The traffic light was red in the middle of busy Majeedheemagu when my focus locked onto the young man next to me. In his early twenties with long hair, black t-shirt and torn blue jeans he was silent. He had a cast on his ring finger with a metal rod keeping it straight. Scars on his face, near his eyes made me wonder about this seemingly natural Maldivian youth.
This is not the first time today I’ve noticed young people with bandages on different parts of their body. Recently it’s been very difficult to avoid them. A generation of young men and women with scars and bandages at the various places I go to daily. In cafes, supermarkets and the mosques.
The stereotypical view is that this generation is too lazy and unproductive. They are too uneducated to get the office job they desire and they do not want to start with manual labour in a profession like fishing or carpentry. Their image is that of a useless man wasting away, partying, playing and listening to music, watching TV series with girlfriend and while having coffee talking about that with others of their kind over a joint.
But there’s a unique story behind each one of us. I was in my twenties in the nineties. I had dreams to go abroad and study further after completing A/Levels which was the highest level of education available from Maldives at that time. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship from foreign aid offered exclusively through and for the government office I was working at that time. I was just twenty years old and had been working there for two years when I got this opportunity. I had all the qualifications needed and I was among the three people that applied for it from our office.
The day I got the letter of notification awarding the scholarship was my happiest day, it made my mother cry. I was ready to leave for Australia in two months when a week later I was summoned to the directors cabin where he informed me that it was a mistake made on their side and the letter I received was not official. I didn’t ask any questions but I quit that same day. Later on I found out that the scholarship was awarded to a relative of the Minister. To everyones knowledge this relative did not work in our office nor applied to the scholarship before the publicly announced deadline.
I spent days without work and that was the beginning of my dark years. I spent hours walking around Male’ roaming the streets. For the majority of males in their twenties there was and there still remains almost nothing to do. The neglected generation. The silenced youth. I met with a new group of friends who introduced me to a layer of Male’ which eventually lead me to wake up in jail. And then two years later at rehab. Physical pain is nothing new to me and in my heart I have forgiven all those who had physically abused me in jail and on the streets. I will not hesitate to go through all the physical pain over and over again. I am numb to all that. But I will not forgive the injustices I’ve faced. The life I had to live just because I was a nobody from a nobody’s family and a nobody’s relative.
Two marriages and three children later now with both parents in the hereafter and no savings to feed my family I can still empathize with the young man on the motorcycle. The damaged generations who face the brutality of the police everyday, during the last few weeks signaling a comeback to systematic injustices of the past. I know that physical pain will not stop their energy because the pain caused by injustice is much worse, intolerable and longer lasting. The traffic light is still red.