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Airport Siege Ends, Person Of The Year, Orangutan Giggles

Airport Siege Ends, Person Of The Year, Orangutan Giggles

TALIBAN AIRPORT SIEGE FINALLY ENDS

Afghan forces have broken the Taliban siege on the Kandahar airport more than 24 hours after the attack began, AP quotes the country’s Defense Ministry as saying. The assailants killed at least 50 people, among them 38 civilians, 10 Afghan soldiers and two police officers. The 11 gunmen who carried out the attack were killed in the operation that ended late yesterday. The attack on the airport, which serves as a NATO base, came amid regional peace talks in Pakistan meant to restart negotiations with the Taliban that broke off earlier this year.


VERBATIM

“I can’t talk much because after midnight I’ll turn into a pumpkin,” outgoing Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner told a crowd gathered in Buenos Aires last night, hours before her mandate came to an end. The joke was intended as a jibe at her successor, political opponent Mauricio Macri, with whom she openly bickered for days over the leadership transition procedure, an episode that many Argentinians viewed as a national embarrassment, AP reports.


KIM JONG-UN: NORTH KOREA HAS H-BOMB

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un suggested for the first time that Pyongyang had developed a hydrogen bomb, a thermonuclear device much more powerful than the atomic bomb, Yonhap reports. His comments were made during a recent inspection tour of a historical military site, but the claims are likely to be impossible to verify, and experts don’t seem to believe it.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

The very essence of intelligence is that it’s human, and it can never be recreated by something artificial, Luc de Brabandere writes for Les Echos. “If it became artificial, it would mean that we’d have given up on using our own. But the topic is raised again and again in the media. As soon as a computer defeats a human being at one game or another, the myth that artificial intelligence will become part of our lives is resurrected.”

Read the full article, Why Artificial Intelligence Is Simply Impossible.


REFUGEES IN GERMANY TOP 1 MILLION


Photo: Halit Onur Sandal/NurPhoto/ZUMA

The number of refugees who have registered in Germany this year has officially reached 1 million, with more than 200,000 reaching the country in November alone, news agency DPA reports. The news came as TIME magazine named German Chancellor Angela Merkel its Person of the Year for her moral leadership amid the refugee crisis, “the most generous, open-hearted gesture of recent history.” But not everybody in Germany is proud about the magazine’s choice, with Deutsche Welle’s Felix Steiner reminding readers that TIME chose Adolf Hitler in 1938 and that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is this year’s runner-up. Quoting TIME"s praise for Merkel’s “humanity, generosity and tolerance,” Steiner asks, “Would Greek pensioners and unemployed sign off on that statement?”


CANADA WELCOMES SYRIAN REFUGEES

Canada is getting ready to receive the first charter flight of the 25,000 Syrian refugees it has pledged to resettle by the end of February. Go to our Le Blog item here to see how Canadian daily the Toronto Star has chosen to greet them on the front page of its Thursday edition.


ON THIS DAY


Nobel Prizes, Mark Twain and Otis Redding. All that and more in today’s 57-second shot of history.


AUSTRALIA THWARTS TERROR ATTACK

Police officers in Sydney, Australia, have arrested two young men, aged 15 and 20, accused of planning a terror attack there with three other people who have already been detained and charged, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. New South Wales Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn said that it was “disturbing” that someone as young as 15 was involved in terrorism and that those arrested face life sentences if found guilty. The arrests come almost a year after a hostage crisis in Sydney, which ended with the deaths of two hostages and of the gunman, who had claimed to be a member of ISIS.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



1 MILLION EUROS

Italy is paying 1 million euros ($1.1 million) a month for a luxurious jet intended to fly Prime Minister Matteo Renzi around the world. Worse, it is grounded because no Italian Air Force pilot is qualified to fly it. Read more from The Local.


FIRST IVF PUPPIES BORN

The first puppies born via in-vitro fertilization were born in July and are now five months old and healthy, U.S. scientists said yesterday. They hailed the success, after 45 years of failure, as a breakthrough that could help eradicate diseases in dogs and eventually humans. Read more from CNN.


SIMPLE PLEASURES

A simple magic trick made this orangutan literally roll on the floor laughing.

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Coronavirus

Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."


Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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