In present day Maldives, the NGOs are organised in a more professional manner than in the past. Though it is not to say that the NGO sector in the Maldives is weak and requires strengthening, however the question today we all deliberate is what the NGOs can do in the democratising process of the Maldives.
Political pressure on NGOs
It is an indisputable reality that in any political environment, NGOs will be pressured by various political parties to take political positions. Nonetheless, the role of NGOs should be to work in the best interests of the Maldivian citizens. NGOs should be the voice of the people. NGOs should act neutral, be accountable and act as watchdogs. If there are critical issues to be raised against the government or political parties, the NGOs should have the credible evidence to situate their positions.
Nowadays, we see the NGOs join hands to work on various issues. NGOs realise the strength in standing together to pressure the government, people and the political parties. We have successful ventures of NGO partnerships such as campaigns like ‘JUST’, ‘I choose to Vote’ and others.
Unfortunately, we also see a trend where the names of NGOs are used to disadvantage or in the name of religion. I don’t believe that religious activities should be allowed to be conducted under the banner of NGOs.
In majority Islamic countries, religious groups conduct religious activities under a religious placard so that the two can be distinct. Hence, religious groups with the intention of grabbing power by targeting vulnerable groups can be monitored and watched.
At present we see the movements of two types of NGO coalitions. One movement is mobilised to work for the cause of humanity and development, while the other interest group is mobilized to conduct religious activities.
The just cause of humanity and development is transparent and identified for a specific purpose. Dissimilar to this, the NGO coalitions mobilised for religious activities are dangerous and leave question marks.
The concern is that these types of coalitions are NOT moved to strengthen the understanding of Islam that we love in our country. But the secrecy in which they empower conservative Islamic scholars, brainwash people to isolate themselves from the normal course of life, lobby for the removal of girls from schools, isolate and intimidate girls and women and prevent vaccinations being given to children and so on in the name of Islam. These conservative coalitions are dangerous and need to be watched and monitored.
Conservative radical NGO coalition
The names of Adhaalath and Salaf come to our minds when we think about conservative movements. Adhaalath is a political party but lobbies for conventional Islamic way of life similar to Salaf. Salaf is an NGO that has hijacked Atoll radio.
We saw how Salaf managed to take control of Atoll Radio. Initially, there were speeches by Salaf scholars; slowly the radio channel management taken over by Salaf. Salaf was devious in promoting its way of life through Atoll Radio. Now, the Salaf group promotes their conservative ways of life and underline points by stating that Salaf scholar says this or that.
Salaf and Adhaalath sponsors conservative Islam through different mediums and strategies. The earliest recruitment came in the form of the NGO coalition movement against the policies on liquor, then the movement to raise funds for Pakistan Relief.
The latest exploitation of this radical movement is to fight against coeducation in education system. Why haven’t they come out strongly or protested an outcry against the abuse of children and abuse of women that is happening almost every day? How can we as Muslims tolerate such inhumane acts towards our children and women? MP Muthalib promotes the Salaf and Adhaalath agenda stating that if a law comes into force that protects violence against women, than it would prevent men having multiple wives? This is the level of their thinking when they talk about Islam, and it demeans our much-loved religion.
If you investigate closely you can see their motives in exploiting the NGO sector by mobilising the majority island based NGOs and counting them as their partners, reaching 172, but actual decision makers on behalf this conservative NGO coalition is the majority Male’ based NGOs Salaf, and political party Adhaalath, and the Teachers’ Association that seems to have lost the cause of founding their NGO in the first place.
The decision-making process in the so-called NGO coalition is undemocratic and controlled by only a few people. Do you really think that within such a large NGO coalition it would be easy to make decisions and mobilise unless the island based NGOs are not controlled?
We do not want what happened to Afghanistan to take place in Maldives. The Taliban controlled and turned Afghanistan to a conservative country in the name of Islam so that Taliban could have total control of Afghan people.
NGOs should work according to their mandates
All the registered formal NGO institutions should only work for the people of the Maldivians and closely try to fulfill and achieve their mandates and objectives. It’s vital to NGO sector to be responsible and accountable to people with their mandates, money they get and also create a peaceful environment during the political transition. The NGO sector should learn to be neutral, non-partisan and be watch dogs for human rights violations in the Maldives.