, as long as they want a squad of people who would not hesitate to follow orders and beat citizens up. That is the most apt and fitting description of the squad I can come up with.

The news this morning that some 19 individuals apprehended right after the spate of violence took place have all been released is another such example. According to government aligned newspaper Avas, a love triangle seems to have been the reason over which the violence began in the first place. The chilling, matter of fact account from the anonymous gang related source cited on the paper says as much.

Interestingly enough, the police were quick to deny that the arrests made had been in anyway related to the murders that were committed within a span of just a couple of hours. The “lack of evidence” cited is just one of the many proverbial slaps on the face of the public, something which I believe will continue to happen long into the future. At the time of writing this article, a police news conference brought forth the news that two individuals had been arrested over the murders.

Is there a way out of this mess?

“I have tried to get a real job but I have not had any luck. Being in the gang allows me to earn some money. If I get a proper job I will leave the gang life.” – Gang member
(Rapid Situation Assessment of Gangs in Male’ – report by The Asia Foundation published in 2012)

While it is more than difficult to view the road ahead with any positivity, a “solution” such as the one proposed by the home minister is one doomed to fail. Umar Naseer told in an interview given to Avas that there are plans to send off minors involved in gangs to a police training facility, I believe with the hopes of disciplining these children. An issue that is multi-dimensional in nature requires multi-pronged solutions in order for positive changes to emerge.

  1. First and foremost, if any change is to take place, there has to be political will behind it. No social issue can properly be addressed without the backing of the government in place. Solutions requires funds, commitment and policies that can identify and address the various issues that can emerge and change over time. Which is why, with President Yameen at the government’s helm, it is near impossible to see the incumbent regime doing anything constructive regarding the existence and operation of gangs within the country.
  2. The law enforcement establishments needs overhauling in their entirety. There will never exist room for justice nor peace for the people of the country, as long as the police and the court system continues to trample on the rights of the people enshrined in the Constitution and the laws of the Republic. Changes need to happen from within, from the attitudes of the officers in place to rooting out corrupting influences and practices. Though easier said than done, I believe that reforming these key institutions is a necessity that needs to happen for any positive change take root on the ground.
  3. Developmental policies of the government needs to undergo radical changes if we are to stem the social issues owing to the centralization based developmental agenda that is currently in place. Everyone talks about how Male’ City is overcrowded, how social issues are rampant, how families break apart having to make do in congested one room “apartments”, the rising costs of living, the inequality divide that is prominent. All of this relates back to the fact that majority of the population has to shift to the capital in order to seek for better services in terms of education, basic healthcare and beyond. President Mohamed Nasheed’s decentralization policies were a starting point towards giving authority with accountability to provincial zones within the country – a dream long forgotten now. However, I still believe that decentralization is the key towards alleviating the burden of citizens who flocks to the capital – and along with it, the social issues which in the end leads to establishment and existence of gang related activities within the country.
  4. Education is the most powerful tool in empowering people. Which is why the educated always accuse the incumbent regime of despoiling contemporary education policies that could make a difference. Subjects on morality and ethics, education in terms of best practices in Islam are all lacking in our education syllabuses. Furthermore, identifying those kids who are having trouble in dealing with the school environment, the root cause behind kids who are acting out – all this requires teachers to go beyond their mandate and care about the welfare of their students beyond the borders of the classroom and school. This in turn requires that teachers be equipped with the skills to do so, that counselors employed in schools work with students to make a difference. It is a tough and ofttimes a heartbreaking journey for teachers who give their all to the “difficult” students, but I believe that this indeed would make a difference.
  5. Employment opportunities for the youth are crucial, if we are to keep them gainfully employed without having to resort to activities that are at most illegal in nature. Maldivian youth shy away from menial labor that can be classified under the 3D sectors (dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs such as construction). This is the reason why the government needs to identify areas in which youth would be willing to work in, to step up their efforts in vocational training, and ensure that entrepreneurship thrives and is given a fair chance in the economy. All this requires collaborative effort in terms of agencies specialized in youth, education as well as other sectors that could help pave the way forward.
  6. Family counseling services, as highlighted in the Asia Foundation report is also crucial. The stigma associated with seeking counseling, the policy issues related to giving graduates in the field the room to work and grow is essential. Otherwise, family issues that grows out of hand would continue to fester, leaving behind wounds that might never get the chance to properly heal, if ever. All this relates back to young children turning to the next best thing – gang culture within which they find that sense of belonging that should be nurtured within families.

The solutions outlined are just certain areas that I can think of, which requires proper in-depth study, finances and of course commitment and the backing of the political elites if they are to make a difference. I just hope that the people realize that without any of this changing, our country would become intolerable for the generations of tomorrow, the young ones that we are nurturing to lead this country of ours into the future.

#HaamaKurey & its Contentious Politics

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Mahibadhoo Council’s Vice President campaigning for #HaamaKurey – Source:Twitter

On a good day, Maldivian politics and its politicians deserve a passing glance or a laugh or two at best. However, days that require mirth to fill in the ugly patches are far and few in between, especially with the introduction of democracy to a people who were barely ready for the characteristics that it exhibits; good governance, transparency and accountability from public officials to name a few.

Where the thread of corruption runs deep in the veins of the public, one of the prime examples that attests to this fact being the resignation of the first democratically elected President, who failed to hold office and complete his term amidst a police and military backed coup d’état. Those that knew the value of what was lost that day, the resounding blow that landed on the country and its fragile hold on people’s power, wept tears of grief. Those that didn’t know any better, well, they celebrated.

Come today, the Maldivian people has seen a lot happen in the span of a few years. How incumbent President Abdulla Yameen literally twisted the arm of the Supreme Court and related institutions until he got the result that he wanted from the presidential elections held in 2013. How the Parliamentary elections unfolded in 2014, where accusations of corruption and bribery were hurled towards government aligned parties from Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the main opposition party in the country.

2014 also saw the first publication of the special audit report on Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company (MMPRC), where President Yameen’s most revered cabinet member, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb was implicated in a US$ 6 million corruption scandal. On the very same day the report was published, the Parliament passed an amendment to the Audit Act that later saw the removal of then Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim from office.

The people also witnessed the landmark constitutional amendments that saw incumbent Vice President Dr. Mohamed Jameel removed from office, the whispers of the dirty deals that exchanged hands between the ruling coalition and the opposition that saw the influential Mr. Adeeb  assume the Vice Presidency position, with 70 votes in favour!

The people also saw the way the elected officials failed the country by voting in favour of an amendment to her Constitution that saw Maldives open up its doors for foreigners to own land. The fact that the main instigator of all this change, Mr. Ahmed Adeeb, is now languishing in prison after one of the shortest stints in office any vice president in Maldives has seen to date, is one that didn’t escape the people’s notice either. All of which pointed towards one fact. The corruption that ran deep in the institutions of the country that should safeguard its interests.

With his Vice President in prison, President Yameen, hard pressed to come up with reasons to send him away to jail for a long, long time came up with another special audit report on MMPRC, this time concluding that MVR 1.2 billion has been lost to the public as a result of the corrupting activities carried out with Mr. Adeeb at helm.

Since then, the President, the ruling party and its counterparts have been making one blunder after the other. The President has confessed on public podiums that his party MPs had indeed received cash from Mr. Adeeb for party activities, and no, he had not asked nor being aware of where the money had been coming from.

Just yesterday, all of this took a more “humiliating” turn. Parliament Member for Hoarafushi, Mr. Mohamed Ismail of the governing party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) admitted on the parliament floor, on live TV, that he had carried around the sack of money that every MP is guilty of benefiting from.

More evidence failure of the government and the system needed? I think not.

Extent of Corruption & Lack of Confidence in Key Institutions

One of the surveys carried out by Transparency International in 2012 saw that out of the 1,001 people in Maldives that were surveyed to capture public perception on extent of corruption in the country, an overwhelming 90% of people saw the parliament to be the “most corrupt” institution in the country.

2013, another survey conducted saw that once again, the parliament was perceived to be the most corrupt institution, which was followed closely by political parties and the judiciary – which isn’t surprising, at all.

In 2015, Transparency Maldives conducted another survey, this time to gauge public views on the future for democracy in the Maldives. Lack of confidence in key institutions which once again included the Parliament, the courts and political parties were echoed across its vividly coloured charts and graphs. The survey hinted at a cynical and disillusioned people that believed readily that politicians would lie easily to get elected.

Need there be said more? I think not.

Asset Declaration as a Constitutional Requirement

In a bid to create a semblance of transparency in the chaotic and insanely corrupt political waters that are churning in the country, an initiative that came to life just recently and has gained momentum has been the #HaamaKurey campaign, which actually calls for asset declaration of key public figures as required by the Constitution and respective laws.

According to the Auditor General’s Office website, “The Constitution of Maldives and Laws regarding JSC, ACC, EC and Prosecutor General requires the President of Maldives, Vice- President of Maldives, Cabinet Ministers, and Members of Judicial Service Commission, Members of Anti-Corruption Commission, Members of Election Commission and the Prosecutor General to declare their assets to the Auditor General.” The Auditor General’s Office has also devised an ‘Asset Declaration Form’ which is available for download on their website.

#HaamaKurey and the ugly side of party politics

“Transparency maybe the most disruptive and far-reaching innovation to come out of social media.” – The New Influencers by Paul Gillin

The #HaamaKurey campaign which has been targeting parliament members up till now, has drawn a lot of criticism from the main opposition party, MDP. Things got interesting and quite revealing when parliament members of MDP engaged and challenged those that were calling out for public asset declarations.

MP of B. Kendhoo, Mr. Ali Hussain was the first to publicly publish his financial statement, which put other members of the Parliament in a pickle, especially the ones that hail from the party that echoes the rhetoric that calls upon the public for engagement and always talks of the rights of the people over its government and elected officials.

The reasons put forth by senior members of the party varied from pointing out the loopholes in the current system which would serve no purpose to calling out for implementation of the income tax which would be more revealing to the public, to expressing concerns on the culture of intimidation and imprisonment of elected officials of the opposition party by the incumbent government if MPs were to declare their financial statements so publicly, all in order to create a vacuum that they can take advantage of.

Valid concerns of course, which doesn’t detract from the reason why this came to being. Why it was necessary that the people be shown a way forward out of this gigantic mess, which just seems to grow more massive by the day. It was a way for a disengaged public to demand their elected officials to show to them they have been walking on the straight and narrow, that they have been true to the terms of the oath they all took when they assumed office. It was also the way to address the areas of concern that had been identified in not one, but three surveys carried out to assess public perception on government institutions which had seen a shameful view of the People’s Majlis emerge out of it.

The Ridiculous Side of Politics

The sentiment expressed by some, that this was a way to divert attention of the public from the more grievous scandal that is the MMPRC, the extent of this thread of corruption going deeper than one would imagine, was one that is utterly ridiculous to me. I am pretty certain that I would not be the only person to hold this view. The ex-auditor general Niyaz Ibrahim disclosed that a figure close to MVR 3.5 billion has been lost to the people because of the failure of the government and its institutions, independent and otherwise that had neglected to execute their duties to the people. Admissions by the President himself, that the parliamentarians occupying the house today were on the receiving end of the money that was siphoned off, is the glaring reason why the focus on MPs is a very valid, reasonable and much wanted one.

What is worrying to me are the actions of many of those who support the sentiments of democracy actually making fun and light of an initiative that has at least given back a semblance of “power” to the people. A campaign that actually allowed the people to exercise their constitutional rights as the Constitution affords them to. A first step that was taken in the right direction after years of “enslavement” by those in office.

What I fear is that these ripples of barbed references and jokes at undermining those that are driving this campaign would gain popularity amongst the members of the public that mostly exercise the “follow the herd” mentality. That it would get its job done and make the public once again question the need for this piece of paper, which has been published after much campaigning on the part of the “twitter politicians”.

This undermining campaign of sorts, might see the public ease off the current members of the crop that makes up the Parliament, but it would make it doubly tough for MDP to follow this path once again, if it were ever to have the fortune of leading this country forward. Because while a campaign that calls for transparency from public officials that are as corrupt as ours is difficult to get across, it would be quite easy to bring down the fragile beginnings of an initiative that has just barely taken its very first steps.

What MDP should do in all honesty is to help carry the campaign forward. Use this to drive the point forward in making the government and its institutions accountable, a tough a job as it is, given that governing party holds the majority at the Parliament. What MDP’s sentiments should be is to welcome this move by making elected officials accountable, especially from their own party and lead by example, to root out corruption, to make public at large aware of their rights on elected officials as citizens, and perhaps in the long run, make this campaign one that’d reach even the highest figure of authority in public office. MDP has the numbers and the means to work with interested parties to come out with something that would address the loopholes in the current system, to push the agenda forward, to give it their best shot, which is all that we, the voting public ask from them.

Loopholes would always exist for exploitation, in any system, no matter how perfect it is deemed. There is no doubt about that. A thief would think up of a thousand ways to get his or her share from the state coffers that most public officials believe they have a right to. But what we, as a country and as the public have is the right to demand that these loopholes be addressed, that better laws and regulations be put forth which can actually do some good than bickering about the fact that this is not the most perfect way to start making public officials accountable.

Because when have we, as a country, ever put our best foot forward?

“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” – Dalai Lama

The Problem with Conflict of Interest

mmprc

MMPRC; the face of state enabled corruption involving billions of MVR – Source: Haveeru Daily

“Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it.”

In the current political environment of the country, it is interesting to note just how many people who can actually make a difference, sit back & watch all because, yes, all because of ‘conflict of interest’.

While these groups of people are busy protecting whatever interests that they see fit, the government of the day is protecting their interests as well. The interests that brings in tons of money – all illegal of course, that would fatten up their coffers, leaving us hanging dry.

The aspect that scares me the most is the lawlessness that prevails and finds its footing in a society that refuses to see it for what it is. The educated and the intellects sitting back to watch the dirt unfold all because they refuse to get their hands contaminated by wading into the muck is one of the many reasons why Maldives has taken such a dangerous turn today.

The recent murder in Hithadhoo is one that should be fresh on our minds. But I wonder whether it is. Becoming desensitized enough to say, ‘oh, murder!’ and move on is exactly the kind of thing I’m talking about. At the time of writing this article, police has arrested a suspect in connection to this heinous murder of a father, a beloved man in a community where men are scarce and few, having to abandon their homes, families, wives and children to go seek employment elsewhere in the luxury resorts that are scattered all across the country.

Our institutions that should safeguard the people remain indebted to those in power. Bound by the laws of corruption which most are guilty of. The fact that the public at large actually believe that everyone is corrupt to an extent, that it is an accepted norm in society scares the perhaps idealistic soul in me. The 2015 survey that was conducted by Transparency Maldives on the matter of public perception of government institutions speaks volumes.

Why can’t we see wrong for wrong and condemn it? Why can’t we denounce the politicians who see it fit to benefit off of the tons of money that comes into the country year in and year out and question whatever scraps they throw our way, perhaps an air conditioning unit or two or a  paved road that would not see the light of maintenance for years to come, or the money that changes hands from the First Lady to that of a public who are struggling to make ends meet?

Look at countries like Mexico, the crime hub of Central America or North as some put it, a country famous for its lawlessness, mob infused life, drug cartels reigning over entire territories. Do you really think that Maldives can afford to walk along the same lines? Because believe it or not, we are traveling in that very direction and are already seeing the emergence of elements that attests to this fact. The indomitable United States of America is faced with the fact that their borders haven’t prevented the escalating levels of crime from spilling over onto their side.

Disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan is such a case that indicates the dangerous path the country is traversing upon. 575 days it has been, filled with negligence from the authorities, the parliament turning away from the matter altogether, and law enforcement agencies blatantly confronting the family and friends who have been seeking answers since then.

Mexico didn’t happen overnight. It took years of negligence, looking the other way, deep rooted corruption & not to mention, the intellects refusing to stand up for fear of meddling with affairs of ‘conflict of interest’ that led them to where they are today. From the public that is caught in the middle, those who can afford to leave, flee. The rest, they have no choice but to deal with the hand that they have been dealt with, adjust to the life of crime or join the foray into which they have been born into.

Not everyone is cut out for activism. No. Neither will everyone be equally passionate about putting the country to rights. Most just live for the day. As long as their lives are on track, as long as they can watch the English Premier League on weekends in the comfort of their homes & watch their family thrive in a cocoon filled with a false sense of security, that is all that matters.

But a scandal like the one that Maldives is currently facing, a money laundering scheme on top of large sums of state funds being siphoned off by higher ups in the government; these are the instances that defines a nation’s future. These are the big game changers, effects of which will last for generations. Refusing or unwilling to stand up and do your bit today to put things to right is ensuring that the regime of the day wins in whatever plans they have in store for themselves. And mark my words. They are NOT looking out for the interests of the people they’ve been ‘elected’ to govern. Never have they been.

The scandal that the national tourism office of Maldives, Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) is involved in, corruption amounting in the billions; the fact that the entire judiciary has been hijacked, the bitter truth that the parliament belongs to the regime and the undeniable reality that free media is barely thriving under the stifling control that the regime is slowly exerting on it speaks volumes of the future Maldivians are going to be living in. It is more than high time that the educated intellectuals and the colorless of the society thought about these things and acted upon them. Time that the color prejudices be left behind. Yellow, pink, red or green – all this eventually falls back on us. Because this is the moment that is irrevocably defining our collective future.

worstilliterate

Source: Pinterest.com

The educated might think that they can always migrate and move elsewhere. That the education they have will always take them places. One question I have for them is whether they really think that with the current refugee and migration crisis that has come to the forefront in the world is going to make it easy for countries to accept more foreigners onto their soil? With the anti-immigrant rhetoric that is echoing loudly across the world, the entire face of the global world is changing – and changing fast. It is up to us to make our home a habitable one, a bearable one, one that future generations; our children can live in without falling into the pitfall in the making today.

A prime example of what I am talking about unfolded recently in the United States itself; the toxic water disaster and scandal that befell on the Michigan city of Flint, having led President Barack Obama to declare a federal emergency over the crisis. Many saw what was happening. Few spoke up. End result has been lead poisoning that could cause debilitating health conditions, stunted growth in children and eventually untimely deaths – all which could have been avoided had the people been more proactive.

Today, those who can leave have upped and left to other parts of the country. Those who cannot afford to do so, have been left behind to make do with whatever it is they are left with. The institution of public trust over the state government has been lost. A couple of millions of dollars in compensation doesn’t help in the longer scheme of things.

So, do your bit. Help out. Even in the littlest things. It can make a huge difference along the way. None of this is going to be easy. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Be proactive. Try. Speak of the truth – it would make a difference. If you are in a “sensitive” position in terms of the government, enlist help of people who can get the truth out there. Don’t become a tool that parrots the lies and half truths of a government that is beyond all rational hope.

As Muslims, fearing anyone else more than Allah Almighty, whom you’d be answerable to on the Day of Judgement is foolhardy at best. That is exactly where we go wrong. That is exactly what needs to change if we want to transform our nation and make a good difference in anything in this godforsaken country of ours.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

Preventing the Next Ziyadha

VAWOMEN

Source: Deviant Art

‘Globally, one in three women will be raped, beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime’
(Heise, L., Ellsberg, M., and M. Gottemoeller 1999)

It was during December of the year we just bid adios to, that the news of a woman named Ziyadha Naeem from Gaaf Dhaal Atoll Thinadhoo made the headlines. While details that emerged were scantily few, her 40-year old husband was arrested on charges of sexual abuse while Ziyadha lay in the Intensive Care Unit of the state run Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital, fighting for her life. Doctors fearful of her critical condition denied the permission for Ziyadha to be airlifted out of country to seek treatment from abroad. Ziyadha finally succumbed to her injuries and passed away on the 28th of December.

Details of her injuries are indicative of severe abuse via a sharp object, having rendered her unable to walk properly. Ziyadha sought medical care from the regional hospital in her island 20 days after she sustained the injuries according to news sources. By the time she had traveled to the capital Male’, and sought the attention of a doctor well known in the Maldivian gynecology circles, it had already been too late. Ziyadha’s husband and his family meanwhile denies the charges, carrying out their own version of PR for the 40 year old who till today remains under police custody. Ziyadha had sustained her injuries all by herself, if her husband’s family are to be believed.

Ziyadha – Same Story, Different Victim

Ziyadha’s story is nothing new on the large scale of violence sexual and otherwise that are faced by women all over the country. A study carried out in Maldives on Women’s Health and Life Experiences by the UNFPA, UNICEF and WHO, in coordination with Ministry of Gender and Family back in 2007 reveals alarming statistics of how widespread a “disease” violence against women is in Maldives.

According to the report, 1 in 3 women aged 15-49 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives. While 19.5% of the women aged 15-49 indicated that the violence that they had experienced had come from an intimate partner, 29.2% of women in the same age bracket had reported experiencing emotional abuse by a partner at least once. While intimate partner violence seems to be more widespread in the atolls, aka rural areas than in the capital, non-partner violence such as physical and sexual violence at the hands of male family members seems to be more rampant in Male’.

While the data in itself and what it reveals is disturbing, I believe that it just skims the surface on how widespread physical and emotional violence against women remains in our society. What happened to Ziyadha has come to our attention in various other cases in the past and in recent times.

One needs to look no further than the case of 3-year old Mohamed Ibthihal who died due to injuries sustained at the hands of his 25-year old mother Afiya Mohamed. While many are overwrought with emotion over the brutality that Ibthihal had suffered at the hands of his mother and rightly so, all emotions aside, Afiya herself had been a victim of the nonexistent system of protection afforded to women like her, women who had endured cycles of abuse for so long that it had become a way of life. Years of abuse had finally culminated in an act so horrific that few would, if at all, look beyond what she had done.

Another case, another year. 2010 saw the murder of Hassan Shahid at the hands of his ex-wife Mariyam Nazaha, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in August of 2011. Nazaha’s story was one of a chronic cycle of abuse at the hands of her ex-husband, with witnesses giving statements on how they had seen Shahid abuse Nazaha on occasions. However, none of that factored in on Nazaha’s sentencing carried out by the Criminal Court. She remains behind bars for the foreseeable future.

A different case, a different island. 2012 brought to our attention the case of a 15-year old girl arrested from S. Feydhoo, the southern most atoll in Maldives. Her stepfather who had allegedly being abusing her for years which had resulted in an unwanted pregnancy had been the tipping point which had led to their arrests. She was sentenced to a round of flogging which triggered an international outcry that overturned that particular sentence. However, the fate of this girl is similarly echoed by countless others who are abused in such a vile manner by those that should protect and cherish them through their most vulnerable years. Society frowns upon these victims, believing THEM to be the ones at fault, the loose ones without any morals.

4 cases of sexual and physical violence against women of different age groups discussed here is indicative of several things. One, the system has failed these victims miserably. Two, there exists no safe haven for either girls or women of sexual and physical abuse. Three, government seems to lack the political will to tackle such a widespread and rampant social issue that is eroding away the very fabric of our society.

Current System – Lacking in Too Many Ways to Count

2012 saw the ratification of the Domestic Violence Bill which declared all acts of domestic violence as a punishable crime and afforded protection and safety to victims of such violence amongst the wide range of areas covered in the bill. However, zooming in on Ziyadha’s case brings forth the lack of an Evidence Bill that would aid the prosecution of the case against her husband.

Since Ziyadha presented herself to the medical institution 20 days after she sustained the injuries, it would only be secondhand testimonies of the doctors who had attended to her as well as those that she had divulged to what had happened to her that would be sole basis of the case if I am not mistaken. There is however news circulating that Ziyadha’s body is to be sent abroad for postmortem which might yield better clues as to what happened that fateful day. Questions remain however on how would one prove that she had sustained her injuries from the hands of her husband, from whom she had been living separately by then. I am no lawyer, so I will leave it up to the legal experts to sort that out and talk about it, if they may.

The community of Thinadhoo echoes sentiments of the lonesome life that had been Ziyadha’s. The fact that it was the norm for people to approach her to relate stories of the exploitative lifestyle that had been her husband’s. Having married him against the wishes of Ziyadha’s own parents, Ziyadha suffered largely in silence. Her husband’s comfortable income had never materialized to alleviate the poor living conditions that Ziyadha had been subjected to. The alleged injuries had taken place according to sources when Ziyadha had gone to seek her husband on matters of textbooks and such required for the upcoming school year. Instead, she left this world, leaving her 3 children behind, bereft of a mother and a father who perhaps given the unjust system in place, might just walk away a free man.

Chronic Domestic Violence – Indicative of Total Abysmal System Failure

Ziyadha’s case carries with it the hallmarks of cases similar in nature. For a country that boasts of 97.3% in the ratio of female to male primary enrollment figures (as per World Bank’s data on Maldives for 2013), the lack of awareness afforded to the youth on certain issues stems from the incomplete education system in place. Certain “sensitive” issues are excluded from the education curriculum altogether because of fear of reprisals from the more conservative in the society.

Sex education, which is equated with students being exposed to pornographic elements in the eyes of those that believe it would only promote promiscuity, indicates the fact that they themselves lack the awareness so much so that that they miss the point by a mile when it comes to importance of inclusion sex education in the curriculum. It can be tailored to meet the needs of our society – doesn’t have to be the suite that the Western education system wears.

But one can only go that far by actually realizing and accepting the importance of such a subject in the curriculum at a particular point in time. Sex education is about advising on practicing safety, about the choices each of us have, especially females, and knowing how to identify when you are being exploited by someone you have to trust; all important factors towards creating awareness amongst youth of both sexes to promote the idea of respecting each others choices among other things.

One cannot talk on an issue of this nature without addressing the sheer failure of the Maldivian health system that is in place. We as Maldivians experience the total lack of adequate medical care and assistance in the country, so much so that it is common for families to go on medical “holidays” with all their savings in tow because we know that the entire system is a mockery to the people of the country. No government that has come and gone, including incumbent President Yameen’s administration has been able to tackle the wicked problem that is the Maldivian healthcare system. Ziyadha’s inability to secure the kind of treatment that was required for her injuries, apart from the fact that she waited too long without seeking treatment, is indicative of the lack in the healthcare as well.

Come to the point of law enforcement, I still keep questioning as to why they didn’t question Ziyadha when she would have been able tell her side of the story. Maybe I am missing something, but none of the details that have appeared in the news sources seem to indicate what happened between the time of her being admitted at the hospital and when she succumbed to the coma owing to a hemorrhage in her brain. Worried family members had indicated that they were not at all satisfied by the lackluster efforts being showed by the Maldivian Police Service in investigating the case further. Ziyadha’s family worry, and rightly so, that the husband might just walk away, unscathed.

Focusing on the executive, one sees the lack of political will on the part of the administration to tackle social issues of importance. Because solving issues as complex as that of prevalent abuse and establishing formal institutions in place that can work to thwart and address these issues, won’t show up as boldly on the Maldivian skyline as a bridge between Male’ and Hulhumale’ would. Nor would it garner the support of the “youth” that this administration “wins” every time they inaugurate a futsal pitch in a corner of some island somewhere.

The fact that “Gender” itself is an area that is shuffled and re-shuffled every time a cabinet reshuffle takes place is indicative of the failure of the administrative agencies in place to cater to this particular area. It is most often than not, areas that specifically deal with the marginalized and at risk members of the society that gets booted and placed under a “new” administration that more or less makes the same mistakes as the previous one.

The budget that trickles down to these areas are significantly lower when compared to those granted to independent institutions that aren’t responsible for providing social services as such. The abysmal failure of the administration lies in being unable to or not being interested enough to address and strengthen these key areas of the government that require adequate funding and robust management in order for them to be able to carry out their tasks in creating awareness and also their duties in relation to the prevention as well as addressing the needs of the victims of violence as discussed here.

One cannot forget the sheer atrocity that has become of our judiciary system when talking about abuse of this nature. Injustice leaks out of the very pores of the entire justice system; no one in their right minds would equate our courts as ones that are just and able. Stories of how women who seek to be divorced from their abusive husbands, who in turn are commanded by the esteemed judge to “try and work things out and return if not”, which means going back home with the abuser; are ones that are far too common for peace of the mind. Most of the time these women are dependent financially on the husband, and adding children to the mix makes the situation more precarious than for a single woman.

Fact that women get labeled as loose and immoral for talking about what goes on in their marriage, the violence they are subjected to which many believe should be part of upholding the sanctity of ones marriage, is a notion that has to be done away with. There is also the point where court officials are seldom discrete about what goes on in within the four walls of the court premises. The more juicy the “gossip”, the better these stories are to relate to friends, which then spreads like wildfire across the society, because ours is a close knit one. The chauvinism on blatant display when it comes to certain judges at these proceedings is another reason that the system fails to recognize and address the abuse these women are subjected to.

It is the failure of the legislature that the Evidence Bill remains collecting dust on one of the shelves at the Parliament House. Few, if seldom raise these issues, the government aligned members too busy trying to keep their proverbial balls from chafing against President Yameen’s swift reprisal that would come if they don’t dance to his tune. Meanwhile, the members of the “opposition” remain in a deadlock, unable to push through the issues that they deign to bring to the forefront, because the government aligned MPs reign majority over the Parliament and push back anything of importance to the people that might land in one of their committees.

Where do we go from here?

The UNFPA report of 2007 in its conclusion recommended 5 broad areas that needs addressing in order to tackle the issues at hand. Strengthening national commitment and action is the first and foremost, without which no governmental plan or action can achieve its intended objectives. This includes strengthening the management of the related institutions to providing adequate funding to carry out their activities, inadequate funding to these organizations which I have seen from experience happen far too often.

Promoting primary prevention which includes prioritizing prevention of child sexual abuse and equally importantly reaching out to men to change their behavior are key ares of prominence. This relates back to creating awareness which again means commitments and costs incurred by the government for these ventures. As much as it might seem to the elected officials that these funds would be better spent in building infrastructure, if the social fabric of the society lies in tatters when all is said and done, there would be little need for skyscrapers to show the glory that is Maldives.

Strengthening the health sector response is of course highlighted which also includes the very important aspect of enhancing the capacity of mental health care, an area that most wouldn’t touch because once again, it is a topic that is seldom talked about in the country.

Supporting women living with violence through formal institution through means of legal advice, counseling and medical care to informal support systems such as family and community networks are highlighted. While NGOs exist in the country that address issues specific to women, I hardly see anything materialize on the ground other than the usual marathon against violence or one color coordinated campaign or the other to mark the “occasions” as required. These merely make a blip on the peoples radars as they have become something of the norm. While the woman next door gets slapped for the umpteenth time by the husband she cowers in fear from, the guy next door walks in after the run that was supposed to be creating awareness and avenues of help for the neighbor suffering at the home adjacent.

Last, but not the least, strengthening the criminal justice response is indicated, which includes training and sensitization on violence against women for all involved in the criminal justice system. I wonder how well such a training would be received when quite recently, prior to the launch of the new penal code, Supreme Court actually barred judges from attending the training sessions held to create awareness on the incoming system. Such is the backwardness of those heading the system which makes one feel hopeless and helpless in the view of anything getting better.

Change; It Starts from Within

I believe, we, as the society have a far more crucial role to play. We are the ones who can rock the boat that the lawmakers stand on, the elected officials who promise us a trip to Mars and back, if we would just place that tick on the piece of paper that affords them a luxurious lifestyle for the succeeding 5 years. WE need to create avenues where we can question our elected members, push them towards achieving what WE want. We need to strategise ways to make even someone who is hard of hearing as our incumbent President know that we, the people, demand better from his administration.

WE need to believe in the change that we want to foster and bring. WE need to change our perspective and outlook on abuse and victims of abuse. WE need to let go of the notion that it is not our business, as long as it doesn’t happen to one of ours. WE need to empathize. WE need to care. Then only the change that WE clamor for will materialize, of course through tough years of hard work to get there.

Maldivian government needs to take preemptive measures before the next Ibthihal or Ziyadha makes the headlines. But with an administration that cares naught what the people think, the hope that remains is one that flickers out too often. I believe that it is WE, the people who can bring the change WE want. And it is WE, the people that need to take that first or even hundredth step for that matter, towards achieving the goal of creating a society that takes care of its vulnerable and affords them security, when they need it the most.

“We must unite. Violence against women cannot be tolerated, in any form, in any context, in any circumstance, by any political leader or by any government.” – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon