The picture in this article was captured by seasoned 'Mihaaru' newspaper photographer Hussain Waheed during the opposition protest in the capital Male on Friday.
The award worthy photo has irrefutably captured the essence of the dire state of affairs in the once peaceful island nation - globally renowned for its pristine beaches and crystal clear waters. The cute little girl appears terrified and helpless as she covers her ears. Perhaps from the screams of the protesters. More often than not shouting profanities at the security forces. Or she could be shielding her ears from the loud police warnings before protesters are pepper sprayed, tackled to the ground and forcibly arrested.
Her expression says it all for a country ravaged by the latest in a series of political turmoil that the archipelago has been unable to shake. Terrified, helpless and desperate as the country is picked apart by the very leaders the people hoped would be their saviors.
The serial protests take place in the most densely populated capital in the world. Protesters gather in the bustling yet tiny streets of Male - similar to Friday mostly in the busiest intersections. The obscenities and violence unfold in front of our very eyes. It does not distinguish a protester from a passerby. A man from a woman. The young from the old. And like the picture, nor does it spare children. The future of the country. Perhaps scarred for life.
"Now I'm scared to take my children anywhere. I used to take them to artificial beach on the weekends. But the protests happen there and they shout obscenities while riot police are also there in full force. So I don't take my children there anymore. I don't want them to see that," a concerned mother bemoaned.
A father had a similar story to tell. He had taken his teenage son to a shop in Male on Friday. A mundane and quick errand. But it was not to be. They both ended up in hospital to be treated for effects of pepper spray. They had nothing to do with the protest. But like so many of us, they were just 'collateral damage.'
As usual the opposition and the government would play the blame game. Government would say the opposition needs to let it serve out its term in peace and wait for the elections. Opposition would turn around and say the only way to protect the country and its children is to bring an end to the current regime.
The hypocrisy of both sides would almost be funny if it was not so sad. Because its deja vu for the people. We have seen it before. And regardless of the outcome of the latest political crisis, we know it will happen again. Because in the never ending battle for power, the people are always 'collateral damage.'
Yes sweet little girl. Cover your ears. Better yet, close your eyes too. That's all you can do. That's all any of us can do.