Who let the crows out?

by Azra Naseem

However you feel about MDP protests, you cannot say they are lacking in imagination.

When they were at Raalhugan’du, MDP activists’ first base after the coup, the place had a buzz similar to the Occupy sites that sprang up in cities across the world in this year’s anti-capitalist fervour. There was music, political oratory, poetry, and pudding. The young, the old, the city-folk and the islanders mingled, united in their condemnation of the coup.

Having been sent packing from Raalhugan’du, accused of possession of condoms and beer, MDP activists have transferred the atmosphere to street demonstrations. Now they come with drums, slogans, baton twirlers, and clever placards.

Now we have the Case of the Missing Crows at Usafasgan’du. Who let the crows out? Did they engineer a great escape, tired of the crowd incessantly cawing for early elections? Or, did the police kidnap them as is alleged?

The crows were in a cage at Usfasgan’du where the nomad activists decamped to after Raalhugan’du. Although crows are not known for their domestication, these particular four were said to be exceptionally quiet. Many came to look at them.

Crows that counted. Image: Sun.mv

Of course, the attraction is not the crows per se, they are common to any tropical island. If not for the long history between the Maldivian security forces and crows–Maldivian police/army under Gayoom regularly conducted ‘Enduring Freedom from Crows’ operations in which entire crow populations were shot–they would still be one of the most common birds in the country.

What draws the crowds to the crows is what the birds are meant to symbolise more than a love of bird-watching. Some, those who judge people by the colour of their skin, think the crows are a cheap-shot at Dr Waheed, his skin-tone being darker than the average Maldivian. Especially the Maldivians who like their skin Fair & Lovely.

Crow fights can be fatal. Photo: Shiela & Boyd Anderson

MDP activists insist it is all more than just skip deep. They  compare crow behaviour with that of coup leaders: territorial, aggressive, loud, raucous, and notorious for audaciously snatching what belongs to others.

MDP is insinuating that it was police/MNDF officers who kidnapped the crows in the middle of the night. One MDP activist told DhivehiSitee the word on the road is:

People say, around 4 masked Men in SO uniforms came by in a police van and took the four crows around 4.30am that day.

Unusually, neither Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz nor Defence Minister Nazim–to whom surely the admonition ‘too many tweets make a twat’ was addressed–have responded to the allegation.

In the absence of denial and hard evidence, only informed speculation is available. Based on previous behaviour of Maldives Police Service (MPS), it has to be said that such an act is not beyond the realms of possibility. In March this year, for instance, MPS announced they had ‘arrested two burgers’ trying to get away after a robbery. It is hard to imagine a police force willing to arrest burgers while allowing opposition crows to sit–even if quietly–in a cage.

What would have driven them to it? What was the motive? Did MDP succeed in letting the police and military officers who deserted the forces on 7 February know the symbolism of the crows? Did the officers feel the crows mocking them? Or did Dr Waheed think it was a skin-thing? Were they seen as a bad Omen? Or, is the MPS one step ahead of MDP, and realised there is much intelligence to be gathered from the four crows who had seen and heard all anti-coup brain-storming at Usfasgan’du?

It may well be the case. According to scientists, crows are very very clever. According to National Geographic for instance, a study in 2004 suggests:

their cognitive abilities are a match for primates such as chimpanzees and gorillas. Furthermore, crows may provide clues to understanding human intelligence.

The warning is:

If we’re as smart as we think we are, perhaps we need to keep an even closer eye on those clever old crows.

So, perhaps, MPS officers have taken the crows to their HQ for interrogation. The intelligence gathered may yet be what finally brings some success to Maldives security forces quest to criminalise dissent.

Note: Top illustration by Into the Darkness

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