Banished to Paradise
In May of 2007, five different girls aged 11 to 19, had accused the island Imam, Ali Rasheed, of molesting them after Qur’an recitation classes. Aiman had asked a local newspaper to publish the story, which had then led to Rasheed’s arrest. In July that year, Aiman had also organized a festival to raise awareness on child abuse and a march against child abuse on Goidhoo, one of the first such demonstrations in the country. The case against Ali Rasheed was still pending in court.
“His family hates me,” Aiman said. “That whole issue has divided this community. It used to be much more cohesive and closely knit. He continues to walk free, and I was punished and beaten for claiming my child.”
In the Maldives, extramarital sex is a crime punished by public beating and a year of banishment for men and of house arrest for women. Over the past decade, such cases have consistently made up 20 percent of all crimes. Of course, the crime is often hard to prove, unless there is a child out of wedlock or the accused confesses. Most of those sentenced are pregnant women. The fathers rarely own up and, therefore, walk free. Despite the harsh punishment, Aiman decided to claim his child because he wanted her to have a father.
Aiman and June were sentenced to 100 lashes in public. But the man who carried out the beatings in Malé had passed away, and the courts had been unable to replace him until the end of 2009. So, in June 2010, three years after my brother’s sentencing, he and his wife received summons to attend the court. The courts were clearing their backlogs, and we knew there was only one reason they would summon Aiman and June. We wrote to the president, who was against beatings, asking him to use his presidential powers to pardon them. But although the president could pardon the death sentence, he did not have the authority to pardon public beatings.
I accompanied Aiman and June to court. Court officials took them outside the building, and under the shade of a rosewood tree, they made Aiman stand facing the busy street and told him not to cover his face; the sole purpose of the beating was public humiliation. The three court officials stood behind Aiman in a semicircle wearing identical white shirts and black trousers, arms crossed, their eyes hidden behind sunglasses. The brown-shirted man who carried out the beating was portly and balding and carried a short paddle called a dhurra.
I broke into loud sobs as the brown-shirted man bent to beat Aiman. I could hear the steady whacks as Aiman trembled in anger, his fists clenched at his side. His body moved forward with every hit. After every 30 lashes, the portly man would straighten up, panting from exertion, droplets of sweat streaming down his face. June went next. Her face was resigned, her eyes old and sad, and she stood straight, shoulders square. Her petite frame rocked back and forth under the beating, and I felt utterly helpless.
Before I left Goidhoo, I was given a large box of fruits and vegetables—coconuts, guavas, mangoes, breadfruits, stone apples, and chilies—to take back to Malé for June and Inni; Aiman was to stay for a few more days.
On the ferry I waved to him until he became a speck on the harbor platform. Soon, the old banyan treetop and then the cell-phone towers folded into the ocean. I stood looking back, feeling unsettled, remembering the last conversation I had with Aiman on the island.
After I had packed my bags, I had sat with my brother on the concrete bench in the front yard. The guttural cries of crows and the melodious calls of koels echoed throughout the island.
“You really should bring Inni and June here,” I had said.
“I would like to,” Aiman said. “Everyone knows Inni is my daughter. But you know, no matter what I do, Inni will never be considered my child by the law.”
“We’ve been trying for years to fill the blank spot where her father’s name should be on the birth certificate. I haven’t told anyone this yet; but a couple of weeks ago the judges told me that even though I have claimed Inni, and I have been punished, the very nature of her birth means there will always be doubt concerning her father’s identity. The only recognition they will give me is as her guardian, not her father.”
Zaheena Rashid ’11 graduated from Middlebury in May. This is her first story for the magazine.