‘Real’ Maldives “tarnished by gang violence, drug addiction, unemployment, political corruption, religious extremism”: The National

Ahmed fears for the life of the Maldives’ first democratically elected president and well-known environmental campaigner, who is now fighting for re-election a year after a violent uprising forced him from power. And Ahmed should know – he says he was once offered the contract to carry out his assassination, writes Eric Randolph for the UAE’s publication The National.

Picture the Maldives, and you’re probably imagining crystalline waters and perfectly groomed white beaches. Yet outside the five-star resorts, real life is very different and the image of an idyllic paradise has been tarnished by the growing problems of gang violence, drug addiction, unemployment, political corruption and religious extremism.

Having been one of the most notorious members of one of the country’s most feared gangs, Ahmed (not his real name) knows this side of the Maldives all too well. We meet in the cramped one-bedroom “apartment” he shares with his parents and two siblings. Apartment is a stretch – it’s a small room down a dingy ground-floor corridor, walls painted a lurid green, with an extended bunk bed that somehow accommodates all five of them and takes up most of the space.

In 2006, a leading politician allegedly offered Ahmed a contract to kill “or severely injure” Mohamed Nasheed, the man who was trying to bring down the 30-year authoritarian rule of Maumoon Gayoom. Local politicians and elites had been using the gangs to run their drug and alcohol operations on the streets for several years by this point. Street fights over territory and girls were leading to nine or 10 deaths a year.

Ahmed won’t talk about the violence in his past, though at one stage he draws me a picture of the knives he used to carry at all times (guns, mercifully, have yet to make it to Maldives). “This is my favourite,” he says, pointing at a serrated blade that looks like a Christmas tree in his sketch.

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Comment: Death penalty for infanticide is infantile

Among the many paths in life that lead a woman to kill her newborn baby, it is never this: one day she wakes up with an overwhelming urge to kill.

In order to satisfy that urge, she goes out and seduces/forces a hapless, innocent man to have sexual intercourse with her and to impregnate her. Still with the ultimate end-goal of killing in mind, she covertly carries the baby inside her. After nine-months of ingenious methods of hiding her ballooning figure from all eyes, she gives birth in perilous conditions without any medical attention.

Finally, she experiences the pleasure of killing which she had anticipated and meticulously planned for nine long months. And with immense gratification, she reaches out and makes sure her baby’s first breath is also its last.

Infanticide is not a new phenomenon – cases of it have been recorded from the time human records began, and research has shown a myriad of socially-generated causes behind the offence. Rates escalate in patriarchal societies where women are regarded as second-class citizens, and where crimes against women are on the rise. A recent report published by TrustLaw Women, an online organisation that offers free legal assistance to women, shows that infanticide is a common marker among countries that offer the worst environments for women to live in.

What is driving our women to such desperation? We do not know for sure, because we have invested neither time nor effort to find out. Crime statistics, however, give more than just a hint.

The thin line between perpetrator and victim

Police statistics for 2010 show over 500 sexual offence cases and 299 arrests for the same. By April this year, 58 cases of sexual offences had already been reported to the police.

In the last few months, Minivan News has reported on a whole range of random violent sexual offences against women from gang rape to rape of a 74 year-old. Added to these are less random rapes and sexual assaults occurring closer to home that run the whole gamut from decades-long sexual abuse of daughters by fathers to the attempted to rape of a mother by her son.

In the latest case, reported last month, five men are alleged to have raped an 18-year-old girl in Laamu Atoll Maabaidhoo. Her mother found her after two hours of searching, slumped under a coconut palm, her clothes in tatters and unable to walk from all the injuries the men had inflicted on her.

In March this year, a gang of 15 men abducted, drugged and raped a 20-year-old woman on the island of Hithadhu in Seenu Atoll. They recorded their vile acts on a mobile phone, for post-rape pleasure. Yet, as a coalition of NGOs highlighted recently, ‘not a single case of ‘rape’ [was] in the statistics maintained by either the PG [Prosecutor General] or the Criminal Court’.

Why? Rape is not a crime under our current Penal Code.

We live in a society where years of ‘religious’ preaching and traditions that have refused to bow to the winds of progress have taught women to accept it as their due to be beaten up by husbands for perceived marital transgressions.

Seventy percent of our women believe this to be the case. One in every seven secondary school students are sexually abused, according to an unpublished 2009 report by UNICEF, a vast majority of them girls. A Gender Ministry report in 2007 found that over 12 percent of Maldivian women between the age of 15 and 49 are sexually abused as a child.

The situation is worse for girls in Male’ than elsewhere, where more than 16 percent of girls under the age of fifteen are sexually abused. This means that of every 100 girls you walk by on the streets of Male’ and its auxiliary islands, 16 have suffered sexually at the hands of a man. How many of these offences end up in unwanted and enforced pregnancies?

Some of the girls are in a position to travel abroad for abortions – and yes, whether we like it or not, it is happening; and it will continue to happen.

Refusing to see that this behaviour is not merely a sin, but also a social issue that affects every human society, does not make it into a religious problem alone with only the harshest of religious solutions. Those who cannot have their unwanted babies surgically removed, resort to dumping them somewhere, drowning them, or subject them to worse forms of mutilation and death. These girls/women need help.

Capital punishment is not a deterrent as evidence from various countries where it is in force has shown. The fate of previous perpetrators would be the last thing on the mind of a woman about to commit such an act. If she were capable of rational thought during those desperate moments, killing a baby would be the last thing she would do.

Immaculate conceptions?

The learned men at Adhaalath see only one reason for the rise of infanticides: the “rising popularity of fornication“, and have called for the death of mothers guilty of the crime. It is not sufficient that some of the women have been jailed for life while the men, who must surely have been involved, have walked scot-free.

Without the existence of a crime defined as ‘rape’, it is easy to categorise every such brutal violation of a woman as ‘fornication’ – the type that is only ever ‘popular’ among depraved, misogynistic men who seem to view preying on vulnerable women as a popular sport. By calling for the death of the women who become victims of such men while remaining wholly silent on the men themselves, the ‘scholars’ at Adhaalath are encouraging such behaviour among the men.

And, by taking such a stance on this pressing social concern, Adhaalath is making itself not just a misnomer, but is turning a blind eye to its own slogan proudly displayed on its masthead taken from Surath An-Nisã (The Women): ‘Allah commands you […] that when you judge between people, you judge with justice’ (4:58).

Criticism of Adhaalath’s views, and that of other religious bodies in the country, do not always arise from ‘mad secularists’, as is their constant accusation. Nor is criticism of these views meant to suggest that religion has no role to play in our society. It does; and there is much Adhaalath and other such institutions can do.

Why not preach against rape in their Friday sermons when they have the ears of most of the country’s male population within their reach?

Why not speak then of the respect with which Islam says women are to be treated?

Why not drive the point home that at least 50 percent of the blame [in cases where the conception arose from consensual activity] lies with the men?

Why not repeat the message until it penetrates through the thick haze of misogyny that seem to envelop many among them that women have not been put on this earth for their depraved ‘pleasures’, sexual or otherwise?

Adhaalath, and other religious bodies, could also use their proven ability for fundraising to raise money for proper research into the rising problem of infanticide.

Or to help boost the adoption programme under Islamic teachings that the Gender Department has been trying hard to get off the ground. Or perhaps to provide funding for a shelter for abused young women or a safe place for young girls turning to juvenile delinquency. None of them have proper care; none of them have a place to go. The buruga may cover, but it does not shelter; and being covered up is not the same as being protected.

There are many different ways to help, and many ways that Islam obliges its followers to help those in need; but they can only become clear when the dogma is put aside and room for reason made.

No doubt the next ‘religious’ edict calling for the death of yet another disturbed or disadvantaged group in society would be prefixed with the customary Bismillah. If only, instead of repeating it like some meaningless chant, a moment is taken to consider its meaning: ‘In the name of Allah, the most compassionate, the most merciful…’ Wither the compassion, Adhaalath?

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]