The reported civil unrest in Maldives has perturbed citizens of the island nation who reside in considerable numbers in the capital for medical and educational purposes.

According to the police, the Maldivian population in the city currently number around 4,000.

A 28-year-old Maldivian citizen, who demanded anonymity, told The Hindu that he had been contacting his family members several times in the past three days. There had been reports of street violence and at least one death. On Tuesday, his relatives informed him that shops had reopened for business and life seemed to be normal again. He feared such incidents could adversely affect the country's tourism industry, its biggest revenue earner.

A. Sateesh, an office-bearer of the Indo-Maldives Friends Association (IMFA), said several Maldivians he spoke to were deeply disturbed about the events. The association is a 56-member group of Dhivehi (the national language of Maldives) speaking Keralites who worked as paid guides for Maldivians arriving here.

According to IMFA, at least 100 Maldivians disembark at the international airport here every day to travel to different destinations in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, chiefly for treatment purposes.

Madurai is a common destination for Maldivians seeking treatment for eye ailments. Several specialist doctors in the capital have their own dedicated clientele among Maldivians, who often consult them in person and subsequently over telephone and internet from their homeland.

In the past 15 years, Maldivians have become part of the urban life here.

A milestone

Their significant numbers had prompted the Maldivian government in 2008 to set up a polling booth at the country's consulate here to enable its citizens here to exercise their franchise in that year's presidential election, a milestone in the country's political history. The Maldivian Election Commission had then published a separate voters' list for them.

In 2006, the capital had witnessed a section of the Maldivian diaspora form secret associations to politically oppose the country's former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whose 30-year rule was perceived as autocratic by the group.

The State police had then banned the groupings on the ground that such “political activity” violated visa provisions. The 2008 polls had seen the election of Mohammad Nasheed as president, who was reported to have stepped down on Tuesday.

Maldivians are a major source of revenue for diagnostic centres, clinics, hospitals, hotels, lodges and restaurants. There are several eateries which offer native Maldivian fare.

Sources said at least a small section of Maldivians were vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of errant touts and petty criminals. Some Maldivians inadvertently get into conflict with the country's law, mostly by overstaying their visa period, misplacing their passport or living in houses rented by their own countrymen without informing the police.

The city police had in 2007 proposed to start a help desk for the welfare of Maldivian nationals. It planned hiring the services of lawyers and credible persons fluent in Dhivehi language to help them interact better with law enforcers. The proposal was never implemented. However, the police said they regularly interacted with the country's consulate officers.

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