“Work hard, pay rent, die” – Rajjetherey Meehunge Party calls for an end to modern slavery

Shortly after Mariyam Sadha* moved to Malé in 2002, at the age of 14, her father was thrown into jail and her brother lost his job at the airport. She had just started eight grade at Aminiya School, but was forced to work at the grocery store and tutor younger students to help pay rent.

Without a constant source of income, Sadha’s mother began housing students from the atolls in their two bedroom apartment. There were eight people sleeping in her room, Sadha recalls. She finished tenth grade exams with excellent grades, but could not pursue further education.

“How could I? I could see what my parents were going through, I could not add to their burden,” the tall young woman says, adjusting her scarf.

Instead, as soon as she turned 18, Sadha married to “escape” her congested house. Soon afterwards, she  became pregnant.

Sadha took night classes, but could not complete her business management degree with a young child and a resort-worker husband whom she sees once every few months. But at 25, she says she is “now out of all that shit”, due to a stable income from a travel agency job. However, she continues to spend most of her earnings on rent.

“This is modern slavery. The system is built so that the average person does not have any savings. I earn a lot more than those who work in the government. But at the end of the month, me and my husband together, we don’t have anything.”

“All the money we earn we have to go pay rent. That moment – when you have to count all of those bills and hand it over to someone else – is incredibly difficult,” she says.

Sadha is one of the administrators of an online Facebook page called the Rajjetherey Meehunge Party (RMP). The movement with 15,520 followers contends that the residents of the atolls are trapped in a vicious cycle of “work hard, pay rent, and die” due to forced migration to capital city Malé.

The term raajjetherey meehun – often used in a derogatory manner – refers to Maldivian citizens who are not original residents of the capital city. RMP’s founder, Ali Yasir, 27, argues the institutionalised regional discrimination of the 70s continues indirectly today, as jobs, healthcare, and education continue to be concentrated in Malé.

The city is now the most densely populated city in the world with rent prices equalling that of developed cities.

The Rajjetherey Meehunge Party advocates for the development of urban centers with modern facilities on already-existing large landmasses throughout the Maldives in order to incentivise small communities to relocate.

“We cannot have development when people are dispersed over a 190 something islands. Development from the citizen’s money should not just be in the Malé region. Development should be available to all citizens.”

“We want people to be aware, to pressure their MPs, to divert resources to and consolidate populations to the North and South,” Yasir says. 

Money making machine for the rich

Articles 16, 17, 23, 37, and 41 of the constitution guarantee education, shelter, jobs, clean water, sewerage and transport systems to all citizens without discrimination –  but RMP contends the Maldivian government (or Malé government as RMP describes it) uses tax payer’s money to concentrate all services in the Malé region.

Furthermore, even though successive governments have undertaken multi-million dollar projects to address congestion in Malé, they have failed, Yasir argues.

President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom first announced the reclamation of Hulhumalé in 1997 from a northern lagoon adjacent to Malé, claiming it would solve congestion. In 2011, President Mohamed Nasheed announced a US$600 million development project in the Gulhi Lagoon east of Malé – also to relieve congestion.

The Veshi Fahi Malé project – combining development of Malé, Villingili, Thilafushi, and Hulhumalé – was touted as providing adequate housing for the least advantaged families from Malé and support the decongestion of the capital city.

The new government of President Abdulla Yameen has continued the trend, pledging to establish a youth city on Hulhumalé and to connect Malé and Hulhumalé with a multi-million dollar bridge.

However, instead of providing the needy with housing, land and apartments have gone to rich businessmen, says Yasir. Moreover, with new land and apartments costing millions of rufiyaa, both Hulhumalé and Gulhi Falhu have become a moneymaking machine for the rich, he argues.

“God did not give Hulhumalé to the people of Malé. It’s being developed with all of our money. But even now, it is Malé residents and businessmen who gain land plots from there. There is corruption in it as well. This is injustice,” he says.

The root of all social ills

Successive governments have brandished the term ‘housing issue’ to manipulate islanders into believing they have no land in order to pump money into reclaiming land in the Malé region, Sadha says.

“We don’t have a housing issue. We own 5000 acre plots in our home islands. The problem is that there are no services where we own land.”

“There are water shortages and power cuts. There are schools, but no teachers. There are hospitals, but no doctors. Even if we have jobs in the islands, all the money feeds into Malé.  There are cemeteries in the islands, but we have to be buried in Malé,” she says.

Forced migration has led to ghost villages in the atolls, Yasir says. Every second house is abandoned and falling apart in his home island of Gaaf Alif Atoll Kolamafushi. Only the old, young mothers and their infants remain on the island. The men are working away from home, and the ones that stay on the island have turned to drugs, he says.

It is migrant families who now live in Hulhumalé apartments which were originally given at a low price to rich Malé residents, Sadha says. If the least disadvantaged Malé residents had indeed received the flats, it would be their families living there, she says.

Instead, three or four families from the islands are often crammed into small spaces and pay inflated rents equivalent to Malé prices. The rent then finances landowners to relocate their families abroad, she says.

“The government may say look, we are consolidating populations here, in Hulhumalé, in Gulhi Falhu, but without developing other regions, it is not consolidating, that is congestion. Consolidation and congestion are different. This area cannot accommodate everyone. People will live in slums, on top of each other. That is not what we deserve,” she says.

“This is not living. This is just existing because you are not dead. This is not life. All the money you earn, you give to someone else. The rest for something else. Inflation keeps rising,” she continues.

The RMP believes congestion is at the root of most social ills in the Maldives, from high rates of divorce to an increase in gang crimes. It is also driving more and more women to prostitution, Yasir argues.

Instead of addressing the root cause, the government tends to advocate stop-gap measures such as religious education and increasing security, he continues.

“What the heck? Religious education is not going to solve it. Without an environment in which people can live in contentment, those issues cannot be solved. No matter how much [Home Minister] Umar Naseer increases guns, soldiers, and police in the country, these issues cannot be solved, unless we can build an environment in which people can be content. That is the smart solution,” he says.

Developing urban centers on already existing large landmasses throughout the Maldives and consolidating populations to these regions is the only way to relieve congestion in Malé, he argues.

“There are a lot of southerners in Malé. They will migrate back when there are jobs and services in their region. Then there will be three centers – in the north, central, and south of Maldives,” he says.

Sabotage

The government has not only made no substantive effort to develop other regions, but it has also actively blocked any development initiatives by locals, Yasir contends.

He points to numerous pledges which have failed to bear fruit in the past decade, including a 2005 promise to develop south central Laamu Atoll Gan as a city, a promise to build a university campus called “dream campus” in the same atoll, a July 2011 agreement with the Chinese to provide city facilities in southern Huvadhoo atoll, and promises to upgrade the northern Hanimaadhoo International Airport and the southern Gan International Airport.

President Yameen must complete these initiatives before pumping money into football stadiums and a youth city in Hulhumalé, Yasir said.

Meanwhile, Housing Minister Mohamed Muizz has in a tweet criticised the movement as inciting hatred, claiming that 97 percent of the state budget is spent on the atolls.

However, Yasir and Sadha suggests that any money spent on island development usually takes the form of establishing futsal pitches, building cemetery walls, and renovating already existing infrastructure.

“The government is saying one thing and doing the other. They call Addu a city now. But it does not have municipal services or jobs,” Sadha says.

While a system of local governance has been established to empower locals to make their own decisions, the central government has failed to empower the local councils, they say. Several councils – including opposition dominated Malé and Addu City councils – have criticised the government’s decision to limit their ability to generate independent income by leasing land.

Divide and Rule

The RMP believes the government favors populations remaining dispersed over 190 islands for political control.

“When people are isolated, it is easier to control them,” Yasir says, adding:“That is why rich politicians can buy votes with MVR500 (US$30). If islanders were economically empowered, if they could see a future, they will not accept bribes.”

Sadha raises the example of tourism tycoon and MP Sun Travel Ahmed Shiyam who owns resorts in Haa Alif, Noonu, and Dhaalu Atolls.

“These are his three atolls. Every year he sponsors pilgrims for the Hajj from those three atolls. The residents of these three atolls eat and sleep when he provides because he employs them. He will not want to lose control of those people.

“It is rich tourism tycoons who oppose local tourism. They are afraid of empowerment, of people not begging. I don’t know what their motive is. Are they afraid people won’t end up at their feet? I keep thinking, there must be something else. All I know is they oppose any empowerment,” she continues.

A different day

Yasir initially started the Facebook page in December 2013. He ordered pizza one day, compiled posts and slowly started releasing them over the week. Within six days, he had gained 6,000 followers online. He also received death threats. But he says he is not deterred. With the help of Sadha and other dedicated volunteers, the group is now making plans to “leave Facebook.”

“This is our message: When the government builds a wall around the cemeteries or builds a mortuary, don’t accept this to be what you deserve. Demand development in your region, in the bigger islands. Tell them you don’t want to come to this region!” Sadha said.

Several people have left pessimistic comments saying there is no use in pursuing RMP’s objectives, but Yasir believes he must at least try for the sake of his children.

“They tell me there is no other way but the current situation. They cannot even imagine this may go another way. But someone has to take the initiative. We cannot stand by without doing anything. At least, I can tell my children I tried. Come on, there’s only 300,000 people here. We can manage,” he says.

For Sadha, RMP must succeed because she does not want her child to grow up in the same conditions she did.

“I also want to see a different day. I want to see a day where we are able to save, when we do not have to spend all of our money on rent. Without even knowing it, we are slowly getting depressed. You slowly get used to it to the point you don’t know it is slavery that you live under. I want to see a different day.”

*name changed

A previous version of this article incorrectly said islands must have water and sewerage systems to establish guesthouses. It has been modified to reflect the change.

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23 thoughts on ““Work hard, pay rent, die” – Rajjetherey Meehunge Party calls for an end to modern slavery”

  1. If RMP continues their current path of fighting for social justice as a registered political party with even a little over 10000 members they would be a force to be reckoned with in Maldivian politics.

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  2. The name Raajetgerey meehun is a deriogarary term although there are also sub catagories even within the term. Noth people are more accepted than south

    But the ironic truth is every one and their grandma is Raajethere. President Nasir has origins in fua mulaku, Maumoon and dr waheed has origins in huvadhoo and Yameens mother is from Noonu atoll.

    That leaves only President Nasheed and President Ameen didi as Male origin presidents

    So one wonders who would most likely to promote male centered culture

    When president nasheed makes campaign videos with sultan park palace in the background, who do you think is he appealing to

    Conclusion: this RMP website must another ploy by a politicking and a very timely one indeed

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  3. You know what you should do? Develop self-sufficiency on the islands, then place a naval blockade on Mal'e.

    Then charge 2000% rent prices for anyone who wants to come to the islands and eat food that isn't festering with maggots and rot. The military has no real air power. They'll be helpless.

    Revenge is a dish best served cold, after all.

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  4. Conspiracy theories abound for those living in denial. Thats why 2+2 concludes that it adds up to 7.

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  5. I sympathize with RMP. If RMP were a political party, I would gladly sign up.

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  6. There is no clear line by Male and RPM when it comes to poverty. What do you say for people like Buruma and Damas group to name a few. There are very disadvantaged people in Male too. Also the expectation and lavished lifestyles of the underemployed contributes to this. In countries like Nepal more than 90 percent are in labor force. In Maldives majority of the abled people are dependants.

    I sympathize with Sadha. We all have given or sold a vote to the politicians to do what is best for their businesses

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  7. half of male' and whole of hulhumale' and villingili are owned by rajetherey meehun

    siblings and children of VA / VB from addu
    siblings and children of AAA from addu
    siblings and children of Villa from maamigili
    siblings and children of Maumoon A Gayoom from huvadhoo
    Dims / Damas families

    if you look at the plots won on bid from hulhumale' 90% from raajetherey

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  8. Thank you very much Zaheena Rasheed for this article. Hope you would continue to highlight this issue. Best Wishes!

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  9. " Housing Minister Mohamed Muizz has in a tweet criticised the movement as inciting hatred,claiming that 97 percent of the state budget is spent on the atolls."

    really? the AFC cup came to a sum total of 2 millions rufiyaa or more. and if thats just 2% the rest of the MRF 97 million is gone to develop the islands?

    these people have no shame, with their silver tongues they like the monsters they are.

    we are talking about the same government who came to power with a coup. and they made it legitimate. they dont give a rats ass about the citizens of this country. they just care about their pockets and their loved ones only.

    i totally agree, its the rich people who own the land and erect building which costs an arm and a leg as rent!

    and a fair share of rich people are from the island, but since they are rich they are above the discrimination. and are partners with male people and makes more money by draining the island folks.

    heartless bastards are what they really are.

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  10. Male' or Raajjethere your are slave to the few rich @$%%%%^ who control 99.9% of land in Male' region. End of Story.

    By sending Rajjethere ppl like us to our homeland Male' can breath easier and prices for housing will go down and those rich *&^&*%^^ will find out their boot size.

    We call Male' ppl and Raajjethere ppl to join hands and fight this monster together. the 0.01%

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  11. Irony is that the single richest Maldivian with most resources in the country is from rajjethere, and he himself is against decentralised development. Discrimination is not between rajjethere and Male’, it’s between a certain clan of people (either rajjethere or Male’) and the others. (Do a small research on the staffs of Minivan, Haveeru or your classroom).

    RMP policies may lead to a tyranny of the elitists. Lets hope that people behind RMP (or future Gasims who will buy support RMP) will not lobby for policies to get the rich even richer & poor poorer (rajjethere or Male’). A well thought out manifesto would be a good start.

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  12. With econmic opportunities, the concept of 'Raajetherey Meehaa' is really a joke these days even though some people use it abusively to intimidate others with connotations like island people are poor fisherman.

    Fact is fisherman earn more than state ministers and ethically (without corruption)

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  13. @Rajjethery meeha

    Yes we earn ethically. luckily government jobs are few in comparison in rajjethere and most of us have to work in fishing, resorts, agriculture to get a buck and it provides handsomely. but we have to spend all our earnings in Male where we have to come even to do a regular checkup. Like hajj pilgrimage every Maldivian living in islands have to come to Male' once a year to get basic services and pay rent on top of that.

    We do not want to come to Male' and we dont demand services in every islands except basic necessities like water, sewer.. we are asking the government to develop bigger islands in other regions with good services and connect smaller islands with basic transport system where we can travel and get it in a day and come home to our island to our family.

    Instead government is interested in some bridge costing 100million dollars to alleviate poverty and relive congestion in Male'. Stupidity at max or this may be a practical joke

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  14. Developing regional centres will again create the same situation over time to the people from other locations. I think RMP is very premature, it could have been better if he has done it after ordering a good book from Amazon to his island. that way the idea could have become more solid. over a pizza is not enough time.

    So far this sounds like some Male’ kids (hithun rajjethere). Then again, who is Rajjethere people? How do you define it? If you’ve lived in Male’ most of your life, if your parents paid rent all those yesterdays, you don’t speak for us who live in islands. Everyone has gone through some struggle in life. Different people different struggles. Everyone is not Bill Gates of Maamigili Gasim Ibrahim.

    You become a rajjethere-meeha, anheneh, kudakujje, vazeereh, mussanjje, denstisteh in your head first.

    The rent is too damn high.

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  15. Ironically its the raajetherey people who voted for the current government which created the structures for gross discrimination against those living in the islands. Its a pity that this group did not work harder for people in the islands to vote for a President who is deeply committed to empowering local governance and strengthening services in the islands. We now have to sleep on the bed that kept a dictatorship in place for 30 years and brought back the very people that created the divide between Male and the islands.

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  16. If islanders have not learned the Gayyoom family policies after 30 years they never will. Their policy is simple:

    Just provide enough to make the islanders believe they care. But in reality, no where in Maldives will see investment to the level of Male. This is their policy. Male has to remain and will always remain the center of life, as otherwise, the powerful elite fear their power as well as wealth will disappear. This is the bitter truth.

    So why do the islanders like Gasim, Damas, Dims etc forget about where they came from? Truth is they no longer consider themselves islanders. They've truly erased the memories of where they came from and are now very comfortable where they are, i.e. in Male.

    It's ironic that PPM came to power largely thanks to the votes of islanders! The majority of the people of Male didn't vote for them. What does this tell you about the islanders?

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  17. Maldives has been owned by the beefulu class otherwise known as the Maldivian aristocracy. They are all based in Male. When raajjetherey miihun come to Male, they soon foget their roots in raajjethere and become Male people. Some of these raajjetherey people have also become part of the aristocracy and forgotten their out-of-Male roots.

    There is no doubt that there is institutionalised and historical privileging of Male residents and denying equal opportunities to non-Male people.

    I even remember Mr Hussein Shihab saying that the non-Male islands cannot even be developed.It is too expensive or even impossible to do that.

    I do not think either Mohamed Ameen or Ibrahim Nasir even visited the islands. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom visited the islands regularly. He is now enjoying the fruits of these visits which the people liked.

    The South under Afeef rose against Male domination when the South thought they had a chance to do so. Ibrahim Nasir, the Head of the central government of Maldives based in Male crushed the revolt with brute force that will only be used against an inferior race of people.

    People in outer islands have always been regarded as inferior to Male people and there are all kinds of jokes about the islanders too.

    The islanders even accept their inferior status.

    A wake-up call to the islanders is timely and important for national development. Male people must support it. It is good for Male people just as much as to the islanders.

    Who is against decentralisation? I hope it is not MDP.

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  18. I would encourage the author to go one step further and study the issues facing the real people of Male'. Most of the land reclaimed in the 70's was given to STO or people from other Islands. Unlike people from other islands people from Male' have no way of getting land for housing but buy it. There is no control when electing representatives as there is an unknown element called "Male' Municipality Dhafthar"! Most of the property in Male' and Hulhumale' is now owned by people from other Islands.

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  19. Adhi ves Maumoonu koppaaa! 30 aharu dhuvahu neylhunu varah flat alheema bunee Flat Dhonbe ey.

    President Naasir said it right, "Bakari gengulheveynee kosheega".

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  20. Somehow, I wonder if people do realise that this is the plight of people from Male' too. I am born to parents from Male', and I live in a rented flat - my parents don't have land in Male' though they were born and brought up here, to parents from Male'
    So if the issue is rent, I would assume the name should reflect that - as it is not only a phenomenon for persons who are originally from islands other than Male'!

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  21. addu is bigger tahn male, it should be the epi center of a new maldives, inter island
    transportation is poor, you can only travel by plane which is unaffordable.
    do what i say and all the island will develop:
    1. inter island ferry service
    2. inter island courier service
    3. bridge to hulhulemale
    4. devlop addu as the new capital.
    5. addu & male will be the new cities and these can generate employment within themselves, no migration. smaller islands which are close should be connected by bridges.
    6. population should be spread out and not concentrated, make male the adminstrative capital, addu the industrial capital. more to write but stopping now.
    above all maldivians should learn to be a labor force.

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  22. Maldivians for generations have been conditioned to defer to the will of the Beyfulhun. Questioning of authority was frowned upon. The social standing of a persons' family name matters more than the actions, character and achievements of the individual. Perfect for manipulative megalomaniacs like Gayoom and co. Not so for democracy activists.

    The Raajethery people only need the blessings of the Royal family. Maybe a mosque, a deepened harbour for their boats and the privilege to serve their overlords. A few of their children who manage to get a decent education and begin to question the status quo are the "lost ones" - who are trying to bring in "foreign" cultures and influences and disrespecting the "bodun"

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  23. Make RMP as a real political party. Nd contest in the up coming presidential election.nd u can show the ppl what they deserve. I am 100% sure we ( raajje therey meehun) we all will give vote to a raajje therey rayyathu meehaa. Not to a male' person. If we want to bring the true development other than male' hulhumale' we have to make a "rajje therey rayyathu meehaa" as a president of this country.
    -Thank you-

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