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Nusra Commander Killed, Kremlin Critic Freed, Ancient Love Songs

Nusra Commander Killed, Kremlin Critic Freed, Ancient Love Songs

SENIOR NUSRA COMMANDER KILLED
Abu Hammam al-Shami, a senior commander of al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda branch operating in Syria, was killed by a Syrian government airstrike in the Idlib province, both the terrorist organization and state media have confirmed. Shami, who held the title of general military commander, was apparently meeting with other commanders when he was struck. According to an Al Jazeera correspondent, his death is a “huge blow” to the organization.

ON THIS DAY

On March 6, 1899, Bayer patented the aspirin. Time for your 57-second shot of history.

KNIFE ATTACK IN CHINA
At least nine people were wounded early today in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou as attackers slashed and stabbed people at a railway station during morning rush hour. The police shot dead one of the assailants and arrested another, Reuters reports. The identity and the motives of the attackers are unclear. Last year, 29 people were killed and 140 wounded in a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming as a group of eight people believed to be Uyghur Muslims carried out a similar assault.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As Le Temps’ Nic Ulmi writes, a Sumerian priestess known as Enheduanna, who lived in Mesopotamia in 2300 BC, is the first known writer of love songs. And they were steamy. “Through the singer’s voice, the goddess celebrated the ‘rising cedar’ between the king’s thighs, but she was even more eloquent when it came to describing her own intimate place, which she compared to a horn, a barque for the skies, a crescent moon, a fallow land about which she wondered. ‘Who will plow it for me?’”
Read the full article, Priestess And Slaves: A 4,000-Year History Of Love Songs.

ISIS BULLDOZES ANCIENT PALACE
ISIS terrorists have begun using a bulldozer to destroy the 3,000-year-old city of Nimrud, near Mosul in northern Iraq. Al Arabiya quoted an official of the Iraqi tourism and antiquities ministry as saying the destruction began after noon prayers Thursday. This comes a week after ISIS released a video showing jihadists equipped with sledgehammers destroying precious ancient artefacts in a Mosul museum. The ancient city of Nimrud, which was founded in the 13th century B.C., is known as a jewel of the Assyrian era.

CAR HITS JERUSALEM PEDESTRIANS
Photo above: Omer Messinger/ZUMA
At least five people were injured this morning in central Jerusalem as a driver rammed his car into a group of pedestrians and attempted to stab them before he was shot and killed by a security guard, The Jerusalem Post reports. Police spokeswoman Luba Samri described the incident as a “terrorist attack.” Four female border police officers were among the victims, who are in stable condition. The daily Haaretz reports there are seven victims. Similar attacks nearby left three people dead and a dozen wounded in late 2014.

VERBATIM
“They killed Nisman.” Although once would probably have been enough to earn top billing in Clarín’s Thursday edition, Argentine Judge Arroyo Salgado repeated this statement three times during a dramatic press conference Thursday. She was describing the mysterious death of state prosecutor Alberto Nisman, her ex-husband and the father of her two daughters who was found dead in his luxury apartment Jan. 18 just before he was to appear before Congress to publicly accuse President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of helping to cover up Iranian involvement in a Jewish center bombing in Buenos Aires. The 1994 attack killed 85 people. Read more on our 4 Corners blog.

2.5
In Spain, 2.5 independent bookshops close their doors every day, according to the Spanish daily El País. A total of 912 stores shuttered in 2014, while only 226 were opened.

KREMLIN CRITIC NAVALNY RELEASED
Prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny walked out of a Moscow detention center today, a week after fellow opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was murdered in what his allies say was a political killing aimed at intimidating them, Reuters reports.

MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD


HARRISON FORD WILL STRIKE BACK
American actor Harrison Ford is banged up, but his injuries are not life-threatening and he is expected to make a full recovery after the plane he was piloting crashed on a golf course in Santa Monica, the actor’s publicist has said in a statement.

SEPP BLATTER, HUMANITARIAN
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has asked Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to end the country’s ban on women attending soccer matches in stadiums, describing the situation as “intolerable.” That would be certainly be a good step, but Iran first might want to stop stoning women to death.

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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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