Tagged: Maldives writers

An examined life: Yameen Rasheed

Yameen

By Azra Naseem

Hey, you there?

Very sad to say this but they’ve stabbed Yamin to death.

The Twitter DM arrived in my inbox at 3:48 in the morning on Sunday the 23rd of April. I was in Europe, five hours behind Male’ time. It was another three hours before I switched my phone on and looked at my messages.

“What? Really? OMG,” I replied.

My brain was still half asleep, not at its sharpest. What kind of chaos will the Maldives have to face now that the President has been assassinated, I wondered. What sort of a madman would have done such a thing? Life was bad enough for people as it was. Nothing good will come of killing the President.

Even as I grappled with thoughts of inevitable violence, riots and protests that would surely follow in the wake of the assassination, one persistent thought kept trying to muscle its way in… “He doesn’t mean the President, he doesn’t mean the President…”

“Oh no. I thought YAG. NO NO”.

I fired away another message, as if my friend, thousands of miles away in Male’, had been privy to the battle raging inside my mind. When his reply came, somehow, I knew what it would be.

“Yameen Rasheed”.

I lay unmoving in bed for what seemed like hours, trying to come to terms with the news. A hundred days later, I, like many others, still haven’t succeeded in wholly accepting the reality that Yameen is gone.

There are many reasons for this difficulty. Chief among them is the enormity of the loss his death has brought at a variety of different levels: family, partner, friends, colleagues, society at large.

Family

In the hundred days that just crawled by agonisingly slowly, it has become clear just how deeply Yameen’s family feels his absence. In the immediate aftermath of the killing, his devastated mother spoke of how central Yameen was to the family’s existence. Through tears she described how he always listened to her, how bas-ahaa a child he was. Yameen took so much pride in being a disobedient writer, but he was an obedient son. A mother’s pride and joy.

Both Yameen’s sisters mourn his absence daily. It was not often that Yameen shared his private life on social media, but he shared his excitement in becoming an uncle. Later, after he was killed, his sister shared material that showed how devoted an uncle he remained in the years that followed.

I remember Yameen joining Instagram about a year ago, a surprisingly latecomer to the platform for someone so often on social media—the first picture he shared was one with his younger sister, celebrating her birthday. Today, most of her life appears dedicated to remembering him.

Like the love of his mother and siblings, the love and pride Yameen’s father feels for his son has become writ large in the public domain in the last 100 days. Hussain Rasheed has bravely fought the authorities’ attempts to silence him in his struggle to get justice for his son. He has travelled near and far, from the media in India to embassies and NGOs in other neighbouring countries to the heart of the world’s fight for human rights at the UN offices in Geneva, appealing to anyone who would listen to please help get justice for his son. 

Love

He was all the way head over heels. Seems like they took him when he was absolutely on top of the world.

A mutual friend said in a DM a few days after Yameen’s killing. Just how right this friend was became evident in the last 100 days as the woman whose love had put Yameen on top of the world, Celine Peroni, shared with us the beauty of their new love and the devastation of it being so brutally nipped in the bud.

As any of us who have been lucky enough to feel it know, there is nothing quite as heady as the emotions we experience when we find The One true love of our lives. Celine and Yameen seemed to have been in the throes of that ecstasy when they took his life away. Even in the virtual, impersonal space of social media, Celine’s pain is palpable.

I, and no doubt many like me who appreciated Yameen, grieve with her for the un-lived potential of their love, the travel plans that will remain unrealised, the daughter they imagined who will now never be conceived. The killing of Yameen is so difficult to come to terms with because it symbolises the death of potential.

Friendship

Anyone who saw Yameen’s relentless efforts to find out what happened to his friend Ahmed Rilwan, abducted on 8 August 2014 and missing since, cannot doubt Yameen’s commitment to his friendships. In the last 100 days this aspect of Yameen’s character became more clear as friends from around the world mourned their loss in writing, and celebrated how his friendship had enhanced their lives in a myriad different ways.

There were friends he shared his love of reading with, friends he shared his programming skills with, writers with whom he shared writing tips, friends he enjoyed being silly with—all of them spoke or wrote of how he encouraged them to pursue their dreams, to live life to the full. None of them have been able to forget, all of them are in pain, and all of them are as deeply committed to getting justice for Yameen as Yameen had been committed to finding the truth about his friend Rilwan.

Colleagues

When Yameen was not on Twitter highlighting the difficulties (and the absurdities) of living under a dictatorship, he was coding. His employer, Maldives Stock Exchange, mourned the ‘warm hearted and dearly loved’ colleague and ‘outstanding employee’, and shut their doors for a day as a mark of respect.

Only a short while before he was killed, Yameen was in London with his friend, Mohammed Shuraih, to pitch Blood Drive, at the at the Sandoz Healthcare HaCK. Blood Drive, an app to help the many Maldivian children suffering from thalassemia, was one of three winners in the global competition to receive €20,000 and ongoing support from experts. The latest issue of Wired UK wrote it was devastated to learn of Yameen’s death. 

Several fellow writers both at home and abroad, too, spoke of their friendships with Yameen, and how they had loved working with him. JJ Robinson, former editor of the Maldives Independent, and author of Maldives: Islamic Republic, Tropical Autocracy, described Yameen as the Jon Stewart of Maldives. The Indian Express framed Yameen’s editorial in the paper, and gifted it to his proud family. Other media outlets, NGOs, diplomats and human rights defenders whose paths crossed Yameen’s all expressed sadness at the loss of such a person.

The killing of Yameen is so difficult to come to terms with because he had done so much in such a short space of time. And he was on the cusp of a great career, quite possibly with worldwide impact.

Society

With the killing of Yameen, the troubled Maldives society was robbed of one of its rarest type of inhabitants: a thinking person, an individual who thought of the collective, who fought for the underdog and whose words were based on principles he lived by.

Yameen was empathetic. His start-up project was focused on doing social good. He bought meals for the starving as his zakaath. He volunteered with the Red Crescent in Maldives. He was there, helping out when Male’ suffered a water crisis. He cared for the environment — to minimise his carbon emissions, he walked everywhere. He was true to his stated beliefs.

Yameen, who grew up in diverse multicultural India, was tolerant of everyone except the fool, the hypocrite, and the sanctimonious. He had no mercy for the prejudiced and the bigoted. He refused to hate in the name of God, stood up against homophobia, had no room for anti-Semites, and fought the idea that people of only one religion should have the right to practice their faith in the Maldives. He was ferocious in his criticism of those who used religion for political and personal gain. He had no time for the hate-filled faux-religious ideology used to recruit so many young Maldivians as soldiers in the wars of Al-Qaeda and the ISIS in the Middle East. He spoke out against how the ideology was changing Maldivian society into one driven by hatred of, and conflict with, the Other. He was critical of the government which allowed the rot to spread for political reasons.

And they killed him for that. They killed him for his tolerance. One thing today’s Maldivian society will not tolerate is tolerance. It will not allow freedom of thought. It will not allow difference. It demands conformity, uniformity. Silence or captivity, silence or death.

Yameen chose to think, and he paid with his life.

It is hard to come to terms with Yameen’s death because, examined closely, his life was one so worth living.