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Pope On Abortion, Escaping ISIS, Google Shot The Serif

Pope On Abortion, Escaping ISIS, Google Shot The Serif

MIGRANT PROTEST IN BUDAPEST

As many as 2,000 migrants are stranded outside Budapest’s Eastern railway station and are protesting against the Hungarian police after the government banned any access to the station to those who are neither Hungarian nor tourists, Die Welt reports. Describing the “squalid” conditions in which these migrants are waiting on the concrete outside the station, the newspaper says “it stinks of sweat and excrements,” and the heat only makes things worse. On Monday, migrants were able to take trains to Austria and Germany, but Hungary has since put an end to it. “In the territory of the EU, illegal migrants can travel onwards only with valid documents and observing EU rules. A train ticket does not overwrite EU rules," Reuters quotes a government spokesman as saying.

  • Austrian police meanwhile rescued 24 Afghan teenagers who were crammed inside a van described as a “prison cell on wheels.” The Romanian driver was arrested. This comes amid tougher checks, after 71 migrants were found dead in an abandoned truck last week.
  • Eurostar high-speed train traffic has also been affected after migrants climbed on the tracks at the French entrance to the Channel tunnel, while others climbed on the trains’ roofs to try and cross into England. Hundreds of passengers were left stranded onboard trains overnight.
  • The influx of migrants meanwhile continues with more than 4,000 people reaching the Piraeus port in Athens last night.

VERBATIM

“These men are not human. They only think of death, killing. They take drugs constantly. They seek vengeance against everyone. They say that one day the Islamic State will rule over the whole world,” Jinan, an 18-year-old Yazidi who escaped from the clutches of ISIS, told AFP. In a book due to be published Friday and entitled Esclave de Daesh (“Daesh’s Slave,” using the Arab acronym for ISIS), the young girl tells how she was kidnapped, beaten, sold, raped, and how she eventually escaped her tormentors.


SECRET U.S. DRONE CAMPAIGN IN SYRIA

The CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command have launched a secret drone campaign in Syria targeting ISIS leaders, The Washington Post reveals. The drone strikes, which are separated from those of the U.S.-led coalition against the terrorist group, have already killed a number of “high-value targets,” among them Hussain, a 21-year-old British jihadist believed to be one of the leaders of ISIS’ social media strategy. This comes amid various rumors that Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has recently decided to send boots on the ground.


ON THIS DAY


Victory in Japan and a Mexican birthday are on tap for Sept. 2. Check out the 57-second video shot of history.


GUNMEN KIDNAP TURKISH WORKERS IN BAGHDAD

Masked gunmen wearing military uniforms kidnapped 18 Turkish workers from the construction site of a stadium in a dawn attack, Hürriyet reports. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the abduction but there are strong suspicions that ISIS militants are behind the abductions.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Though Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe are sworn enemies, they increasingly resemble each other, writes Cecilia Orozco Tascón in Bogota daily El Espectador. “Their methods are similar, as is their conduct. With their irresponsible declarations, they spread hate and fan their partisans' most primitive feelings. Seen through their fanatical ideological prisms, their opponents become mortal enemies, dismissed in turn as paramilitaries or "terrorists.""

Read the full article, Maduro And Uribe, Latin America’s Look-Alike Enemies .


THAI POLICE ARRESTS SECOND BOMBING SUSPECT

Police in Thailand have arrested a man suspected of being involved in the August 17 bombing of a shrine in Bangkok at the border with Cambodia, The Bangkok Post reports.


GAZA UNINHABITABLE BY 2020

Gaza could be “uninhabitable” in less than five years, the UN warned in a report, pointing war, destruction and the Israeli-Egyptian blockade as causes for the enclave’s accelerating “de-development.” Read more from The Guardian.


POPE: FORGIVE ABORTION

Photo: Evandro Inetti/ZUMA

As part of the upcoming Jubilee year of Mercy, Pope Francis has decreed that any Catholic priest can forgive a woman who has had an abortion without need of special permission from a bishop. With the wording of the decree, the move could be read to apply equally to other parties, such as doctors who perform abortions and anyone else involved. Read the analysis of Catholic website Crux.


$1.3 BILLION

Soccer clubs in the English Premier League have broken a new record in this summer’s transfer window, which closed Tuesday evening, by spending a staggering 870 million pounds ($1.3 billion) on new players, more than any other soccer league in Europe. Manchester City was the biggest spender with close to 160 million pounds ($245 million).


CATCH CANADA’S RECESSION?

According to Quebec City’s Le Soleil daily, Canada’s economic recession may have ended before it really began.


CHARLIE HEBDO WIDOW TO PUBLISH COUNTER INVESTIGATION

Maryse Wolinski, the widow of Charlie Hebdo cartoonist George Wolinski, says she will release her own “counter investigation” of the terrorist attack that left her husband and 10 other people at the satirical magazine’s office dead. She has pointed to security failings leading up to the attack. Speaking on French radio station RTL, she announced that the book will be released on January 7, 2016, exactly one year after the attack.


GOOGLE GETS A NEW LOGO

Search giant Google has shot the serif. See the rather drastic changes to the multi-color logo here.


AND THEN THERE WAS A FAVORITE

Fans of the “Queen of Crime” Agatha Christie have named And Then There Were None, the world’s best-selling crime novel of all time, as their favorite whodunnit in a worldwide poll. Murder on the Orient Express came in second, with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd completing the top three.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



SLOPPY BABY SURCHARGE

A vacationer in the posh Costa Smeralda region on the Italian island of Sardinia has filed a complaint to local police after he found a 16-euro surcharge on his dinner bill because his 20-month old daughter had dirtied the tablecloth with pasta sauce. La Stampa reports that the owner of the Barracuda restaurant defended the charge since the tablecloth was made of linen and needed to be dry-cleaned. The father would have none of it, though he did confirm that the food was quite good. Apparently his daughter thought so too.

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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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