The Indian Ocean archipelago, a paradise for tourists, overshadowed by its continuing political turmoil also has heart wrenching ground realities. Maldives, the same paradise island when opens the door to the regular people living in the congested capital Male, the inferno awaits.
In a report published by Vice from the first hand investigative account of the JJ Robinson, the first editor of Maldives’ first independent English language news service, spill the counter narrative of ruthless conditions in which Maldivians are surviving.
According to the JJ Robinson’s book ‘‘Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy’, Maldives which offers zero intrusion in the private affairs of its tourists, has drug abuse, Islamic radicalisation and violent crimes ladled out for its own citizens.
The capital city Male, which is also the political centre of the island, has more than more than half the population residing with banned alcohol and limited entertainment. However, a bottle of vodka, costing up to $140 USD in the black market and brown sugar heroin reaches ‘faster than a pizza’, Robinson writes in the book.
Islamic Nationalism, Sex Crimes And Divorces
The country’s constitution which mandates 100 per cent population to be Muslim is enforced by not only by the authorities but also due to the threat of social ostracism. “Tourists on romantic resort getaways blissfully sun themselves on beaches a few hundred feet from ‘local’ islands where Maldivian women are routinely sentenced to 100 lashes for the crime of extramarital sex,” he writes.
He also highlights the how the country exploiting Islamic nationalism and sentiments of defending Islam from other religions are paving way for inhuman practices like criminalisation of extramarital sex leading to higher divorce rate.
Citing the observation by the famous Islamic explorer Ibn Battuta, the book underlines the complex issue owing to conservative ideas and culture being adapted by the people. “It is easy to marry in these islands because of the smallness of the dowries and the pleasures of society which the women offer,” Battuta wrote in the 14th century.
“Most people do not even fix any dowry. When the ships put in, the crew marry; when they intend to leave, they divorce their wives. This is a kind of temporary marriage (muta). I have seen nowhere in the world women whose society was more pleasant.”
The weddings are done in few minutes by just exchanging rings and a token dowry while the divorce owes to patriarchal laws allowing mean to follow triple talaq Islamic law (I divorce you- three times), but a woman has to go through court proceedings. Interestingly, there’s no social taboo associated with a divorced woman. “I recall one recently married fisherman boasting that his new wife had been married six times; this, he explained with a sly wink, meant she was experienced. The figure was about average for a woman in her forties,” Robbinson writes.
Clothing Shops to Sex Shops
While, in normal societal terms, a woman is under pressure to wear headscarf also gets the liberty to wear rather revealing western cloths, easily available in clothing shops in the capital, however not for long.
“16-year-old girl who bought and actually wore one of these in 2013 was swiftly taken into custody under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act.” He explains how the girl was not only directed her how to dress but also involved her parents.
And, even when Male had a sex shop, the trouble was in the name ‘G-spot’. The Ministry of Economic Development kept insisting how the G stood for Girl eventually leading to a ruling by civil court alleging the name “inappropriate for viewing by women and children,” while Nizam, the owner of the shop kept defending that the G-Spot did not exist.
The Not So Curious Case of Covert Abortions
According to the report, Maldives has highest number of unprotected sex and high promiscuity. The problem becomes complex when stigma surrounding divorce is negligible but an out-of-wedlock child is a symbol of shame. “As long as the illusion of Islamic conservatism was maintained, as long as the boat wasn’t rocked, as long as nothing was stated, written down, admitted, or confessed to, as long as you weren’t caught—ordinary people could be surprisingly accepting,” Robinson states.
He also complies several incidents of barbaric abortions in which either a mother ends up throwing the foetus in a swimming pool, bushes or a bucket. These abortions are often covert because getting caught may lead to even death sentence.
“Abortion was an issue that should concern all Maldivians, the party (Adhaalath Party) declared, and people should be “very afraid” given the “rising popularity of fornication.
Afraid they were. Most often the mothers were caught, quickly confessing under police interrogation,” Robinson writes.