Duterte, Not Lost In Translation

Foreign correspondents, and their editors, have long wrestled with translations of newsworthy words from one language to another â€" both those quotable quotes from colorful personalities, and the jargony langue de bois of international bureaucrats and businessmen.

We like to think of ourselves at Worldcrunch as experts in the field, and watched with some amusement as our colleagues around the English-speaking world handled the latest doozy from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Responding to U.S. criticism about his heavy-handed crackdown on the drug trade, the 71-year-old leader switched from English to his native Tagalog language to call President Obama “Putang ina” and said he would swear at him in person at an upcoming meeting. Most of the press translated the slur as “son of a bitch,” though others went for the more literal “son of a whore.” Either way, it led to the swift cancellation of a scheduled Duterte-Obama encounter, and recalled similar jibes that the new Filipino President has aimed at the Pope and head of the United Nations in recent months.

But even more disturbing are the consequences of Duterte’s language on the streets of the Philippines, a troubled country of more than 100 million. Speaking to television reporters in June, shortly after his election victory, he sent this message to his citizens, should they witness drug activity: "Please feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun ... you have my support," he said. "Shoot him the drug dealer and I'll give you a medal." In the months since, more than a thousand extrajudicial killings have been recorded, with scant prosecution of the would-be vigilantes.

Soon after Obama cancelled his bilateral meeting with Duterte, the Philippines government put out a statement in English about the comments, expressing “regret that it came across as a personal attack on the U.S. president.” Yes, in Paris that is called langue de bois â€" literally "wooden language." Obama’s plain-speaking vice president would call it malarkey.


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Three gunmen were killed this morning by Afghan security forces after they had taken hostages during a 11-hour siege of a building housing an international aid group in Kabul. An Interior Ministry official said one civilian was killed and six wounded in the attack, Al Jazeera reports. A double bombing yesterday claimed by the Taliban near the Defense Ministry killed at least 24 people and wounded nearly 100 others.


Kim Jong-un called today for the reinforcement of the North Korea’s nuclear arsenal a day after he supervised ballistic missile tests towards the Sea of Japan. Monday’s nuclear display was strongly criticized by leaders on the closing day of the G20 summit in China, and President Obama said today that he will work with the United Nations to tighten sanctions. Read more from ABC News.


Vietnam Airlines has purchased 40 airplanes worth $6.5 billion from Airbus, the French-based European aviation manufacturer. French President François Hollande announced the deal on a trip to the Southeast Asian nation to deepen business ties, Channel News Asia reports.


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The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN) downgraded the giant panda from "endangered" to "vulnerable" as its population rose 17% from 2004 to 2014. The creation of a panda reserve system in China in 1992 increased available habitats: 67 reserves in the country protect 67% of the population and nearly 1.4 million hectares of habitat, according to CNN.


Last year, the price of vegetables in Israel surged 140% during the high holiday season, yet the government still opposes the import of cheap, high-quality produce from Gaza. For Hebrew-language daily Calcalist, Dani Rubinstein writes from Tel Aviv: “A year ago the retail chains accused farmers of exploiting the holiday season in order to drive prices up, though the farmers blamed the produce shortage on pests and bad weather. Back then, the ministry did make an exception to allow limited amounts of vegetables to be imported from Gaza to the markets of Israel's ultra-orthodox community because of the Jewish sabbatical year in which cultivation of the fields is prohibited.

While expanding the access would allow the rest of Israel’s population to enjoy affordable vegetable prices during the holiday season, it would also help Gaza’s economy, which is in desperate need of a boost.”

Read the full article, Hungry Gaza Farmers And The Price Of A New Year’s Tomato In Israel.


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Brazil’s new President Michel Temer was pictured buying a $120 pair of shoes at a shopping center in Hangzhou during his trip for the G20 summit, setting off a wave of online anger for not buying Brazilian-made products, America Economia reports. Dilma Rousseff’s successor was also spotted buying a Mandarin-speaking toy dog. Wang-wang!

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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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