An Imperfect Syrian Truce, Rising Oceans, Costly Burp

An Imperfect Syrian Truce, Rising Oceans, Costly Burp


The Syrian government and the umbrella group for the main opposition agreed this morning to the terms of a ceasefire that was negotiated yesterday between the United States and Russia, the BBC reports. But the truce, set to begin midday Saturday, excludes ISIS, al-Qaeda and affiliated groups, Al Jazeera reports. President Bashar al-Assad’s regime said it would halt “combat operations” in accordance with the plan. But opposition forces said their acceptance depended on government forces ending sieges and airstrikes on civilians. The major opposition bloc involved in negotiations said in a statement that it “does not expect the Assad regime, Russia and Iran to cease hostilities, due to their realization that the regime’s survival depends on the continuation of its campaign of oppression, killing and forced displacement.”


Oceans are rising faster than they ever have in the past 2,800 years, a report published yesterday by the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says. “We can say with 95% probability that the 20th-century rise was faster than any of the previous 27 centuries,” explained climate scientist Bon Kopp, who led the research. The rising waters are expected to worsen still in coming years, especially in coastal towns.


At least 29 people were killed over the weekend in Fiji, where cyclone Winston was described as the worst storm ever to hit the South Pacific archipelago, The Fiji Times reports. About 8,500 people are still being sheltered in evacuation centers after thousands of homes were flattened by winds of over 320 km/h (200 mph). According to Radio New Zealand, international relief supplies have started arriving in the country, which is comprised of more than 330 islands.


Photo: Stringer/Xinhua via ZUMA

Indian authorities have partially restored water supplies to India’s capital Delhi after as many as 10 million people were affected by shortages caused by protesters. Angry at caste job quotas, demonstrators sabotaged a canal that delivers water to treatment plants, the BBC reports. The eight-day protests left 19 people dead at at least 183 injured, The Indian Express reports.


French daily Libération’s front page reads, “Calais: An Endless Jungle,” ahead of today’s 8 p.m. deadline for asylum seekers living in the sprawling and controversial migrant camp to clear out so that French authorities can dismantle it. Read more about it on Le Blog here.


“Business needs unrestricted access to the European market of 500 million people in order to continue to grow, invest and create jobs,” reads a letter signed by some 200 British business leaders, including 36 executives of FTSE 100 companies, The Times reports. Referring to a possible British exit from the European Union â€" which has gained momentum in the past few days with popular London Mayor Boris Johnson now publicly supporting an EU exit â€" the chief executives warned that “leaving the EU would deter investment, threaten jobs and put the economy at risk. Britain will be stronger, safer and better off remaining a member of the EU.”


At least one person was killed and 10 were injured when a passenger train derailed near the Dutch town of Dalfsen this morning, according to the daily De Telegraaf. The train reportedly hit a crane on a crossing before going into a field. Witnesses say the person killed could be the train driver.


In the area around the Congolese capital of Brazzaville, it’s common practice to burn vegetation in fields before planting crops. But this slash-and-burn approach inflicts severe damage to the forests and the soil, not to mention to the health of women, who are the primary farmers in this area, Kouamba Matonda Annette reports for Syfia. “Much of the harm could be avoided with the use of an organic fertilizer called moringa, a plant native to these parts of Africa that has many beneficial properties.”

Read the full article, Congo Farming: Eco-Friendly Fertilizer v. Slash-And-Burn.


U.S. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz fired campaign spokesman Rick Tyler yesterday after Tyler shared an inaccurate Facebook video of rival Marco Rubio “appearing to disparage the Bible,” as The Washington Post reports.


César Ritz, “king of hoteliers, and hotelier to kings,” would have been 166 years old today. That and much more, including a watershed moment in World War II history, in your 57-second shot of history.


Microsoft’s Bill Gates believes Apple should comply with the FBI’s request to unlock the iPhone used by one of the two San Bernardino terrorists without triggering the destruction of data stored on the device, the Financial Times reports. “This is a specific case where the government is asking for access to information,” Gates said. “They are not asking for some general thing. They are asking for a particular case.” Apple has so far refused, casting it as a civil liberties issue.



Greek police began removing migrants from the Greek-Macedonian border this morning after more passage restrictions imposed by Macedonian authorities left hundreds stranded, Reuters reports.


Austrian bartender Edin Mehic was recently fined 70 euros for burping too loud at a fun park in Vienna. The ticket, which he posted on Facebook, says he “violated public decency.” Mehic explained he had just eaten a kebab with “too many onions.”

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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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