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More EU Borders Close, Obama And Francis, Invisibility Cloak

More EU Borders Close, Obama And Francis, Invisibility Cloak

More EU Borders Close, Obama And Francis, Invisibility Cloak

CHILE HAILED FOR QUAKE PREPARATION

Photo: Mario Ruiz/EFE via ZUMA

The death toll following Wednesday night’s earthquake in Chile remains very low, rising to 12 late yesterday, owing to the country’s extensive earthquake preparation efforts. Interviewed by newspaper La Tercera, German geologist Onno Oncken, who helped create Chile’s anti-tsunami alert system, said the country’s preparation for such events is among the best in the world. But Chile learned the hard way, after the most powerful earthquake ever recorded devastated the country in 1960.


REFUGEES FACE MORE CLOSED BORDERS

Highlighting a Europe in chaos, Croatia has become the latest EU country to close part of its border to refugees coming in from Serbia. The government has ordered seven of its eight border crossings with Serbia closed after Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said that 13,000 migrants had entered the country since early Wednesday. “Our welcoming capacities are saturated,” Ostojic told TV network N1.

  • Refugees started entering Croatia after Hungary closed its border with Serbia and began arresting anybody who passed the fence, leading to violent clashes when asylum seekers tried to force passage and threw stones at the police, who answered with tear gas. “No matter what criticism I receive … we will never allow such aggressive people to enter Hungary,” Deutsche Welle quoted Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto as saying. “Not even for transit purposes.” The country began installing new fences this morning, this time along the border with Croatia, leaving Slovenia as the only route leading to Europe’s Schengen Area open-border zone, The Guardian explains.
  • But Slovenia has also started to crackdown on refugees crossing into the country with the hope of reaching Austria and Germany. All rail traffic from Croatia has been stopped after a group of 150 people was arrested on a Zurich-bound train. “We will return them to Croatia in the shortest time possible,” a police official said. The government intends to abide by Schengen rules and Prime Minister Miro Cerar said it “cannot let people who do not meet conditions to enter the European Union.”

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

On the eve of the pontiff’s visit to the United States, confidential Obama administration documents reveal a remarkable harmony with Francis’ objectives, La Stampa’s Paolo Mastrolilli reports. “The reports were compiled to provide Obama with an overview on the pope himself and the structure of the Vatican and then elaborate on several areas of common interest and potential collaboration, including the fight against poverty and hunger, climate change, the war in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, relations with Cuba and human trafficking,” he writes. “The White House documents note that the Vatican sees protecting the environment as a ‘moral duty’ and express high hopes for the pope’s new encyclical on the environment, which was bitterly criticized by conservatives in the U.S.”

Read the full article, Pope Francis And Barack Obama, Why The White House Believes.


WHITE HOUSE URGES CITIZENSHIP FOR IMMIGRANTS

The White House launched a nationwide campaign yesterday for the 8.8 million legal immigrants living in the U.S. to pursue American citizenship. But as The New York Times points out, this encouragement may not be entirely altruistic, as it would add a large pool of potential Democratic voters to the electorate, just in time for next year’s presidential race.


MILITARY INSTALLS NEW BURKINA PRESIDENT

The situation in Burkina Faso was still tense this morning after the rebel military installed General Gilbert Diendéré as the country's new president Thursday, just three weeks before national elections were set to take place. Read more in Le Blog.


URINATION STUDY WINS IG NOBEL

This year’s Ig Nobel Prize winners, who are honored for “improbable research,” are worth a long look and a laugh. Among the winners announced yesterday are Georgia Tech researchers who found that “nearly all mammals empty their bladders in about 21 seconds (plus or minus 13 seconds).” See the full list here.


ON THIS DAY


It’s been 45 years since the death of Jimi Hendrix at age 27. Get your shot of history here.


SOUTH SUDAN TANKER BLAST KILLS DOZENS

At least 182 people have died in South Sudan after a fuel truck exploded in a southwestern province, Reuters reports. The blast occurred Wednesday after the truck veered off the road. An official has warned that the death toll could rise, mostly because of lack of medical infrastructure.


VERBATIM

“Their emancipation doesn’t come with a car, but with a smartphone,” French researcher Nicolas Louvet told Le Monde, remarking about the current generation’s declining interest in learning to drive. “They don’t leave their parents at 18, but at 13. In their room.”


SCOTLAND THREATENS NEW REFERENDUM

Scottish Nationalist Party leader Nicola Sturgeon is expected to say in a speech later today that British Prime Minister David Cameron is “living on borrowed time.” It would be her clearest threat to date of her party demanding a second independence referendum, The Guardian reports. In her speech, which coincides with the one-year anniversary of Scotland’s failed bid to gain independence, Sturgeon will renew demands for the Conservative British government to scrap the Trident nuclear missiles, stationed in Scotland, and to end austerity policies.


173 MINUTES

The average worker in Nairobi, Kenya, must log 173 minutes on the job to earn enough to pay for a McDonald’s Big Mac, the most recent UBS Prices and Earnings study shows. For the same product, people in Hong Kong have to work just nine minutes. According to the study’s findings, New York is the world’s most expensive city.


MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD



HOW NOT TO BE SEEN

Scientists have invented a Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak. Don’t expect to be wearing one anytime soon, though. It’s microscopic.

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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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