Q&A: Mother of Rubeena, held without trial for over four years

Indian national Rubeena Buruhanudeen has been held in Dhoonidhoo detention centre for four and a half years on charges of murdering her ten-month-old child.

The 30-year-old is also facing charges related to attempted suicide – a criminal offence in the Maldives – but has been awaiting sentencing since late August 2010.

This interview with Rubeena’s mother, 58-year-old Shafeeqa Beevi, was conducted by KP Rasheed, and originally published (in Malayalam) on Asianet News – republished here with permission.

Four years have passed after Rubeena’s imprisonment. Why didn’t anybody take this case seriously?

There was no one to help us. We are a poor fishermen family of many difficulties. We struggle to make both ends meet by selling fish and helping others as housemaids. My husband cannot offer any help as he has fallen ill. Economically and socially, we come from the lowest strata.

We cannot speak or write English and we don’t know how to complete legal formalities. Yet, I have been walking to different government offices for the last four and half years. Nothing worked out.

I have three daughters and one son. The elder one Safeena was married to a fisherman called Shihabudheen. The second daughter was married to another fisherman. Rubeena is the third child. My only son, Sabeer Sha works in Saudi Arabia as a house driver. He has been there for seven months.

We managed to marry off our first two daughters with the help of relatives and residents of the locality. The dowry and the gold were a big burden on us. We had pawned the documents of the house and land for the marriage of our elder daughter. As we couldn’t return the money within time, we faced the threat of legal confiscation of our house. Had it not been for the  fisheries department’s waiver scheme, we would have lost our house and ended up in the street.

How did Rubeena’s marriage talks take place? Did no one protest marrying her off to Maldives?

There was one Naseema who would come to our house occasionally. She is from Bimapalli. Once I told her about my daughter. I asked her to look for a groom in her locality. She called me after some days and told there is one guy from Maldives. He is disciplined and rich, you can meet him if you come tomorrow.

The next day we set off to Bimapalli in a bid to meet that guy. We were going to Beemapalli for the first time. We met Naseema there, she took us for a walk through many corridors and reached a house. The guy was sitting there. He looked like a middle aged man in his 50s, not a young guy. He was limping on one leg. The very moment we saw him I told my daughter to forget about it. I told her that he is not suitable, he is very old. She resisted: “Mom, let’s see if it works out.”

Meanwhile, unfortunately, we met an acquaintance there. Her house was next to the premises. Once I returned from her house things had fallen apart. Raheem and Anwar who were the relatives of Naseema were also present there. Anwar used to visit Maldives. He talked to my daughter and convinced her. They made her agree to the marriage.

She didn’t listen to my protest. “Dear mom, I’m not going to get married unless you had to take care of me, you cannot look after me all the time. So this may be for good. They say he is a nice fellow”. This was her response.

We told the matter to her father after reaching home. “If it’s Male’ then let it be,” he responded. The next day I, her father, and others went to Beemapalli. His name was Hassan. He was 45-years-old. Some of his relatives were also present. Since the language was different neither we understood what they told nor did they understand what we told. Anwar and Raheem interpreted what was being spoken. From there Hassan put a ring on Rubeena’s hand.

How could the marriage be fixed without knowing the groom?

There was no other way. They had already convinced and brainwashed her. And if not this, I was incapable of thinking about arranging another marriage. Her father was also helpless. They told that he is a rich man in Maldives having seven houses to give out on rent. Naseema, Raheem and Anwar repeatedly said that he was good and will take care of her.

They told me that this is our good fortune. She had been trapped in their words. Though I had doubts, I didn’t get an opportunity to cross-check.

He gave us Rs15,000 for marriage expenses and told that there is no need of gold and dowry. One of his relatives named Thasleema begged me to go ahead with this marriage saying that he liked her very much. She promised that Hassan will pay our debts. All of his property will be going to Rubeena, she said.

Anwar translated these things as we don’t know her language. Then the things progressed in a hurry. Mahallu committee expressed their skepticism when I informed them. They asked, whether this marriage to Maldives is needed? When I said there is no other way, they agreed.

Marriage function was held at Rareeram Lodge, near Trivandrum Medical College on July 28, 2008. That is a lodge where Maldivian people come and stay. They stayed here for 8 days after the wedding. They stayed in Rareeram and his friends’ houses nearby Kumarapuram. He soon arranged her passport and other documents to take her to Maldives.

It looks strange! A wedding in such a hurry? That too without knowing the whereabouts of the groom…

The Maldivian weddings in this locality are usually done like this. They will marry the poor, destitute girls in these regions and take them away. The poor parents won’t have the chance to know the details and enquire about them.

There is a lot of such Malayali girls in Maldives. He spent around 30,000 for the wedding. He gave a small golden necklace as Mahar. It was the only thing to say as gold. He had told that he will help us to pay the debts. But it didn’t happen.

Did anyone of you go to Maldives with Rubeena? Did you know the situation there?

No one did. We had no money for that. We don’t have the passport either. Our situation is beyond your imagination. Everyone thought that she would be safe there. She called me after reaching there. She shared a shocking news. Hassan had betrayed us. She told me that his former wife had run away from him to rescue herself from the tortures.

That is why he came to Kerala in search of a new wife. In his first wife, he had six children and they were staying with him. I was shocked, I enquired this to the people who arranged this marriage. I was shocked to know that a document he brought for the marriage was his divorce certificate.

It was written in English, none of us were able to read it. It was written in that document that he had married a girl earlier and she eloped and then he divorced her. But nobody told us all these things during the time of marriage.

What else did she tell you on that day?

She told me that she was fine despite all these things and she told me to not be worried about her. When I called her later she told me the situation was better. She might have found it luxurious since she had experienced extreme poverty in our house. She tried to console me all the time. But I could understand she was not very happy there.

After one year she gave birth to her son Ahmed Sohaib in August 2009. After that she had never talked to me in a happy mood. She told me that her husband’s behavior has become worse. He started torturing her, he started neglecting her. My daughter started telling that she is fed up there. Every time she called, she cried a lot.

One day she asked me: “dear Mom, will you take care of me, if I come home?” It was disheartening, I cried. I told her to come back and I would look after her going for coolie jobs. I told her that we can live happily with whatever we have.

Did she call you after reaching Maldives?

Yes, she used to call. Every time she cried. When I started scolding her asking why she did go again, she became upset and said “Mom, at least you don’t abuse me”.

Rubeena told me about Hassan’s affair with one Malayali nurse who worked there. Earlier, she had a friendship with my daughter. Rubeena had told me about another girl who is a friend of the nurse who supported Hassan’s affair. I forgot her name.

It was on May 28 that she called me from their home for the last time. She said she would send me some money and call me on June 2. She didn’t call me on the day she said. It never happened before. So I was a bit scared. I told my son to call Habeeba in Male’. Habeeba is a relative of Hassan.

Habeeba told him about what had happened to my daughter. He told this to my elder children, not to me. They told it to me.

I heard that she killed her son and attempted to commit suicide. I was shattered. With the help of my son I called to several numbers there to know what really happened. But none of them received my call. After that nobody told me anything. Even Hassan didn’t call me nor did he pick my call.

I informed all the things to the relatives here as well as the Mahallu committee. I requested them to do something. I went in search of Naseema and Raheem many times. I couldn’t find them or get them on phone.

I was sure that she will never do such a horrible thing. She will not kill her son, because she loved him so much. And I know that she will not attempt to commit suicide. We have already suffered bigger hardships than this. We didn’t think of ending life at all those times. Though she was very fragile, she was mentally strong.

When did your daughter call again?

One day she called me. And she wept and cried telling me that she is in jail. I asked her what happened. She swore upon Allah that she didn’t kill her son. She told she was trapped and betrayed. She can speak only three minutes, then the phone will be disconnected. If we call back they won’t allow her to speak.

We were allowed to call her at least once in a month. She told all the things happened after many such short telephone conversations.

What did Rubeena say? And what happened?

My daughter repeatedly told me that the intimacy between Hassan and that nurse became strong, he kept her in one of his houses. She told me that she went there and questioned why she was staying there, to which the nurse replied saying: “Hassan told me to stay here”.

She [the nurse] closed the door when I started questioning her, explained Rubeena.

“Hassan was provoked when I reached home, he threatened to kill me. Afterwards he said you and your son can return to your home, I agreed to that, but suddenly he came up with a condition; that he won’t give his son, ‘you can go back to your house without our son’. I disagreed. He knows that I couldn’t live without my son, we quarreled with each other. He threatened me again.”

“It happened that a day later, he arranged a party for his friends at our home. I made Biriyani and juice for them. The nurses were also at the party, they gave me a juice, me and my son drunk the juice. Soon, my son fell asleep and I went to sleep with my son. Then I woke up at the hospital. I asked for my son, then the nurse and her friend told me that I killed my son by pressing a pillow on his face. I was shocked. I denied this. There were some policemen too, they handcuffed me. Only after many days they gave permission to call her mother from the jail.”

The fake charges against Rubeena are that she killed her 10-month-old baby by suffocating him with pillow, and attempted suicide on the same day. The nurse gave the witness statements.

What does Rubeena say about the murder?

She has no clear idea about who killed the boy. Rubeena says that she was asleep while the incident took place. However, from the later developments and the way Hassan behaved, she doubts his principal involvement in the heinous act. Rubeena is clueless who added poison to the juice and what happened thereafter.

What is the status of her marriage now?

Hassan visited the jail after two years; he said that she could go home and for that she has to sign some papers. He insisted she sign the divorce papers and promised it would enable him to complete the procedure to send her home.

She had called me asking what to do. I told her not to sign. He kept visiting her and insisting. She finally signed the divorce papers, dreaming about returning home. That was a trap, he didn’t make any attempt to get her out of jail, he cheated her once again.

As far as we are aware, Rubeena was trapped in the case. She is languishing in a foreign prison for four and half years. What did you do to save her?

From the very first day, I have been trying to contact people seeking help. I couldn’t find the Beemappalli guys who were involved in her marriage. Everybody asked to file a complaint. We don’t know English. One of my relatives prepared a complaint in English and I had met several leaders.

I have met Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, A Sampath MP, our MLA, the police DGP, district collector among others. They all promised to do the needful. Nothing has happened yet. I also went to the Maldives Consulate at Thiruvananthapuram. They informed me that they cant do anything about it.

They, however, gave me the address of the ministry and police department of Maldives. I sent the complaint to those addresses. I didn’t get even an acknowledgement. I met the chief minister with the same complaint once again. We are from a poor fishermen community; we don’t know how to get these things done. There was no one to help.

It was after the release of Jayachandran master, I renewed my hope. He had met Rubeena in jail and she had given him my number. He contacted me over phone and I explained everything I knew. He is now taking initiative, along with his friends, to save Rubeena and many other victims in Maldivian jails.

Are you optimistic about the latest developments?

I had completely lost my hope. But now, things are apparently changing. My hope has been restored. Many people who have never seen me or are even connected to me are trying to bring my daughter out of that prison. I heard that the effort could become successful only if the state and central governments effectively intervened.

If everyone tries together, I hope she might return home. I have explained about the developments to my daughter. She is also hopeful, now. In Maldives also, some people are trying to help her. I pray for her early release. I hope to see her before I close my eyes.

This interview was translated by Shahida A, Ayoob Rahman and Navas Machingal

Related to this story

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EC dismissals: Commonwealth, UK, EU, and India join international chorus of concern

The Commonwealth, UK, EU, and India have joined a growing international chorus expressing concern with the Supreme Court’s removal of the Elections Commission (EC) chair and deputy chair over charges of contempt of court.

“Such action by the court less than two weeks before the [parliamentary] election could be viewed as potentially affecting the electoral process adversely,” read a statement released yesterday by the Commonwealth secretariat.

The UK described the move as an “unprecedented expansion of judicial powers”, while India urged respect for the constitution. EU High Representative Catherine Ashton called the ruling a “serious setback in the democratic transition of the country.”

A statement from the President’s Office meanwhile called upon international partners to respect the Maldives’ constitution, echoing a statement released by the Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz on Tuesday (March 11).

The Supreme Court ruling on Sunday left the EC without the three members required for a legal quorum to hold meetings and finalise decisions ahead of the polls scheduled for March 22.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma noted the parliament’s approval of a new member to the EC yesterday, which ensures that the quorum is restored.

“We hope that a credible and inclusive parliamentary election can be held in accordance with the constitution, and that Maldivians will be able to cast their votes with confidence and with the will of the people being respected,”  the secretary-general said.

The secretary-general stressed that separation of powers was “a fundamental political value” of the Commonwealth.

“For a democracy to function effectively, it is critical that institutions operate within their own constitutional mandate and do not encroach either on the ability of other independent institutions to execute their own remits or on the constitutional authority of other branches of government,” he stated.

“Actions that undermine the independence of an elections commission have a negative effect on democracy as a whole.”

The secretary-general noted that the Commonwealth Observer Group to the Maldives for last year’s presidential polls had recommended that “there should be better recognition of the mandate and statutory and constitutional independence of the Elections Commission.”

The Commonwealth statement also noted that the Supreme Court “assumed new powers enabling it to initiate cases”.

The Supreme Court summoned EC members on February 27 and began a surprise trial on charges of contempt of court under new ‘sumoto’ regulations that allow the apex court to initiate proceedings and act as both prosecution and judge.

Yesterday’s flurry of statements followed condemnation of the Supreme Court decision by the United States, Canada and the United Nations earlier this week.

In response, the President’s Office has contended that “negative external reaction to judicial decisions” undermined the constitution and hindered efforts for consolidation of democracy.

“Unprecedented expansion of judicial powers”

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Hugo Swire expressed “deep disappointment” with the Supreme Court’s dismissal and sentencing of the EC chair.

“The charges laid and the procedures adopted represent an unprecedented expansion of judicial powers,” the Foreign Office statement read.

The Supreme Court’s contentious ruling “appears to undermine the hard won independence of the Election Commission. This is extremely worrying so close to parliamentary elections,” the statement read.

Noting the appointment of a new member to the EC, the minister urged the government to ensure that the “the Election Commission’s independence is swiftly restored and to ensure that inclusive, free and fair Parliamentary elections are held within constitutional deadlines and in line with international standards.”

“This is essential for the consolidation of democracy in the Maldives and for the country to uphold its international reputation after the difficult events of the last two years.”

The EU’s statement commended the work of the EC, noted the key role of an independent elections body in a democracy, and drew attention to its team of monitors currently in the Maldives for this month’s poll.

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs meanwhile issued a press release welcoming the “commitment expressed by the government of Maldives to holding the parliamentary elections as scheduled”.

“India has consistently supported the strengthening of democratic processes and institutions in the Maldives. In this context, the Government of India has noted with concern the removal of the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson of the Elections Commission of Maldives from their positions and deferred prison sentence of the Chairperson,” the press release stated.

As “a close friend and neighbour of the Maldives”, the Indian government urged state institutions and political parties to respect the constitution and rule of law.

The statement also expressed hope that the EC’s independence will be ensured and that “the forthcoming parliamentary elections are held in a free, fair and credible manner, fulfilling the democratic aspirations of the people of Maldives.”


India expresses hope that second round will go ahead as planned

“India believes that it is of utmost importance that the electoral process is allowed to proceed unhindered so that the second round is conducted according to schedule and the will of the people of Maldives is fully recognised,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has said.

“It is important that all sides respect the verdict and aspirations of the people of Maldives. We hope that the second round of Presidential elections will be held as scheduled on September 28, 2013 in a similar transparent, organised and peaceful manner.”

The statement, released in response to media enquiries, again praised the conduct of a first round it describes as “unblemished by any notable incident”.

The statement also reiterated the observations of Indian election observers, who had praised the Maldives Elections Commission as being “logistically well-prepared for this election”, as well as describing the much-criticised voter registry as “accurate and robust”.


New Indian High Commissioner arrives

Rajeev Shahare, the new Indian High Commissioner, arrived in the Maldives Thursday (April 2) but has not yet set a date to present his credentials to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, reports local media.

Shahare is replacing D M Mulay, who left the Maldives last month to take the position has India’s Consul in New York.

Previously Shahare was a joint secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, West Asia North Africa division.


Maldives’ satellite bid, Chinese involvement leads to India’s alleged security concerns

The Indian government is intervening at the “highest levels” to “push” the Indian Space Research Organisation (IRSO) to submit a proposal for the joint manufacturing, launch and operations of a Maldives’ communications satellite as a means to improve bilateral relations, claims the Hindustan Times.

The IRSO did not initially submit a proposal, considering the project “not viable” given China’s interest and presence in the Indian Ocean Region. They later requested the Indian Ministry of External Affairs to partly subsidise the project, according to Indian media.

The High Commission of India (HCI) in the Maldives is unsure whether the report’s claims are accurate.

“The HCI knows of the [Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM)] request for proposals and discussions with the Maldivian government did occur,” HCI official Shri P S Karthigeyan told Minivan News today.

“However, beyond that the current status of the project is not known,” he added.

Karthigeyan confirmed that Maldivian Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim is traveling to India April 15 to 18, was its unaware if his agenda includes discussions regarding the satellite project.

“The topic is on the bilateral agenda and will be taken up with Nazim. Not only Chinese companies but others too are interested in the Maldivian project,” media quoted an anonymous Indian Ministry of External Affairs official as saying.

Indian security agencies are concerned about increased Chinese participation in neighboring countries’ communication satellite projects, according to various Indian media outlets.

The Indian government plans to discourage giving orbital slots to China through a “mix of investments and diplomatic negotiations”.

India’s Antrix Corporation could bid for this project to scuttle any possible venture with the Chinese, reported the Hindu Business Line.

“ISRO may consider sending a delegation to Maldives to explore the possibility of cooperation in space technology. Maldives could be sensitised to India’s security concerns with regard to the presence of third countries in areas close to its borders,” an Indian government official was quoted as saying.

A meeting was held in late March with Indian intelligence agencies, ministries, and the department of space to discuss China’s growing influence in South Asia, according to Indian media.

“Analysts suspect a Chinese hand behind recent setbacks India has suffered in the region, such as the scrapping of GMR’s airport deal in Maldives and Sri Lanka raising duties on Indian auto imports. China’s economic rise is gradually eroding India’s ability to wield influence in its immediate neighbourhood,” claimed the Economic Times.

The CAM Chief Executive Officer Ilyas Ahmed has denied receiving an official proposal from India, however a proposal from the Indian government “must be considered,” according to local media.

“We are looking to complete the process during this month. The selecting of a company had been delayed due to the processing,” Ahmed stated.

Companies from China, UK, Netherlands, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Thailand had “expressed interest” prior to the proposal submission deadline, claims local media.

The CAM extended the proposal deadline from January 31, 2013 to February 28, 2013 after interested parties expressed difficulties because the previous time period for submission was too short.

Nazim’s dealings with China

The initial CAM project announcement was made while Nazim was on an official five-day visit to China, where he signed a military aid agreement with Chinese National Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie.

Nazim met with two Chinese companies interested in launching and operating a satellite designated for the Maldives during a December 2012 visit to China, former Minister of Communication Dr Ahmed Shamheed previously claimed.

According to Shamheed, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim has already been approached by various Chinese companies who have expressed interest in the satellite venture.

“At first, I had been involved in casual meetings with these companies, but now it seems to getting more serious. Nazim had even questioned as to why we have not yet signed an agreement with them,” Shamheed alleged.

Shamheed previously told Minivan News that the Maldives government was potentially entitled to an “orbital slot” for a satellite from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). However, because the Maldives’ currently lacks the capabilities to launch and operate a satellite, the state would have to lease out the slot to an external party.

Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, the Communications Authority of Maldives, and the Indian Space Research Organisation had not responded to calls from Minivan News at time of press.