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December 28 2013

What It's Like Growing Up In The Maldives?

Journalist and blogger Hilath Rasheed shares a Maldivian's thoughts in Facebook on “How is it like growing up in Male'/Maldives”:

From Ibrahim Lirar:

The most honest answer I can give now is that “it is scary and constricting”. Information was so tightly control until recently. Very few among us grew up really believing that we can be anything we want in the world and that any dream we dream can be made reality.

No, we where restricted, discouraged and oppressed, our society and family told us how to live our life, how far and dictated what we will achieve in our life. Our childhood dreams and ambitions were all squashed by the time we become adults. We lived in a tight box, all our thoughts and the whole of being was confined within that box.

This is what it is like for kids growing up until my generation in the Maldives.

December 27 2013

PHOTOS: Humans Of South Asia

In 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton began photographing strangers on the streets of New York, asking them a few questions, and sharing their story online. After three years, he put together the Humans of New York (HONY) Facebook page, and as the project grew in popularity, professional and amateur photographers across the world began to replicate the idea with blogs and Facebook pages highlighting photos and stories of people from their regions.

Take a look at how Humans of New York has inspired photographers across South Asian countries.

India

Screenshot of the Humans of India Facebook Page

Screenshot of the Humans of India Facebook Page

Since its start on June 1, 2012, the Humans of India Facebook page has attracted more than 108,700 followers and been shared by more than 17,800 people. Megha Majumder, the CEO of Humans of India Facebook page, explained in an interview to Mashable:

There's this word that I fell in love with a while back: sonder. It's the realization that every random passerby is living a life that is as vivid and intricate as your own, complete with their own thoughts, feelings and emotions. And to them, you're just a passing figure on the street, too. Sonder seized my awareness –- people were no longer just strangers

A decoration of the body, an enhancement of the soul ॐ. Image by Humans of India. Used with permission.

A decoration of the body, an enhancement of the soul ॐ. Photo by Humans of India. Used with permission.

“I'm pretty sure that love and light have something to do with each other. That's why Diwali's cool. Lots of love in the air.” Photo by Humans of India. Used with permission

Similar initiatives were taken on by projects like Humans Of Bangalore, Humans of Mumbai, Humans of New Delhi (1, 2), Humans of Hyderabad and Humans of Lucknow. Most of these pages accept crowdsourced submissions.

Screenshot of Humans of Bangalore page

Screenshot of Humans of Bangalore page

Bangladesh

Humans of Bangladesh is a crowdsourced project that has gained more than 2,050 followers since its start on July 19, 2012.

Screenshot of Humans of Bangladesh blog

Screenshot of Humans of Bangladesh blog

There is also another new project, started in November 29, 2013, by Bangladeshi photographers also called Humans of Bangladesh, which is followed by more than 4,700 people.

Screenshot of Humans of Bangladesh by Bangladeshi photographers.

Screenshot of Humans of Bangladesh by Bangladeshi photographers.

Also available is the Humans of Dhaka page.

Maldives

The Humans of Maldives Facebook page was launched on August 10, 2013 and is followed by more than 2,300 people.

Screenshot from Humans of Maldives Facebook page

Screenshot from Humans of Maldives Facebook page

Bhutan

Inspired by Humans of New York, the Humans of Bhutan page began in September 2012 and has continued to expand its collection of photos one portrait at a time.

Screenshot of Humans of Bhutan webpage

Screenshot of Humans of Bhutan webpage

Nepal

The Humans of Nepal page, which began on June 7, 2013, celebrates the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of Nepal.

Screenshot from Humans of Nepal

Screenshot from Humans of Nepal

Pakistan

The Humans of Pakistan page was launched in July 2012, and a similar Humans of Pakistan page started on August 22, 2013. The pages are followed by a few hundred people.

screenshot of the Humans of Pakistan Facebook page

Screenshot of the Humans of Pakistan Facebook page

It seems that city pages are more popular, such as Humans of Islamabad and Rawalpindi (3,416 followers), Humans Of Kashmir (1,209 Followers), Humans of Sindh (3,521 followers), Humans of Lahore (7,057 followers), and Humans of Karachi (99,647 followers).

Letter by Sakina. Image courtesy Humans of New York and Humans of Karachi

Sakina Gheewala. Photo courtesy Humans of New York and Humans of Karachi

Sakina Gheewala wrote a letter to Humans of New York creator Brandon Stanton, which was featured in Humans of New York page, explaining how the project had touched her:

Dear Brandon,

My HONY book arrived in Pakistan today. Though it was five months late, it was my favorite birthday present of the year.

In a country where people fight for survival everyday, I'm one of the fortunate few whose biggest worry right now is getting through medical school. In my part of the world, people like me, no matter how much we try to deny it, live in a bubble. And our problems are called “first world problems.” Maybe it will surprise people to see a “Pakistani” so in touch with the Western World. To see something other than the hatred that the world seems to notice radiating from here. But in my little bubble here in Pakistan, I find inspiration in the stories shared on Humans of New York, because they depict more than what the common man perceives. Yes, Pakistan as a nation suffers more than the rest, we do have a billion and one problems, but HONY reminds me that above everything else we are individuals. That just how every Pakistani is not the same, neither is every American. It reminds me to love and respect everybody– something many people here tend to have forgotten. The pictures and stories on HONY almost always make me feel like anything is possible.

Thank you,
Sakina

December 21 2013

The State Of Freedom Of Religion in Maldives

The Maldives ranks high on the list of governments that restrict religious freedom. Maldivian citizens have to be Muslim and cannot practice any religion other than Islam. Non-Muslim foreigners cannot vote, worship publicly, obtain citizenship, and hold public positions.

Journalist Hilath Rasheed notes that Maldives perhaps will not be able to establish freedom of religion in the next 50 years until the mindset changes among the new generations of Maldivians.

November 08 2013

PHOTOS: ‘Silent Protest’ Demands Elections in Maldives

There is both excitement and tension in the air as the Maldives gears up for presidential elections to be held on November 9. The country has gone through politically turbulent times recently as the first election to be held after the controversial transfer of power of February 2012 has been postponed on multiple occasions. On September 7, a first round of voting was held, only for the results to be annulled by the Supreme Court, which ruled that there were electoral irregularities. Another attempt to have the election on October 19 was cancelled at the last minute. The Elections Commission of the Maldives alleged that its work was obstructed by the police, a claim which the police denies.

After several months of intense campaigning, people have grown restless with prolonged delays in holding the election, even more so as politicians blamed one another for the hold-up. Even with the country's judiciary, executive and the parliament entangled in what appeared to be a looming constitutional crisis, the people's desire for a free and fair election has not been dampened.

Photographer Shaari documented a ‘Silent Protest’ held on October 21 calling for an election in the following series of photos (images used with permission):

maldives-election3

maldives-election4

maldives-election6

maldives-election7

maldives-election8

maldives-election9

maldives-election10

maldives-election11

September 12 2013

Maldives Presidential Votes Will Need A Second Round

88% of the 240,000 voters in Maldives voted last Saturday (7 September, 2013) to elect a president, hoping to end the long political turmoil. As Mohamed Nasheed, the first elected president of Maldives, who was ousted in a coup 20 months ago, couldn't secure a majority, the poll headed to runoff to be conducted later this month. Here is an Instagram photo by user nrachey:

July 12 2013

Caring For The Migrant Workers in Maldives

Amira at Mindblur comments:

The population of the Maldives is a little over 300,000 people and we employee over 100,000 expatriate workers mainly in menial jobs in the construction industry, as housemaids, cleaners, helpers in various places, etc. This high proportion of the population would mean the Government should put a lot more importance on regulating the workforce and their welfare.

March 26 2013

Maldives Rape Victim's Flogging Sentence Touches Off Anti-Tourism Campaign

Global outrage is growing against a Maldives court's verdict announced on February 26, 2013 to flog a 15-year-old girl who was originally a victim of rape and sexual abuse. She now faces 100 lashes in public which will be administered when she turns 18.

More than one million people have signed a petition created by the campaign website Avaaz.org, urging Maldivian authorities to protect the girl and end the practice of flogging of women and children for sex outside marriage. The petition also threatens to hit at the country's tourism industry until President Mohamed Waheed acts.

The girl has been a victim of sexual abuse dating back to 2009 and consecutive governments have failed to protect her, according to a report by Minivan News.

The court sentenced her to 100 lashes and 8 months of house arrest for confessing to a separate case – not related to the rape – of consensual sex with a man. She was first taken for questioning in 2012 when a dead baby was found buried inside her family compound. Her stepfather has been charged with murdering her baby and child sexual abuse while her mother has been charged with concealing the sexual abuse.

Capital of Maldives, Male. Image by hmed Shuau. Copyright Demotix (30/10/2009)

Capital of Maldives, Male. Image by Ahmed Shuau. Copyright Demotix (30/10/2009)

The police are under fire for a rushed investigation without providing adequate counselling for the girl and obtaining a confession out of her for prosecution. The Prosecutor General's Office claimed that a confession of fornication left no choice for them but to press ahead with prosecution under Maldives’ laws. In January 2013, when charges were pressed against the girl, the government said it will review and correct laws that victimize minors and women who suffered sexual abuse.

Amnesty International immediately condemned the charges. Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Maldives Researcher, argued that suspected victims of rape and sexual abuse required counselling and support rather than facing prosecution.

When the Juvenile Court sentenced the girl in February, the news was covered by mainstream media outlets including BBC and CNN. Faced with prospect of international condemnation, the government pledged to review the case and appeal it in a superior court. The conservative religious Adhaalath Party supported the court's verdict.

The Prosecutor General's decision to use the confession of the girl as evidence against her in the prosecution has been heavily criticized.

#OperationEndherima

Following the sentence, Maldivian activists started using the hashtag #OperationEndherima on social media to mount a campaign to protect the girl and voice out against the injustices she was facing.

Twitter user AdduHaanee (@AdduHaanee) wrote:

@AdduHaanee: little girls shud be smiling, laughing & making lego brick houses. Not getting punished for crimes they did not commit #OperationEndherima

Ismail (@Ismaar1) encouraged others to stand up for the girl:

@Ismaar1: You don't have to be superhero to standup against injustice. Join #OperationEndherima Seeking justice is not a crime

Azaf Riza (@azaf_riza) lamented the situation:

@azaf_riza: We live in a patriarchal society run by morons..victim is further victimised and she will forever be labelled #OperationEndherima

Avaaz Petition

The issue has gained worldwide attention after the petition started on Avaaz on March 20, 2013 received one million signatures within three days.

Meanwhile, Maldivians are reacting online to Avaaz's petition and are continuing the local campaign #OperationEndherima as well.

On Twitter, Hamid Shafeeu (@shafeeu) wrote:

@shafeeu (Hamid Shafeeu): In three days One million people expressed their outrage at a raped child being flogged. One million people. #Shame #OperationEndherima

Nuvana (@Nuvana) called the girl's punishment “insane”:

@Nuvana: Any sane Maldivian would have to agree that punishing a rape victim in lieu of protection is inhumane and insane #OperationEndherima

xiena saeed (@dorinbakedbeans) tweets:

@dorinbakedbeans: hey @DrWaheedH the avaaz petition just reached 1 million mark. thats more than the 2012 tourists #operationendherima pic.twitter.com/hEUhTq7i4K

Avaaz is planning to run ads on travel magazines to pressure the government of Maldives to abolish flogging as a form of punishment. In a country that aimed for one million tourists in 2012 and narrowly missed that mark, the implications of a global campaign that could damage the tourism industry are huge. The Avaaz petition reads:

Tourism is the big earner for the Maldives elite, including government ministers. Let's build a million-strong petition to President Waheed this week, then threaten the islands’ reputation through hard-hitting ads in travel magazines and online until he steps in to save her and abolish this outrageous law.

Maleeh Jamal, the deputy minister of tourism, has said such a negative campaign will damage not only the tourism industry of Maldives but the country as a whole. Jamal's concerns are echoed by some Twitter users who feel opposition activists are using this issue to attack the government.

asoa (@asoa) wrote:

@asoa: @Nuvana 14 y/o Rihana, Sh. Bilehfahi was flogged during @MohamedNasheed office and @Velezinee at Judicial Service. #FuckOperationEndherimaa

#OperationEndherima has also been criticized for failing to highlight the issue of “Hoara” Ibrahim Rasheed, a senior official of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), who is accused of having consensual sex with an underage girl and then later claiming to have married her.

asoa (@asoa) was critical on this point:

@asoa: @kudanai #OperationEndherima silent on Hoara Ibbe issue cos he is MDP. #FuckOperationEndherimaa

There are mixed reactions, both from Maldivians and foreigners, about Avaaz's plan on targeting the tourism industry. The publisher of tourism news website eTurboNews supports boycotting Maldives tourism.

Farah Faizal (@FarahDidi) wrote about the country's priorities:

@FarahDidi: #Maldives Tourism Ministry worried about negative effect of @Avaaz petition. But not worried about #flogging minors? http://sun.mv/english/10890

Some Maldivians feel that targeting the tourism industry is the only option left to force the authorities to review the gross injustices associated with the Maldives’ criminal justice system. However, there are others who feel that a negative tourism campaign will impact not only the politicians as Avaaz believes but the ordinary people of the Maldives who depend on the tourism industry for their livelihood. An estimated 30,000 Maldivians are employed by the tourism industry while thousands of others benefit indirectly from tourism through support services such as the supply of fish and vegetables, transport services and sales of souvenirs.

anonymous (@AnonQC), believed to be a Twitter handle of supporters based in Quebec of the hacker collective Anonymous, wrote that the campaign should specifically target certain tourism spots:

@AnonQC: @Avaaz A better idea would be to only boycott tycoon pro-#mvcoup resorts and promote ethical ones run by honest folks. #Maldives

The account added:

@AnonQC: @Avaaz, general boycott campaign against #Maldives tourism is a dumbfuck idea. Will hurt local folks who are already struggling w/ #mvcoup.

Some Maldivians are against the Avaaz campaign because they believe flogging is a punishment prescribed by Islamic Sharia.

Whistle Blower (@Whistleblovir) defended Sharia law:

@Whistleblovir: @avaaz @FarahDidi Don't spread bogus stories 4 yr political gain. Maldives implement law on those who actually commit adultery as per sharia

Ibrahim Mustafa (@imustho) wrote:

@imustho: Tomorrow if 1 million people make a petition on Avaaz do we have to change our constitution also to allow other religions in Maldives.

March 12 2013

TV Journalist Attacked In Maldives

Ibrahim ‘Aswad’ Waheed, Head of News of Raaje TV, an independent television channel, was attacked by unidentified persons recently in the Maldivian capital Male. Maldivian journalists joined in protests demanding press freedom and protection of journalists which can be seen in pictures at photo-blogger Bug's blog.

December 29 2012

Looking Back at 2012 in South Asia - Part II

Pakistan's dismal human rights record just gets worse, India's rising rape rates have sent the society into a flux, Bangladesh rejected Myanmar's Rohingya refugees, the regions relatively stable country - Maldives- saw a spiraling political crisis, and protests in post-war Sri Lanka against price hikes were met with police brutality.

It has been a rough year in South Asia. And we have been covering the bad and the good, all year at Global Voices. Here are some highlights from this year's coverage.

Plight of minorities

In Pakistan, we saw the rise of a new wave of terrorism unleashed on minorities. Many Shiites spanning from Karachi to Kohistan have been specifically targeted and killed. In the Balochistan province, where a separatist movement is gaining momentum, we saw extra judicial abductions of Baloch nationalists, separatists and leaders. This year targeted violence against the Shia minority Hazara community by outlawed militant groups also picked up in Balochistan. Additionally, we showed that physically and mentally challenged people in Pakistan are subjected to discrimination everyday.

The Hazara members were travelling by bus before the shooting attack occurred in Quetta. Image by RFE/RL RFE/RL, copyright Demotix (04/10/12).

The Hazara members were travelling by bus before the shooting attack occurred in Quetta. Image by RFE/RL RFE/RL, copyright Demotix (04/10/12).

In Bangladesh, after bouts of sectarian violence between the Rohingya and Rakhine in Western Myanmar, the government restricted the influx of Rohingya refugees crossing borders. An action many netizens opposed citing humanitarian reasons. Religious extremists in Bangladesh attacked Buddhist temples and households on charges a member of their community had desecrated the Quran. However many analysts saw the motives as political rather than communal.

Indigenous students hold placards at a protest rally in Dhaka against the attack on the indigenous people in Rangamati. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (24/9/2012)

Indigenous students hold placards at a protest rally in Dhaka against the attack on the indigenous people in Rangamati. Image by Firoz Ahmed. Copyright Demotix (24/9/2012)

In Sri Lanka, around 2,000 Buddhist monks and local residents staged a violent protest in Dambulla town in Sri Lanka demanding that a mosque along with a Hindu temple situated in an area designated as a Buddhist sacred zone be demolished.

In India, fighting between indigenous Bodo tribes and Muslim settlers in the State of Assam killed at least 32 people and wounded many more. Social Media was blamed for fueling this unrest. In November, after an intercaste marriage fueled a  2,000 strong mob to attack three Dalit settlements in the Dharmapuri District of Tamil Nadu.

Violence against women

A number of working women had been abducted and raped in the city of Gurgaon, located within 30 kilometres of the Indian capital. The police response was to ask working women to stop working after 8pm to prevent rape incidents which has prompted a heated debate in social media. In May, Kolkata city formally joined the global SlutWalk movement to campaign to stop violence against women.

Rape in the Indian state of Haryana has also increased, with as many as 19 cases reported in one month. As a result of the rapes, women have been advised to avoid going to pubs, using mobile phones and wearing jeans.

Illustration by Samia Singh. CC BY-NC-ND 2.5

Illustration by Samia Singh. CC BY-NC-ND 2.5

A 23 year-old woman was stripped, beaten and raped in a moving bus in South Delhi on December 16, 2012, stirring shock and outrage in India. Shocked at the brutality of the incident, Indians are asking for stricter laws and harsher punishments for violence against women. Stirred by this outrage, a group of activists in neighboring Nepal started protests demanding justice for Sita Rai, who was raped in Kathmandu.

In Pakistan, the blasphemy law has been the focus of a heated debate yet again, after a minor christian girl named Rimsha was accused of blasphemy and sent to jail.

“Eve teasing” has become a disease in Bangladeshi society because of the silence of the citizens. But one blogger stood against one such incident and asked fellow bloggers help in exposing the harassers.

Human Rights and protest

In Pakistan terrorist attacks and sectarian violence was commonplace. It became so overwhelming that we could only cover some bomb explosions and attacks on military bases. Karachi saw incessant sectarian violence which killed more than 300 people in three months.

People and Security officials gather at site after bomb blast near Imambargah Hyder-e-Karrar in Orangi Town in Karachi. Image by Owais Aslam Ali. Copyright Demotix (21/11/2012)

A number of human and women rights activists were targeted and attacked in Pakistan. Including in the list are Fareeda Kokikhel Afridi, a prominent and tireless rights activist, Ghazala Jawad, a charismatic Pashto singer, Malala Yosufzai, the female education activist and Mehzar, the youngest victim of violence against Shiites.

Also in Pakistan, an angry mob lynched an alleged Blasphemer and burnt him alive. The mob broke inside the jail, took the alleged blasphemer outside and burned him out in the open. The lives of 240,000 innocent children are at stake due to the recent ban on polio inoculation by the Taliban in the region of FATA. Recently, health workers administering polio vaccines were shot.

The brutal murder of a journalist couple in Bangladesh has shocked the nation and the inability of the authorities to nab the killers has enraged netizens. Bloggers marched for the Murdered Journalist Couple.

Indian Border Security Forces have killed more than 1,000 Bangladeshis in the last ten years. To protest the killings some bloggers called for a campaign to boycott Indian products and services on March 1, 2012 which got much support online.

Post-war Sri Lanka saw a turbulent economy with price hike and imposition of surcharges earlier this year, which provoked widespread protests. Netizens protested police brutality in enforcing law and order.

Screenshot of the video showing the protest of the evictees of the Omkareshwar Dam project

Screenshot of the video showing the protest of the evictees of the Omkareshwar Dam project

Opposing a dam, 51 residents of Ghongalgaon village of Khandwa district in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh launched a ‘Jal Satyagraha' protest, by standing neck deep inside the backwaters of Omkareshwar dam on Narmada river.

Power protests 

As South Asia observed Earth Hour by turning off its non-essential lights for one hour, netizens argued whether that is an appropriate campaign to address climate change as millions of people in South Asia have no access to electricity.

Koodankulam Nuclear Plant, Tamil Nadu, India. Image by Flickr user Eunheui. CC BY-NC 2.0

Anti-nuclear activists and inhabitants of nearby villages in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu, India protested against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP). They want the plant to cease operations.

In Phulbari, Bangladesh, local communities have come together to raise their voices against the proposed Phulbari open pit coal mining project.

Political corridors

Maldives went in to deep political crisis as the police force and some military personnel revolted against the government in a follow-up to three weeks of protest by civilians. Mohamed Nasheed, the president of Maldives most famously known as a climate champion, was coerced to announced his resignation on February 7. The crisis took an ugly turn following his resignation as police brutally beat and injured his protesting supporters, who claimed the move was a coup that removed the island nation's first democratically elected president from power.

Soldiers who mutinied shake hands with public. Image by MUHA. Used with permission

In April in India, a well respected newspaper reported an attempted coup in the Indian capital. Everybody from the government to the common people dismissed the Indian Express front-page story. The Indian State Assembly Elections were one of the most talked about issues in the Indian blogosphere. We saw some interesting news such as draping of statues because they resembled a party symbol. In Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in the country saw an unexpected outcome that shocked everyone.

A religious union of 40 different parties by the name of Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) has emerged as the representative of Pakistan's extreme right-wing parties. In March, Karachi (Sindh) hosted a massive rally for the independence of Sindh from the Pakistani state which was organized by the Long-Live Sindh National Front (JSQM) under the leadership of Bashir Khan Qureshi. Pakistani netizens expressed their reactions on the sudden and untimely death of Bashir Khan Qureshi in the following month.

The Pakistani Supreme Court ruled that Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani had been disqualified ever since April 26, when it gave the final ruling on a contempt case imprisoning him for a few seconds.

Art and culture

In the past decade hundreds of cinema halls have closed down in Bangladesh. A popular cartoon show dubbed in Hindi stirred debate in Bangladesh.

Signboard of the office. Screenshot from the video The Musalman

Signboard of the office. Screenshot from the video The Musalman

India's ‘The Musalman' is probably is the last handwritten newspaper in the world.

A new Indian TV talk show titled Satyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails) hosted by Bollywood actor and filmmaker Aamir Khan is debating taboo and sensational social issues which are engaging more and more Indians.

We took a walk down memory lane with netizens to pay tribute to Ghazal legend Mehdi Hasan from Pakistan, writer and director Humayun Ahmed of Bangladesh.

We also posted stories on the crowning of Miss Nepal 2012, celebrations of Bengali New Year Pahela Baisakh (first day of summer), Dhaka's Hay Festival, Karachi Literature Fest, a social campaign using street theatre in India called Kochi-Muziris Biennale and Pakistan's first Oscar winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy.

Part I of this post took a deeper look at the rising role of social media in South Asia.

October 13 2012

Maldives: The Assassination of A Lawmaker

Buggee posts a photo story on the death of Dr Afraasheem Ali, a lawmaker of the Maldives Government qualition, who was stabbed to death outside his home.

September 12 2012

Maldives: Independence Day Celebrations In Male

Buggee posts photos of the recently held official Independence Day celebrations of Maldives in the Galolhu Grounds of the capital Male.

Maldives Independence Day Celebration in Male

Image courtesy Buggee Photography

August 22 2012

Vibrant Maldives Eid Celebrations - Despite the Political Wrangling

As Muslims throughout the world celebrated the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the Eid Al-Fitr festival on 19 August, 2012, in the Maldives the celebrations were marred by controversy, with political and religious divisions overshadowing some of the joyful moments.

When the Ministry of Islamic Affairs announced that the morning Eid prayers in the capital city Malé were to be held in an open space, it created much controversy and debate. Eid prayers were previously held in mosques and some people viewed the decision to have it in an open space as a move by the present government and religious groups to consolidate power by abusing the country's religious identity.

Women gathered for Eid Al-Fitr prayers at a sports ground in Malé, Maldives. Image by Saffah Faroog. Copyright Demotix (19/8/2012)

Women gathered for Eid Al-Fitr prayers at a sports ground in Malé, Maldives. Image by Saffah Faroog. Copyright Demotix (19/8/2012)

Political turmoil

Maldivian society has gone through deep divisions recently after the first democratically-elected government, headed by President Mohamed Nasheed, lost power on February 7 when the president resigned following a police mutiny. The military were seen as sympathetic to the police and failed to curb the mutiny, while some soldiers joined the mutinying police, on a day of total chaos.

Nasheed's deputy Mohamed Waheed Hassan was sworn in as the new president. Since then Nasheed and his supporters have been declaring that he was ousted through a coup, being coerced to resign. The present government, which comprises of a loose coalition of various political parties, insist that they came to power legally through constitutional means.

Protests by supporters of Nasheed, demanding an election, have become frequent in the Maldives, with several protesters having been injured during heavy police crackdowns. The police have suffered injuries too as protesters turned violent. Several journalists, who tried to cover the protests, have been threatened and injured through actions of both police and protesters, and the country's media has suffered in the wake of the violence.

The role of Adhaalath Party, a political party based on religion as its main ideology, in building a momentum against Nasheed during his final days in power — marked by daily protests against the president's controversial detention of a judge and what some viewed as policies that undermined religion — has made it a bitter enemy of Nasheed's supporters.

Ironically, it was Nasheed himself who brought Adhaalath Party to the corridors of power, assigning it a cabinet portfolio when he picked his cabinet in November 2008. Adhaalath Party split with Nasheed only in his final months as president. His successor, President Waheed, has let the religious party regain its cabinet post, presumably as a reward for the party leaders' role in ending Nasheed's government.

When the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, headed by the Adhaalath Party, called for a large congregation to perform Eid prayers at an open space in the capital, the news was met with skepticism and hostility from citizens, who saw it as a publicity stunt to show numbers at the event and interpret it as support for the ruling government. Opposition supporters called for a boycott of the large congregation and instead for people to go to individual mosques for Eid prayers.

Huzam tweets:

AS USUAL PLEASE GO TO ISLAMIC CENTRE FOR EID PRAYERS TOMORROW! ACT AGAINST MISUSING RELIGION FOR POLITICAL GAIN!

However, some Maldivians felt that a religious event such as an Eid prayer need not be politicized by any of the political sides.

Azim Zahir tweets:

Accusing Adalat of politicizing Eid prayer, opposition equally politicized it by urging ppl to attend Islami Marukaz. How long can we go on?

Azim Zahir emphasizes:

Instrumentalization of religion is a vicious cycle driven by all sides on the political divide. Eid prayer is a clear case.

Eid outdoor prayers

On the morning of Eid Al-Fitr, a large crowd of approximately 10,000 people turned out for the congregation, held at a football ground in Malé. Among them were even some supporters of ousted president Nasheed, giving credence to the view that most people saw the event purely as a religious gathering, free from political undertones. President Waheed and other senior figures of the present government were seen joining the open air congregation.

As expected, Nasheed himself, along with some of his supporters, boycotted the congregation and instead attended the prayers at the capital's largest mosque.

The large congregation itself was remarkably peaceful, with Maldivians praying side by side with migrant workers from Bangladesh, who are normally subjected to ill treatment in their daily lives. A number of women also attended the Eid prayers.

Hassaan Rasheed tweets:

@Hadithoftheday Here in Maldives we prayed EID AL FITR in the largest ever congregation and it was amazing. pic.twitter.com/7Aq4fBop

A large congregation gathers for Eid prayers in Malé, Maldives. Image by niOS. Used with permission.

A large congregation gathers for Eid prayers in Malé, Maldives. Image by niOS. Used with permission.

The congregation was free from political rhetoric and provided a rare moment of unity and diversity; however, there were fears that politicians would use such events to consolidate their power, under the guise of religion or the call for social harmony. There were discussions on Twitter as to whether the large congregation symbolized a boost of support for the present government and for the religious groups. User Two Dead Fish tweets:

I bet they will politicize and call the people who attended stadium as their supporters.

Some Twitter users pointed out that a large proportion of the people who attended the prayers were expatriates. EhJu tweets:

@2deadfish It's alright. At least half the people there can't vote in a Maldivian election.

Adhaalath Party celebrated the success of the congregation, with one leader claiming [div] that more than 35,000 people attended the prayers. However, this claim was rebuked by some social media users who presented evidence such as this photo which seemed to indicate that numbers were not as huge as some religious leaders claimed.

The controversy over the Eid prayer congregation shows how polarized the Maldivian society is today and how even an event such as an Eid prayer is not spared from political wrangling. Azim Zahir tweets:

Three ladies head to Stadium for prayer, another shouts at them: supporters of coup. How long can we sustain these tensions and dissonances?

Azim Zahir adds:

Ordinary Maldivians are caught up in the dilemmas of instrumentalization of even their Eid prayer. Such mental burdens in today's Maldives.

Enjoying Eid nevertheless

Despite the political wrangling, Malé residents still enjoyed various games and theatrical street performances to celebrate Eid, as documented by photographer Muha in the following photos (used with permission).

For a brief time, children and adults - depicting dheli maali, a black demon - reigned the streets and captured people's attention, sidelining politicians and religious leaders.

Eid celebrations in Male, Maldives. Image by MUHA. Used with permission.

Eid celebrations in Male, Maldives. Image by MUHA. Used with permission.

Eid celebrations in Male, Maldives. Image by MUHA. Used with permission.

Eid celebrations in Male, Maldives. Image by MUHA. Used with permission.

Eid celebrations in Male, Maldives. Image by MUHA. Used with permission.

Eid celebrations in Male, Maldives. Image by MUHA. Used with permission.

Eid celebrations in Male, Maldives. Image by MUHA. Used with permission.

More photos are available in a photo essay posted in Bug's blog.

March 07 2012

Maldives: Ask The People, Go For An Election

Maeed M. Zahir analyzes the current unstable political situation in Maldives after the incumbent resident Mohmaed Nasheed had been forced out of office last month. The blogger comments that Maldives now needs an election to get the people's verdict.

February 09 2012

Maldives: Marred by Violence

The political crisis in the Maldives took an ugly turn Wednesday when the police brutally beat and injured supporters of the ousted President Mohamed Nasheed as they protested against what they claimed to be a coup that removed the island nation's first democratically elected president from power. In the riots that followed, Nasheed's supporters torched and destroyed a number of police stations, courts, local council offices and other public buildings. Scores of police officers were hurt in the violence too.

Earlier in the day, in a meeting of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the party which won the first multiparty election of the Maldives in 2008 and brought Nasheed to presidency, the deposed President announced that his resignation on Tuesday was coerced.

“We will come to power again,” Nasheed said. “We will never step back. I will not accept this coup and will bring justice to the Maldivians.”

Police charge teargas on protesters. Image by anonymous photographer, used with permission.

Nasheed and his supporters then marched through the capital Male' and faced a line of police behind shields near the island's main square, just next to military and police headquarters. The protesters threw bottles and stones at the police while the police fired teargas canisters into the crowd. The confrontation between the two sides ended in a brutal crackdown by police, leading to blood-soaked protesters being rushed to hospitals. Among those hurt were members of parliament and senior leaders of Nasheed's party.

FreedomWatchMV has posted this video of the confrontation between the security forces and protesters.

Another video shows police dragging an MP and Nasheed out of a shop after dispersing the crowd. Nasheed was released after a debate between the policemen about whether he should be arrested or not. This video shows a blood-soaked man narrating how the police beat him up.

Yameen blogs about the events that took place in Male':

There is a brutal, concerted effort by the runaway police department to crush protests by supporters of President Nasheed, following his release today.

I have personally witnessed the heavy handed tactics employed to combat MDP activists, energized by the release of President Nasheed earlier today after yesterday's coup d'etat that forced him to resign.

Tear gas was used indiscriminately on Orchid magu near the Supreme court building. Two people were beaten up and lay motionless on the street for a long time before they were dragged and shoved into an ambulance.

Then I saw a police jeep speeding into a crowd of protesters. A police jeep. Absolutely reprehensible.

Police brutality on protesters. Image by anonymous. used with permission.

Muju Naeem ponders if the Maldives has turned into a military dictatorship.

So if President Waheed did not give the order, then we can safely assume that the security forces were acting on their own. What this means is that we have incidentally slipped into a military/police dictatorship where the executive is there only in name only.
Maldives has become a police state.
Maldivian Twitter users have started using 3 hashtags to tell their story. Please follow;
1. #maldivespolicestate
2. #mvprotest
3. #mvcoup

Following the events in the capital, Nasheed's supporters responded by rioting in outer islands, setting police stations on fire, throwing stones at policemen on duty and burning down courts and several other public buildings. In a number of islands they drove the police out and seized the police stations.

Maldivians and foreigners are tweeting about the new wave of violence that has gripped the holiday haven.

foram divrania tweets:

@divrania: Peace to Maldives..ur too beautiful for politics and violence.

Nattu tweets:

@reallynattu: “@hisherm: I don't support any political parties. I support Maldives.” Including Me!

There is an eerie calm in the islands and the capital on Thursday as people remain tense about what could happen next. In a press conference, the commanders of the police and military assured that order will be restored and promised to investigate the previous day's violence.

Speaking to journalists at his residence, Nasheed said he was forced to resign by some military personnel as the country's police force mutinied against his rule. Calling for fresh elections, he vowed to come back to power and reassured that he has no intention of grabbing power through street riots. He also condemned the acts of violence his supporters had committed in various islands.

January 07 2012

South Asia in 2011: A Year Full Of Controversies & Protests

2011 was an eventful year for social media as people used many tools to organize protests, share frequent updates and news which had impacted our lives. We have seen people talking intensely in Facebook, Twitter, blogs etc about deaths of world-changing figures - from inventors to dictators and terrorists. The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street protests became viral and the world was glued to the events in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. South Asian countries also have seen use of social media to discuss about many controversies and protests. This year we saw more netizens using microblogging sites to share their opinions.

Controversies:

In January, Pakistani celebrity Veena Malik was accused by religious hardliners of immoral behavior as she took part in the Indian reality show Big Boss. Pakistani netizens stood divided amongst its conservative and liberal lines.

Veena Malik at Lux Style Awards. Image by Arun Reginald. CC-BY-SA-3.0

At the end of the year Veena Malik stirred up another controversy when FHM India, a male lifestyle magazine, published her nude picture on its cover page. Veena’s shoot with an ISI Tattoo on her arm sparked strong reactions from right, left and center in Pakistan and India.

On the other hand a Pakistani Islamic televangelist was also at the center-point of a controversy. A behind-the-scenes video depicted Dr. Amir Liaquat Hussain, a notable religious scholar, uttering abuse and profanities as well as religious blasphemy.

In April the Sri Lankan government had condemned a 196 page leaked report on civilian casualties by an United Nations (UN) advisory panel, dismissing it as flawed and biased. Intense debate ensued in Twitter and Facebook.

In May the accidental death of a research scholar from Kerala, India sparked controversies about the privacy of women, privacy of a dead person and in general about the lingering male chauvinism in Keralan society.

A couple of Indian Ministers were drawn into controversy because of their statements. India's Health Minister, Ghulam Nabi Azad, angered the gay community and gay rights activists with his comments at a HIV/AIDS conference in New Delhi. Netizens condemned his take on homosexuality as “unnatural” and a “disease” that had come from the West. In December the Indian Union Communications and IT Minister Kapil Sibal asked Internet giants such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo to pre-screen derogatory, defamatory and inflammatory content about political leaders and religion and filter if objectionable. His words got a huge backlash from the netizens.

Wordle Image of the banned word list. Click on the image to enlarge.

In November, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) become the center of controversy when it sent a list of 586 Urdu and 1,109 English banned words and phrases to the mobile phone operators in the country to filter them.

The pregnant Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and her impending child birth produced a media hype in India. Bangladeshi exile writer Taslima Nasrin was also drawn into controversy when she tweeted that she wished that Aishwarya would give birth to a girl child.

Actions have been taken by a Bangladeshi court against a teacher living abroad, as a consequence of his Facebook status.

Protests:

Anna Hazare addressing the people and media at Jantar Mantar, Delhi. Image by Sarika Gulati, copyright Demotix (08/04/2011).

Anna Hazare addressing the people and media at Jantar Mantar, Delhi. Image by Sarika Gulati, copyright Demotix (08/04/2011).

In India, social media has been extensively used to power civil society's push for a proposed anti-corruption bill. The movement is being led from the front by a Gandhian social activist Anna Hazare, who continues to receive a huge amount of support in home and abroad - online and offline.

In November, India's Agriculture Minister, Mr. Sharad Pawar, was slapped on the face by a youth, who was apparently fed up of the growing inflation, corruption and graft cases in the country and decided to hit out at the Union Minister in protest. Netizens discussed the merits and demerits of this violent protest.

In Bangladesh, citizen media was a vital tool for the indigenous people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh who shared news about the ethnic clashes between Bengali settlers and indigenous people. These minorities have found a voice via blogs and Facebook when the mainstream media have been accused of ignoring the plights of the local aboriginal people. Later in the year many Bangladeshi indigenous people had taken the streets holding meetings, human chains and rallies, demanding constitutional recognition of their identity. Bloggers engaged in a debate on this issue.

Farzana Yasmin. Image courtesy Kowshik

In this region some of the protests were unprecedented and unique. In several South Asian countries Dowry is prohibited by law but is still widely and illegally practiced. A protest against dowry was much discusses and lauded in the social networks in Bangladesh. Farzana Yasmin sent ripples across the country by divorcing the bridegroom right after the wedding as her in-laws demanded a TV set, refrigerator, motorbike and a few more things as ‘gifts' from the bride's family in presence of the guests.

In Bangladesh capital Dhaka after a three-fold campaign via Blogs, Facebook and street protests authorities of the Viqarunnisa Noon School and College (VNC) were forced to sack and arrest a teacher accused of sexually molesting a student.

In July bloggers and online activists among other protesters were arrested while striking in protest of a recent Production Sharing Contract (PSC) between the Bangladesh government and United States energy giant ConocoPhillips for deep sea gas exploration.

A placard of the Occupy Dhaka Movement

This year in October Eight Bangladeshi migrant workers were beheaded in public in Saudi Arabia for being involved in the robbing a warehouse and killing of a security guard. Netizens were enraged by this horrific punishment and questioned the transparency of the trial.

The Occupy Wall street movement prompted a similar protest in Dhaka where people vowed to get themselves free from the two feuding, corrupt and occupier political alliances.

A recent venture by the Bangladesh government to takeover 25000acres of wetlands (Arial Beel) 60km South of the capital city of Dhaka, for a proposed International airport and satellite city led to protests and violence in the area. Netizens too, reacted strongly to the government debating the need for a new airport and the government was forced to back down on the airport project.

In Pakistan, the death of 24 Pakistani troops by friendly fire from NATO helicopters and fighter aircrafts in Pakistan sparked protests across the country.

Raymond Davis, an American diplomatic staff, is under investigation for the double murder of two Pakistani motorcyclists in Karachi, Pakistan. Following the US demand to release Davis, the protesters took to the streets in a country which already has increasing anti-US sentiments.

In Sri Lanka, clashes at the Katunayake Free Trade Zone (FTZ) in Sri Lanka between protesting workers and police claimed the life of an young worker and injured many workers and policemen. The debate on the social media on this issue sent a strong signal to the Sri Lankan government.

Protesting increase of commodity prices in Maldives. Image from Twitpic by Ahmed Nazim (@GraveBone).

For seven consecutive days, thousands of residents of Male, the capital of Maldives, have protested on busy streets and public spaces, expressing their dissatisfaction over soaring prices of consumer goods and economic mismanagement of the government. Madivian citizen journalists shared the updates of the protests.

Nepali Internet users were caught in disarray as the Internet Service Provider’s Association of Nepal (ISPAN) shut down its internet service as a mark of protest against the government's crackdown on ‘illegal VOIP call bypass'.

The South Asia authors team will continue to highlight and translate more citizen voices from across the region in 2012. You can get involved in the Global Voices community in multiple ways. Please do send us your suggestions and feedback. Wishing you a happy 2012.

November 22 2011

Maldives: Reactions To Defacing Of Monuments

Some SAARC countries have sent monuments to Maldives to celebrate the SAARC summit this year. Maldives' religious party Adhaalath had called for removal of these alleged idols. Sri Lankan blogger Indrajit Samarajiva shares his reactions on the desecration of the Sri Lankan and Pakistani monuments.

August 27 2011

Maldives: Discrimination Against The Foreign Labors

‘Legacy of Pain' is outraged by the attitude of the Male City Council who recently discussed the “nuisance and bother” of expatriate workers who gather on Fridays at the Republic Square in the Maldives capital.

August 07 2011

Maldives: Quality Schools

Quality Schools is a blog of the Educational Supervision and Quality Improvement Division (ESQID) of the Ministry of Education in Maldives which disseminates suggestions and best practices for Maldivian schools to improve their quality of education.

July 10 2011

Maldives: Workshops On Citizen Journalism

The Maldives Project consists of a series of citizen journalism workshops on three islands in the Maldives during the period from June 15 to August 10, 2010. You can find all about them in their blog.

June 18 2011

Maldives: Privacy Act Required

How would you feel seeing your personal data divulged in a public website? Iru Veli highlights a few recent incidents of privacy breach of personal data of many Maldivians and stresses the need for a privacy act in the country.

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