Social Stratification in Maldivian History
When we look at the social stratification in Maldivian history we can see some few relics of Hindu cast system. But in modern days it’s not visible in the society.
Social stratification and discrimination against people from the Atolls is visible in the structure of Dhivehi language itself (at least in the history) as well as in some well-known offensive terms.
The three level of addressing to the one who is spoken to, was used as a way in which the visitors and migrants inferior to the natives of Male’. They were gives a unofficial name in return by the migrants and the commoners “Male’ Beyfulhizam” which mean “Male’ peoples elitism” even though how old an outsider or he or she being the among their island chiefs does not prevent them to be belittled by the Male’ person.
There is a clear history of derogatory terms used by Male’ people towards the migrants and the frequent visitors to Male’. They are forced to come to get health care from one of the only two hospitals in to get the basic governmental services such renewing National ID Cards and registries of fishing boats etc. Since the visitors are not familiar to Male’ life style and to the processes to go through to get the public services they are called names and made fun of. One of them is “Raajjethere meeheh vejiyya faskulhandhu hamaeh nuvaneye”. Which can be loosely translated as, no one from the regions have their five senses all together.
When the famine came after the second world war two, the government in Male’ started distributing, the essential food items like rice and sugar and flour in a ratio which is one kilo per person in Male’ families and half a kilo to that the people coming from the regions.
In the past, people from regions needed to have residential permit to enter Male’ until very recently until 1986. This is an official document with the name of the house that he is going to stay in Male’ and the name of the native Male’an he is staying with and to register that in a government office in order to even visit Male’. This is called as “Kudasity” or The Small Letter which is used as a visa making people from other than Male’ being treated as foreigners with in their own country. And It’s been recorded in the 1960s those who are in Male’ without registration was been forcibly removed from the Island. And know a day’s it is been replaced by the “Male’ Dhafthar”, a register of migrant residents in Male’. This register is very well referred and used as an category when elections ballots are being placed and when schemes of how to give points to the new applicants for the new housing projects.
Introduction to Male’
The Maldives is a group 1,192 islands located in Indian Ocean south-west of India, with an estimated population of 393,595 in July 2014. Its total land area of just 298 square kilometres (206th in the world). The Maldives Islands has a high population density of 1,102 people per square kilometre, making it the 11th most densely populated country on earth. The population live on 202 islands spread across an area of 115,300 square kilometres of which more than 95 percent is water. Its Islands are relatively small with only two of them having a land area of over 500 hectares. Our focus on this paper will be on one of them the Capital City Male’
Over the last three and a half decades the country has made considerable economic and social progress. It’s GDP per capita of $9,100 (2013 est.) is the highest in the South Asia region and is on the verge being graduated from the UN list of Least Developing Countries (LDC). The Maldives has also made progress in raising a number of social indicators but these very changes have created increased tensions and challenges in terms of spatial development and urbanization.
Male’ city is the capital of the country and is located at the southern edge of Kaafu Atoll. The City that provides for nearly one third of the country’s population is comprised of 4 islands, (1) Male’ Island, (2) Hulhule’ the national airport island and (3) Vilimalé and recently reclaimed artificial island of (4) Hulhumale’ is being expanded through land-filling operations since 2004. Especially after 2004 with the fight for democracy, Male’ City has become the epicentre of political activities and protests, and every other major event. Male’ Island has the commercial harbour which serves as the centre of all commercial ventures and activities in the whole country.
Male’ City is heavily urbanized. It which has a population of 105,000 out which 92,555 is living in Male’ Island. Its population has increased from 20,000 people in 1987 to 100,000 people in 2006. Because it is the only entry point to the nation and it is the centre of all administration and bureaucracy, many, if not most, Maldivians and foreign workers in Maldives willingly or unwillingly find themselves in occasional short term residence on the island.
Everything is centralized to Male’. Education, Housing and Labour force.
The concentration of labour force in Male’ Area
In Maldives majority of people go home on their annual leave. Rest of the world people go out of home on their annual leave. This happens because even economically everything is centred to Male’. Maldivian as estimated by CIA in 2010 had a labour force of which 70% was in the service sector, which is predominantly the tourism sector. Around 40 percent of resort islands are located in Male atoll which in turn makes young school leavers flock to the tourism hub Male’ atoll in huge numbers.
Huvadhu atoll, a middle ranging atoll in terms of population which has population of 20,000, has only 4 resorts when it has nearly 200 islands. But Male’ atoll which has 75 islands has 40 island resorts.
The other factor to this isolation is that most of the governmental offices are situated in Male’ and since its indicated in the Economic Survey 2007 – 2008 published by Department of National Planning Male’, Rep. of Maldives, over 20 percent salary earners are working in government posts this makes the labour force get concentrated to Male’ city.
Status of Migrant students In Male’
There is a huge gap between the people of regions and Male’ when it comes to access to education. Most of the families in remote islands won’t allow their children especially girls to leave their island and go to Male’ or another area with a huge population for the fear of them getting abused or mistreatment. On Navy Pillays reports she shed some light on this issue saying that, “the broad picture masks important disparities, especially parents curtailed education for girls after the seventh grade by not allowing them to leave their home island for another island with a secondary school, mostly due to lack of proper accommodation facilities in these islands.
In spite of this every year hundreds of primary and secondary level students migrate to capital Male’ from the regions with the ambition of getting a quality education. If they are lucky enough to have a relative in Male they will stay with them if not they will stay with an old family friend or strangers. They may get a sharing or bunk bed and three meals a day, if they are lucky.
The majority will not get so lucky. They will sleep on the floor of kitchen or sitting room. These students in most cases will share the sleeping area with five or ten other people. The pests such as rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes are least of their dis comforts. Sexual harassment and abuse with in the house hold is a very common thing, most of the time from someone with in the family of the household. These incidents would not be talked about by the victims even if they did their parents will have one of two choices either ask some other family to host their child in that house, or end their only one of few relations they have in Male’ where they are to be in case of a health emergency or for any other public service even.
These students deprived of sleep, the next morning they will go to study. Starved, they would come back, only to find that there is no food left. The money left after paying the fees for accommodation in that house sent from the own island by their parents, or the little amount of money they get from a part time job will save them from starvation.
The environment in which they have to do their homework is nowhere near to the comfort in which the children of the household will do theirs. Cries of the babies, quarrels of the neighbours, echoing horns from the jammed traffic from the narrow streets and distracting noise of television will entertain them from dawn to dusk.
Or else, the domestic abuse they have to face will be enough for them to stay away from the books. Dirty dishes of three meals left by ten to fifteen people plus their laundry and cleaning, will be done by the migrant students. They can find hardly any moment of peace to open the books and read. I have heard similar stories from one of my sisters and some stories from a brother of mine.
The neglected Atolls
In the Facebook group Occupy Raajje (Maldives) there are several comments that are similar to this one I’m mentioning here. here is not much difference between the boat I travelled to Male’ by, and the house that I had to stay in Male’. On boat I slept on a met, and there was a controlled quota to the amount of water you can get, slept without a pillow, and had to be okay with two pieces of roti per meal. In this household in Male’ I get to eat two roti as well, as permitted by the house owner and had to get a bucket of tap water from outside of the house whenever I had to use the bathroom. That bucket had a hole on its side so that it won’t get fully filled, no matter how bad I needed more clean water I could not get more than half of that bucket. Slept on the floor, and had to use sometimes my bag as a pillow. If I can get access to the like of education available in Male’ and jobs or anything closer to that level from my Island or even from that my Atoll I wouldn’t be living In Male’.
People from atolls who get the chance to finish their studies are not that less when compared to those from Male’. But when presented in percentage the gap will be clearly seen. But even those who finish their studying in Male’ and get to go for higher studying abroad, does not have chance of going back to their region because they the atolls are not included in the practical development of the nation. Highlighting this issue a 33 year old Maldivian posted his photo on the internet Humans of Addu. – Addu atoll is the most populous atoll in the country after Male’ atoll – with the following post “I inscribed the date (06/02/1981) here on this wall just before I left to Male’ for studies. I spent six years studying in Male’ and then I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to study in the UK, where I live now. I did my chemical engineering degree in University of Leeds and went on to do my PHD there. After completing a degree in Mathematics I worked for a nuclear plant, but at present I’m working for a leading bank in the UK. It is sad to see that there aren’t enough educational and career opportunities in Addu. I would like to see a better future for this community, a more promising future for the youth of this atoll. There are a lot of smart kids around; they just need guidance and the right opportunities. I wish to return and serve my atoll one day.”
Hulhumale’ an added Problem
Since 1970s, urbanization rate in Male’, the capital city of Maldives, has been rapid, requiring the need to provide housing to the growing population of the city. It has been reported that housing conditions in Male’ and several islands are acutely inadequate as the existing housing market cannot meet the housing demand, especially for the capital city of Male’ (World Bank, 2003). Responding to this situation, the government adopted Strategic Action Plan (SAP) in 2008, targeted to construct public housing in Male’ and Hulhumale’. I remember my mom applying for the housing unites build under this (SAP). And I remember them facing the problem of the migrant applicant being required to have lived in Male’ for a period not shorter than 5 years. Fifty Million US dollars were spent on developing Hulhumale’ as a satellite island to ease Male’s overcrowding. Some times from some policies like this made by the government it seems that it’s only the natives Male’ans are the only people who are suffering from the congestion in Male’.
Even though Hulhumale’ project is being funded by loans taken from international parties in the name of the Maldivian people, or its funded by the tax paid by the whole population, when it comes to application to the housing rows and apartments in Hulhumale’ two different sets of application categories and forms will be created. One is for native Male’ans and the other for the migrants from the atolls.
And even in the point system a migrant in order to get the full marks should have to lived in Male’ for twenty years after the age of eighteen, while the Male’an of 18 years will be eligible just because she/he is a Male’an.
And even the poor rent paying migrants gets selected for the spot, the quality of the infrastructure will be so poor he will own nothing of value at end. In one comment in the face book group one Maldivian says that “Even though I have enough money to spend, there is no service I can get with that in my own island. That is why I have bought an apartment in Hulhumale’ and I am willing to pay millions of Rufiyaa as down payment in future. But before even one year has passed now I have had to spent and repair the cracks on the walls. If this is the case than think of its status, when I get to own this place after 15 or 20 years. I will get an apartment which is old and does not have any value and will be a one in need of demolishing.”
Living Standards in Male’: My Own Experience.
My parents have eight children, five girls and three boys. Three elder daughters are married with kids settled in the Island. They wanted to give us a good education because if we stayed in island we will just end up like the elder ones finishing grade 7 in island school and getting married. So my mother, father, two sisters, one brother and I, we moved to the Male city on 2000. One older sister and my brother were sent two years before to Male’ and was staying with a native Male’ family. They faced similar discriminations and abuses mentioned in this paper. I was the youngest aged 11, and got placement to join the grade four in primary level, in one of the schools that year. I don’t know whether it was because that apartment renting process was hard or we had to move to the city in order to get the seats from the schools that we applied we had to move in a rush. Father had a friend who himself also was a migrant and was staying in Male’ by renting a room which was no bigger than eight feet by eight feet, in its floor. Luckily his son who was staying with him was out of the city that time, so we stayed there for one and half month before the new academic year began. So there were five of us living that tiny room at that time. The older sister and my brother joined us later when we move to a new room. The family friend he slept in the day time, we sleep in the night time. In one corner of the room there was a gas cooker and two cupboard one over it and the other under it. In the other corner there we had the bathroom. That is all there was. We use to make jokes about the size of the room after moving an inch saying that oh! I am in the sitting room now and now in the kitchen.
Luckily we got a new place for $250 per month, when studying began and my other sister and brother they joined us in that room. My father who was a retired former island chief started working as a night time watcher in a school. And my mother started making short eats and selling them by putting them in a nearby café. But that room we got was one room with an attached toilet which was luckily this time out of the four walls of the room. But in this room we had no access to purified water. Male’ was the first island that polluted or ran out of its underground fresh water reserve. So water had to be purified and supplied to houses, which of course was not free. Because we were outsiders to the city we were not given access to the house water tap, saying that we might waste water. So we had to carry water in pots and bootless from the nearest public water tap. The polluted water could only be was used to toilet flashing. So for every other use every night we as a family would run two or three rounds of water bringing and fill two big buckets. The public water tape just happens to be right behind of Ahumadhiyya shool building which I was attending to. So when my family and I carry the water bottles we will run into some of the native Male’an familiar faces from the school in front of the school. And we will be waiting in line with low wage earning foreign workers. Sometimes in the waiting line to the water tap, we will run into some other migrant class mates as well.
At the end of the year we moved to a new house for a monthly rent of $300. It had two rooms which have no ceiling the bare steel roof was heating it by day time, and rats were all over the place, but we got a purified water tap with a meter assigned to us. And we had to share the bathroom and kitchen with the owner who was a lady from the regions who got married to a native Male’an. They had a nicely made two rooms with air conditioning and attached toilets. Then my older brother also moved to Male’ to help my father to play the rent and got a job from a public sector and was working as a civil servant.
At the beginning of 2001 we moved to a new house for $560 per month which was ceilinged and had fans and that place was decent, with one sitting room, one bedroom, two toilets, dining place and a little kitchen. My two brothers and me, we slept in the sitting room. Mom and Dad slept on the floor of the bedroom. And two sisters got the bed. We stayed there until 2006. During which dad had to quite the job because of poor health, and mom started working as a cleaning lady in a government office, and still kept the short eat business going to some extent. The younger brother finished O levels and joined the army and was sharing with bills and the rent. The older sister passed A levels and got a job and was helping the two brothers in paying the rent. Then mom quite the job.
When the owner wanted to demolish our apartment which was a building of just the ground floor in order to build a ten story apartment building we moved to a new house in 2006. The new building is now finished. One of the older sisters with her family moved to Male’ the around 2010, to give education to her children. The eldest daughter of her lives now in the renewed building. So in this way rent paying migrants keep flocking to city.
To conclude I would like to quote the former United Nations human rights envoy Navy Pillay She considered that demographic growth and internal migration unsupported by adequate land and housing policies have led to overcrowding in Male and on some islands.
Ahmed Sameen ,M.A. 1st year, Department of Sociology , South Asian University