Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Teaching torture: from one Zahir to another

Systematic torture, ranging from petty torment to gruesome murder, characterises Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's three decades of dictatorship, and the detention centres of Dhoonidhoo, Atholhuvehi and Maafushi prison have a notoriety, in the Maldives, that is equal to Abu Ghuraib or Quantanamo Bay. While sources leaning towards the Maldives Democratic Party or MDP tend to credit the commissioner of police Adam Zahir with much of the torture that goes on in those places, its foundation may have been laid much earlier, by another Zahir.

Old Gayoom faithful Umar Zahir, an ex-cabinet minister who held every portfolio under the sun, might have been the single-most important influence in the making of the monster we now know as Adam Zahir or the chief torturer. When the younger Zahir was a student at Majeediyya School, the older Zahir was its headmaster and the generation that went to school then has a host of stories about Umar Zahir's sadism.

Now widely regarded as a corrupt crackpot, Umar Zahir, as headmaster, would go round Male on his bicycle, to sniff out Majeediyya students violating their curfew. The next day, he would make them undress and wear gunny bags, and subject them to cruel public humiliation.  Young boys also had to endure extensive detention at school, sometimes for weeks, in an era strangely reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel.  The little we know of those days is enough to illustrate that the young Adam Zahir would have witnessed, perhaps even have been victim of, systematic torture, at an impressionable age, by a master sadist. 

The former president Ibrahim Nasir eventually wised up to what was going on and relieved Umar Zahir, widely suspected to be a psychopath, of his duties. But in Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's government Umar Zahir found ways to continue his exercises in tormenting young boys. In his years as home minister, he established a culture of abuse on deprived boys in a reformatory. Directly under his supervision, well-documented incidents of child sexual abuse, horrific punishment, and even death due to negligence occurred there. Umar Zahir appointed a known sadist and paedophile to supervise the reformatory, and had tiny cells built to lock up boys for durations of over a month, in solitary confinement, for minor offenses. During this period, one boy "fell into the water tank" and died while another's short life ended in a lorry accident in which the driver employed by Umar Zahir didn't have a license. The abuse and the deaths were never criminally investigated and when things hotted up Gayoom just reshuffled Umar Zahir. 

Even as sports minister, the sadist devised ingenious ways to torment. He famously refused to allow a top footballer on the field because he would not cut his hair to the length prescribed by the minister. He would also detain athletes inside sports ministry compounds, threatening them with bans if they didn't do as he ordered.

Less known are Umar Zahir's actions as a supervisor overseeing the building of Kurumba Village, the first tourist resort in the Maldives. A waiter, tending to newly arrived guests, accidently split water on them in Umar Zahir's presence. The ex-headmaster ordered the young man to kneel down on the beach in full view of all the guests for hours, only pardoning him when flabbergasted guests begged on his behalf. 

Umar Zahir may no longer able to practice torment on the scale he enjoyed. But he's left a legacy that is being followed by a faithful student. Of course it's a bit simplistic to assume that the commissioner of police learnt his craft from his former headmaster. 

I'm just introducing an idea here and hope readers with information will post their views and stories in the comments.


Anonymous said...

Umar Zahir is no longer the construction minister. it has been some time since he was transferred from the cabinet. obviously you are not very thorough with current politics as you are with the past. but this is a good article.

dissidentmaldives said...

many thanks for pointing out the mistake, which i've corrected.

moyameehaa said...

yeah i have also heard of his stories.
one is at the time of making the artificial beach of male'...he was construction minister and observing the area. It seems that a boy was advised not to skate in that area (which was the new fad that time)...the boy did not listned..and umar ordered his men to put it in to a pit they have dug and it was buried with the help of konna boatu.

and there is a good joke about umar and sports in bakhabaru series.. febo ask hassan manik (pointing to his own bald head) "hurihaa kulhun theringe boaves hunnan vaanee migothah reethikoh koshaafa".

well..there are few others...but mostly not about his torture.

BTW. do you know if he had anything to do with islaahiyyaa? that was a horrible place.i have lot about that was built for abusing children..until hameed sir (fuloaku the international) took over.

dissidentmaldives said...

moyameeha, yes, umar zahir was directly responsible for the reformatory or islaahiyya when some horrific abuses happened there and i've mentioned this in the post.

Anonymous said...

I think an organization should be set up to investigate and list all his abuses so that they may not be repeated again.
Umar Zahir is clinically deranged case. In a civilized society he would be kept in the looney bin.