Forever Indebted I Remain; Goodbye @Yaamyn

yameen-2

Yameen Rasheed who was found brutally murdered on 23.04.2017; Source: Mihaaru.com

Today yet again, I put down my words with a heavy heart. My soul feels as if it has aged rapidly overnight. I have been walking around in a daze since I woke up to hear the news of the brutal murder of social media activist, prolific blogger and human rights defender Yameen Rasheed. He was known to many via his twitter handle @yaamyn, just like his friend Ahmed Rilwan, journalist at Minivan News who was forcibly disappeared in August of 2014, who was known to many as @moyameehaa (mad man).

Yameen was found on the staircase of his home, with multiple stab wounds on his body around 3am. His routine of late had been to work until wee hours of the morning. Mihaaru reports that even though he is someone who continually received death threats, because the number of threats had receded to an extent, he had taken to walking home rather than taking a taxi which he usually does. CCTVs at his residence were reportedly facing a different direction when the murder occurred early morning. Reading what little news that has trickled down indicates and points towards premeditated murder.

Yameen reported the death threats he received to the Maldives Police Service (MPS) on many occasions. Yameen had reportedly even sought protection from the police at different junctures. MPS reportedly questioned people regarding the death threats that were received by Yameen. It is not clear whether charges were pressed, nor of any arrests made in that regard. Yameen himself tweeted many times of the failure of MPS to take up his cases with any modicum of seriousness. Today, he is no more and MPS will once again get away by suggesting that there exists no negligence whatsoever on their part in upholding law and order in the country. After all, the regime is safe and sound, so are its affiliated members of society. MPS deserves a pat on the back and commendation rather than condemnation.

Yameen’s shocking murder is one that carries significant similarities to that of the devastating murder of Maldivian parliament member Dr. Afrasheem Ali. His supposed killer is now waiting to be put to death by the state, the moratorium on the death penalty which was lifted after six decades to make way for his sentencing. Too many questions remain unanswered surrounding Dr. Afrasheem’s murder itself. No free thinker believes that the state has ensured that justice was done nor that due process was followed. Some link Rilwan’s disappearance with unearthing the truth behind Dr. Afrasheem’s murder. Allah SWT knows best.

Rilwan’s disappearance left scars that still remain festering in the cesspool that is known as Maldives. Rilwan was the voice of reason for many of his friends and twitter peeps alike. I saw and felt the hard blow it was for close friends of Rilwan like Yameen. One of the many failures of MPS has been their reaction towards Rilwan’s family’s attempts to seek answers for his disappearance.

Yameen was never far from Rilwan’s family’s side when they faced Maldivian authorities. Nor was he swayed to give up in campaigning for justice for Rilwan and his family. Mihaaru reports that Yameen was in fact preparing to come up with activities that could be held to commemorate the 3rd year since Rilwan went missing, a task that requires a lot of creative thinking and maneuvering given state’s lockdown on any activities as such that could rock the boat of ‘stability and prosperity’ Maldives is currently traversing upon.

What makes Yameen stand out is the fact that he was steadfast in his criticism of a regime that seems to have zero tolerance for the freethinker. A free thinking society is after all what regimes like ours fear the most. That fear manifests itself in bogus politically charged trials, reputations soiled through fabricated and planted evidence at the behest of the regime and if you are one of the thorniest of thorns in the government’s side, you get forcibly disappeared or at worse, stabbed and brutally murdered. The free thinkers have effectively become refugees in their own land.

Yameen stood for principles that I believed in. We at times clashed on issues where our views differed. But deep down inside, I respected him for his core values and principles which echoed with mine. A society free of corruption, where institutions are able and just, where liberty and freedoms are rights not owing to political affiliation but in spite of it as enshrined in our Constitution as everyone’s right. Yameen represented to the Maldivian society and the world, the few of us who shared his values, most being too scared or intimidated by the thought of standing up against the rising tsunami that is the Maldivian government, cracking its whip on dissidence of any form.

Yameen was a contributing, valuable member to a society that is rotten at its core. He understood that. A society so deeply divided by partisan politics, religion and other issues that are brushed under the carpet. Most Maldivians are a complacent lot. We human beings are a complacent lot. We think very little of the suffering of the other person, unless we ourselves one day stand looking at devastation of the same kind or worse. Our education system and living conditions demand nothing less from society, except to be ‘law abiding’ in the form that the government deems creates a stable society ripe for ‘development’.

Talking about corruption, injustices, the sheer magnitude of failures of successive regimes gets you locked up or worse. There is no safe space for the free thinker in Maldives. Today more than any other day in recent history, I have come to realize that there is no place in Maldivian society for people like myself who wants to do right by the people. Who actually want to live a life of dignity and afford the same to the rest. Perhaps there never was room for people like Yameen, albeit for a brief period of time when a people elected government ruled until it was toppled through a coup d’état that we as a society have yet to recover from.

Yameen represents the kind of mind and spirit that regimes like ours despise. Because people like him are not swayed by partisan politics. They see wrong for wrong, no matter who does it. Even though labeled and affiliated with MDP and ‘yellow fever’ as some put it, Yameen stood up for values that perhaps echoed most with what MDP represents. Because whether we accept it or not, MDP seems to be the only party that remotely even talks about values of justice, peace and freedom that people like him and a few members of Maldivian society actively advocate for at the risk of their own lives.

Today, I feel indebted to Yameen. Because he actively worked for things and values he believed in. Those that I believed in. He gave the middle finger to everyone who thought they could intimidate him with death threats or worse. He never gave up the fight to find answers for his friend’s disappearance. He never stopped asking. He never ceased in his efforts to take on the institutions of Maldives that have failed so miserably in creating an equitable and just society. He never gave up. That is the lesson we all need to take from his death.

It is often said that the brightest of souls are those that leave us all too soon. Their brief sojourn through life touches us in profound ways that remains inexplicable long after they are gone. Yameen was not my friend in the traditional sense. But he was someone I deeply respected for his values, and I would like to believe he did so with mine. Life got in the way when two opportunities came up where I could have met him in person. Perhaps if I had, his death would be even more difficult for me to process than it is now.

The outpouring of grief, sorrow and solitude upon his death on social media is one that attests to the fact that his activism was one that did not go unnoticed. Similar to the time when Rilwan disappeared, Yameen too has joined a list that I fear is going to grow as time goes on by. I wonder how many of us would have to die brutal deaths, or be forcibly disappeared before Maldivians as a collective people rise and demand justice from the regime that controls all our resources. I wonder when enough would be enough. While most view gang affiliated violence with a lack of interest, today we lost a valuable, intelligent life force to be reckoned with. Perhaps that is the message that those behind his death wants to send to the rest of us. Speak your mind, you face the same verdict. Kowtow to the regime, you are safe.

Maldivians need to wake up and look past the “developmental” rhetoric spewed by the authorities. That a bridge and a platform to view its construction does not make for development. That a state which fails to uphold the sanctity and sacredness of human life is one that has failed at its core. That a reality show that keeps the majority of the masses engrossed in the fabricated drama that unfolds every week is not going to teach our children the values they need to uphold for a society to flourish. That there would be no Maldives left for the generations to come because we as a collective people have failed in ensuring that it is so.

I can’t even fathom the sense of deep loss and pain that Yameen’s family, close friends, and colleagues must be feeling. What I feel is almost negligible in contrast to how much pain they must be undergoing right now. My prayers remain with them, that Allah SWT grant them ease in these difficult times. I have never stopped praying for Rilwan’s family. Yameen’s death and asking for justice for him will now forever remain in them as well. Because as a society that has been left with little else to do, prayers are all that remain.

Rest In Peace dear Yameen. For your loss is one that has shaken us all to our very core. Perhaps it is fitting that your very last tweet was the emoji of a balloon flying away. You’ve left us with tears in our heart, but unwavering faith that one day your death will be avenged, even if it be in the Hereafter. Justice will find those that are responsible for this inviolable desecrating act on a precious human life.

Rest In Peace my dear. Rest In Peace. 

I believe in love, it’s all we got
Love has no boundaries, costs nothing to touch
War makes money, cancer sleeps
Curled up in my father and that means something to me
Churches and dictators, politics and papers
Everything crumbles sooner or later
But love, I believe in love – Elton John, Believe

🎈

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Mental Health & Developmental Policies

depression

Source: Pinterest

“I searched for a common goal amongst humankind, to which all would agree to strive for excellence. I have not found anything other than the vanquishing of anxiety [hamm]” – Ibn Hazm (d.  AH), famous Andalusian scholar of Islam.

The recent spate of deaths by suicide within the Maldivian community, both at home and abroad has sparked off the debate concerning illnesses of the mental health variety which includes depression, anxiety etc. and associated symptoms. While debate of this kind is healthy because it gives room for people to open up about their struggles concerning mental health issues, certain comments by authorities and public alike tends to do more harm than good. These statements often stem out of ignorance of what mental health issues are about, the root causes that drives them, and how at the end of the day it is the inadequacies of the government of the day that is on prominent display when all is said and done.

Linking and associating mental health disorders solely on one’s religiousness or irreligiousness as some put it, is one of the aspects of what I am talking about. While Maldives is constitutionally a 100% Islamic nation, where politicians spew rhetoric on a regular basis trying to portray a picture of harmony, peace and stability in the country, the truth is far from it. Underneath all the fairy tales that the government conjures up lies a country that is deeply divided on many central issues related to the government, governance itself, the political system, religion, and not to mention the fissures and divides that exists as deep wounds over what some call as the Male’-Raajjethere divide.

Developmental policies since the beginning of President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s time which spanned a period of 30 years before he stepped down in 2008 after losing the first multi-party presidential elections that was held, is a pivotal reason behind the social inequities and imbalances that exists in the country even today. Factor in a coup that toppled a people elected government in 2012 and the upheaval that followed, the Presidential elections of 2013 which was “won” through the Supreme Court of Maldives, the incumbent regime in existence is merely following up and “expanding” on the groundbreaking policies laid by the now President Yameen Abdul Gayyoom’s half-brother himself.

Under President Maumoon’s leadership, the people that he wanted to keep close were fed from the state coffers and as a result got richer and more affluent, while the poor remained more or less at a level where they struggled to make ends meet; in a status of state controlled poverty, being thankful for the “generous” handouts that were given from the Presidential Palace or the President’s Office at the time.

President Maumoon practiced the art of the “benevolent and kind” leader that was generous to those that did not come into conflict with him about his policies and many atrocities. Those that did, bore the brunt of it, either being “reeducated” at the prisons that were notorious then for torture, death and prisoners that were often talked about to have gone missing.

It was President Maumoon’s developmental policies that saw the capital Male’ “developed” as a concrete city of national pride and prosperity while far lying atolls and islands got scraps and pieces of the developmental aid that poured into the country from left and right during his reign. A half constructed jetty here and there, a single storey building as a school on another and a less than adequately equipped health center somewhere else. In the meantime, “Atholhuge” or short-stay residences for visiting government officials were setup in islands considered as the “capitals” within the atolls, with every luxury that could be afforded at the time.

Meanwhile, people were forced to migrate to the greater Male’ that constitutes now of Male’, Vilingili and Hulhumale’, all designed to centralize power, which in the end meant easier control over the masses that the presidency ruled over. Families fell into hardship trying to make ends meet, living in small cramped spaces in the capital paying exorbitant amounts of money for rent, because there exists no rent control mechanisms enforced by the government on land owners even up till today. These families left behind spacious and airy homes in their islands where they could have led a more physically and mentally well rounded life, just because they wanted to give their children a chance at getting a better education and later on perhaps a better future than the ones they were stuck with.

In the islands, the eldest sons often were forced to leave school halfway through secondary education or even before in order to make ends meet in the family, forced to work at a far lying resort somewhere, getting to see their parents, wives and children when the resort management deemed it fit. With no Employment Act in existence, with rights of the employees not guaranteed by law, many employees were left floundering within a system that saw little need in taking a more holistic approach towards the needs of employees.

It is no surprise then that many families that lived within the crowded Male’ city ended up being prime examples of broken homes. No one needs to go into details on how lack of intimacy in a marriage between the husband and wife brings on physical and emotional imbalances to the relationship, how these wounds can fester and explode into messy and ofttimes ugly divorces, leaving behind children scarred and hollowed out by the resultant effect.

When one talks about mental health issues, it is often closely linked to one’s childhood, the effects of perhaps long forgotten traumatic experiences that lingers somewhere in the mind to manifest in uglier ways. One could be totally in control of their lives one minute and sweating over a perceived danger to their very existence the next. The mind after all has a “mind” of its own and it is seldom easy under the circumstances to control its various thought processes and the negative emotions that can arise out of the chemical imbalances that sets in.

There is also the hereditary factor to consider, some studies pointing to a link between depression and a polymorphism in the serotonin transporter gene SLC6A4 which is known as 5-HTTLPR. A 2003 study found that the presence of this particular 5-HTTPLR increased risk of depression, but only for those who also experienced life stressors or trauma, which perhaps points towards traumatic childhood experiences.

Suicide and genetics on the other hand, according to a recently published Q&A article on MayoClinic attests to the fact that it is a complicated association. While research has shown that there is a genetic component to suicide, it is alluded that there are other contributing factors that increases an individual’s risk. What complicates matters further when it comes to the link is a process called epigenetics, the process via which certain genes are turned on or off as a person grows and develops, which can be once again influenced by what happens in a person’s environment. Meaning that once again, childhood factors could play a significant role here.

When people so carelessly point towards mental illnesses and suicide as being caused by lack of faith or one’s lack of closeness to Allah SWT, they fail to take into consideration the stress under which most of the families live when it comes to the heavenly paradise on Earth that is known as the Maldives. A paradise for those that visits its luxury resorts and gets the five-star treatment worth the exorbitant amounts charged, little of this wealth which if at all trickles down to the people.

The income inequalities, social injustices that exists deep rooted within society, the lack of a comprehensive and fair justice system that protects the rights of everyone, especially the most vulnerable; children, mothers and fathers collectively, the lack of adequate support systems that takes over when these institutions fail to uphold their duties effectively, the failure of consecutive governments to nurture a broad based civil society that addresses inadequacies in policies and their implementation that affects social and economic factors are all at play here.

Lack of a comprehensive mental healthcare framework is one of the crucial issues that is faced not only in Maldives, but in well developed countries where the problems are just as profound. In fact, studies carried out have shown that suicide rates are higher in wealthier nations than in poorer countries, and that accessibility to care is a great hindrance to overall mental health of patients that requires treatment for different associated symptoms.

The patient to doctor ratio is crucial when it comes to mental health care systems, the exhaustion that creeps up on professionals without a proper backup system in place which could prove to be detrimental. These are all issues that adds onto an already complex and wicked problem that needs targeted solutions from a government that somehow cannot seem to be able to fathom the multifaceted nature of the issue. From affordability of care to access, to the removal of stigma that surrounds the issue, there needs to be massive transformational movements within and across different spectrums of society to address the issue of mental healthcare and what it constitutes.

Being a practicing Muslim, I cannot deny the role that spiritual wellbeing plays when it comes to mental health issues. For me, religion is very much a part of who I am. It even defines me to a certain point. While prayers and recitation of Qura’n has helped me immensely when it comes to coping with the worst of my symptoms, for others, religion might not hold such a profound value in their lives. For those that do not believe in religion and existence of a higher power, there exists other mechanisms such as meditation which to a certain extent mimics the effects of prayer.

When government ministers point towards lack of religious faith as the main reason behind poor mental health status of large swathes of the population across the country, they fail to understand that this lack of faith as they call it also stems from poor governmental policies on education. Fact that religion serves as a tool that is manipulated at the behest of the government of the day does little to instill faith in a generation that has come to question everything that is in existence and beyond.

Gone are the generations that says yes to everything a ruler imposes upon them. In place now are groups of individuals that question; questions that needs to be answered adequately by learned professionals in terms of religious discourse, especially by people who have the patience to deal with them.

Islam as a subject should be taught by teachers who can bring forth lively discussions and engage students in debates surrounding central issues to society in an Islamic context. Rather than shying away from debates as such, teachers should help and guide students to understand what Islamic literature has to say on important pillars that governs society and life of individuals. Subject matter should touch deeply on aspects of tawh’eed (oneness of Allah SWT), and what it actually means when one says that Islam is a way of life.

Without incorporating these multi-dimensional aspects that addresses the wellbeing of a society as actionable policies on the ground, when officials open their mouth to belittle an issue that is of paramount importance not just locally but globally, it actually brings to light the lack of awareness and knowledge of these officials when it comes to broad based issues that needs targeted solutions that cuts across government and non-governmental platforms in existence.

“Wellness is not a ‘medical fix’ but a way of living – a lifestyle sensitive and responsive to all the dimensions of body, mind, and spirit, an approach to life we each design to achieve our highest potential for well-being now and forever.” – Greg Anderson

Getting Control of Your Anxiety & Depression

anxiety

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.

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.

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.