Is this the change we voted for?

It was a few days before the second round of voting in the presidential election of 2008. It was precisely the night of 24 October 2008. The air was filled with apprehension, expectation and excitement. The youth of Villingili (ViliMale) held an anti-regime music show. This was the second music show held against the dictatorial regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom; the first show was held in Male on 6 October 2008, just before the first round of voting and organised by our friends Lable Red. We covered these two events on this blog. The youth of Maldives were saying no to the dictator through music.

Organising a music show against the dictatorship was a watershed in the pro-democracy movement. It was just another barrier to be crossed, just like Minivan Bahus (the freedom debates), raising a banner against the dictatorship in Ghiyasudheen School, holding a mass protest on August 12-13. There was the element of fear because there was no guarantee as to how the regime would react to such events.

We can clearly remember that several musicians declined to participate in the two music shows. It was not because they were sympathetic to the regime but because of fear of arrest and torture. The few bands and musicians who participated in those events risked torture and stood up for freedom. Traphic Jamm and its vocalist Kayano rocked the crowd in the show held in Male as well as in Villingili. The show in Villingili is to be remembered especially for the participation of the reggae artist Haisham. His rendition of Bob Marley songs strengthened the revolutionary spirit among the young activists present at the show.

Today Haisham is a prisoner. He has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for possessing less than one gram of cannabis. The objective of this blog post is not to debate whether it was a crime or not. It may be illegal to possess cannabis under Maldivian law and the law may prescribe a punishment of 10 years in jail. However, it is up to the people to question whether such laws are fair or not.

Today when we reflect on the increase in crime on our streets and the high percentage of young people involved in the drug trade and crime, we have to blame the laws of the past regime. The laws that put a teenager in prison for riding a bicycle at night without a bicycle lamp. The teenager then faces the harsh life in prison, mingles with hardened adult criminals and becomes a hardened criminal. The laws that put young drug users in prison and transformed them into the worst criminals.

The same laws are still in place and the government of President Mohamed Nasheed is so content with the land reclamation projects going on in Kulhudhuffushi, Thulhaadhoo and Velidhoo. The same laws are still in place and the parliament is run like a circus and their infighting makes even toddlers recoil in shame. The same archaic laws are in place, our judiciary is corrupt to the core and several judges are accepting bribes and letting hardened criminals free.

Today the street gangs in the Male are protected by politicians from MDP. The biggest drug kingpins are released and their drug money is given back to them by the judges. Male Municipality President Sarangu Adam Manik’s son can be brought back from Sri Lanka while he was in jail for a drug offense. However, ordinary citizens who don’t have any political connections are punished.

Is this the change we voted for? We did not vote for one elite to be replaced by another elite. We did not vote for the same system to oppress the young people of this country while only the faces in the Cabinet and the President’s Office are different. We did not vote for corrupt politicians to take the helm of our government and to be in the most influential positions of MDP. If we have to take to the streets again to bring a meaningful change we will not hesitate to do so.

“Don’t let them fool you
Or even try to school you, Oh! No
We’ve got a mind of our own
So go to hell if what you’re thinkin’ isn’t right
Love would never leave us alone
In the darkness there must come out to light

Don’t let them change you
Or even rearrange you, Oh! No
We’ve got a life to live
They say only, only
Only the fittest of the fittest shall survive
Stay alive.”
– Bob Marley, Could You Be Loved?

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