PANAMA PAPERS, THE CHINESE CONNECTION
The latest revelations to emerge from the Panama Papers focus on the family members of top China Communist Party members, including the brother-in-law of President Xi Jinping, Bo Xilaiâ€™s wife and a distant relative of Mao Zedong. According to The Guardian, these relatives are part of Chinaâ€™s â€œred nobility,â€ â€œwhose influence extends well beyond politics.â€. Clients from China and Hong Kong of Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca reportedly represented the firmâ€™s biggest source of business, with a total of about 40,000 companies linked to them in the confidential documents.
- Meanwhile in Iceland, a new prime minister has been named after Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson resignation, and early elections will be held in the fall. The political crisis is giving a huge boost to anti-establishment movements, among them the Pirate Party, which now enjoys 43% of popular support.
Voters in the Netherlands have rejected the European Unionâ€™s trade partnership deal with Ukraine, with 61.1% voting â€œNoâ€ in yesterdayâ€™s referendum. According to De Telegraaf, the turnout was just 32.2%, but above the required threshold of 30%, meaning the issue has to be examined by the Dutch parliament. But the referendum, sparked by an online petition, was non-binding, and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said after the vote that â€œwe will continue our movement towards the European Unionâ€ regardless. The vote is seen as an important victory for Eurosceptics two months ahead of a crucial EU membership referendum in Britain, where Brexit supporters are accusing the government of being â€œbiased and hystericalâ€ after it emerged that it was using more than $12 million in taxpayer money to print â€œpro-Remainâ€ leaflets.
DILMA ONE STEP CLOSER TO THE EDGE
Photo: Cris Faga/ZUMA
A Brazilian congressional commission investigating whether to impeach President Dilma Rousseff will recommend her removal from office when it votes next Monday, Folha de S. Paulo reports. Rousseff is accused of manipulating budget figures to hide the countryâ€™s deficit in the months before her reelection, which she denies. The lower house of Congress is expected to vote in mid-April, with a two-third majority required for the impeachment proceedings to proceed to the Senate.
Chinese people comprised Japanâ€™s largest tourist group last year, followed by South Koreans and Taiwanese. But as Caixin reports, the growing presence of Chinese travelers has raised mixed emotions among the Japanese public, even those in the tourist industry who would be bound to profit from the phenomenon. â€œComplaints range from Japanese business travelers who suddenly find it difficult to book hotel rooms in certain Japanese cities, to broader gripes about the â€˜etiquette,â€™ or lack of it, among Chinese tourists,â€ the newspaper writes. â€œChinese travelers have a reputation for cutting lines, being noisy and littering. Local governments in cities that are popular with Chinese tourists have taken measures, such as putting up posters in Chinese to remind them of the code of behavior.â€
Read the full article, Japanese Hosts And Chinese Tourists, Itâ€™s Complicated.
SECULAR BANGLADESHI BLOGGER KILLED
A 28-year-old secular activist was hacked to death in the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, after criticizing Islamists, the BBC reports. According to the police, Nazimuddin Samad was attacked by three men with machetes at a traffic junction and was then shot. Though Bangladesh is officially a secular country, the government has come under criticism for failing to address such attacks, which have multiplied recently and targeted religious minorities, including Shia Muslims, Christians and Hindus.
â€œPeak friendshipâ€ comes at age 25, Finnish and British researchers have found. The study analyzed the mobile data of 3.2 million European users, and the findings suggest that our social networks shrink until the age of 45, as we dedicate more time to a smaller group of friends and family.
PAYING FOR SEX NOW ILLEGAL IN FRANCE
After two years of hard-fought debates, the French parliament approved a bill that makes it illegal to pay for sex, Le Monde reports. Prostitutes will no longer be punished for soliciting, but clients risk a fine of 1,500 euros ($1,700) and up to 3,750 euros for repeat offenses, a move that critics have said will do little to stop criminal networks that exploit young girls and force sex workers further underground. France is the fifth European country to punish customers rather than prostitutes, after Sweden, Norway, Iceland and the UK.
MY GRAND-PEREâ€™S WORLD
ANGOLA TURNS TO IMF AMID LOW OIL PRICES
Angola has requested financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund for the second time in seven years, as the African country and OPEC member struggles to cope with low oil prices, Portuguese daily Público reports. The government of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos is said to be requesting a three-year program worth $1.5 billion. In exchange, the IMF is likely to demand that the country diversify its economy to rely less on black gold.
FAREWELL MERLE HAGGARD
Country music legend Merle Haggard died yesterday from pneumonia on his 79th birthday in his home in northern California. Haggard was best known for his 1969 song â€œOkie From Muskogee,â€ along with dozens of other No. 1 hits. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1994. Read his Rolling Stone obituary here.
VENEZUELANS GET A NEW DAY OFF
Weekends for Venezuelan workers just got longer, after the government decreed Fridays off for the next two months in the oil-rich countryâ€™s desperate bid to save energy amid its economic crisis.
ON THIS DAY
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.
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
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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