WHILE YOU SLEPT

Religious War Risks, Clinton Clinches, Korean Snakes

SPOTLIGHT: HOW TO AVOID A RELIGIOUS WAR

A spate of terror attacks across western Europe continued yesterday as two assailants took hostages in a church in the northern French town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray, killing an 86-year-old priest and injuring three others. The two men, who declared allegiance to the Islamic State, were shot and killed by local police.


While Catholic nuns and missionaries have been targeted by terror groups like the Islamic State (ISIS) and al-Qaeda abroad, such brazen attack on Christians in Europe have been extremely rare. The killing of a priest during morning mass in a small town, reportedly forced to his knees by the terrorists, represents an assault on religious freedom and daily life in France, still reeling from the tragedies of Nice and Paris.


Already known for singling out Jews as a specific enemy, ISIS now seems bent on opening a new front in its religious war, instilling a medieval-like fear in churchgoers. Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi called the attack an act of “absurd violence.”


Meanwhile, the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, urged French Christians to “not lose the sense of their faith.” It is an interesting turn of phrase from this leader of the Catholic Church hierarchy in France, in the face of a brutal assassination of his fellow clergy member. By “sense” of their faith, Vingt-Trois explained, he means that the Catholic gospel calls on them to avoid violence as a response. But beyond the Christian “turn-the-other-cheek” teachings, the cardinal also seems to be saying that the only practical (i.e. sensible) way to fight the extremist enemy is by avoiding the trap of religious war that they seek. The French have another term for that: sang-froid. Keep your cool.



WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY

  • President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to headline Day 3 of the Democratic National Convention.
  • Pope Francis arrives in Krakow, Poland for the Catholic World Youth Day. (See the front page from Dziennik Polski in our Extra! feature)


HISTORIC NOMINATION FOR HILLARY CLINTON

Hillary Clinton was officially nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate yesterday, as delegates cast their votes at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Clinton becomes the first female nominee from a major party in U.S. history, and was fully endorsed by her primary opponent Senator Bernie Sanders despite a walkout from some of his supporters, reports the Los Angeles Times.


CATALONIA MOVES FORWARD WITH INDEPENDENCE

The government in the Spanish region of Catalonia, controlled by separatist parties since last November, will pass a resolution this week to ignore Spain’s constitutional court and move forward with independence. According to El Periódico de Catalunya, the resolution will approve a report that recommends a unilateral process towards independence, while pro-Madrid parties are considering abandoning parliament for the rest of its term.


â€" ON THIS DAY

It’s been 20 years since the bombing in Atlanta’s Olympic park. That, and more, in your 57-second shot of History.


ISIS LEADER IN AFGHANISTAN KILLED

A prominent leader of the Islamic State in Afghanistan, Saad Emarati, was killed by the Afghan military during an operation in the eastern province of Nangarhar. A former commander of the Taliban, Emarati was a founder and key leader of the Afghan branch of ISIS since early 2015.


AMAZON TO LAUNCH DRONE DELIVERY TRIAL IN UK

American tech giant Amazon gained approval from British regulators to launch a trial for its long-awaited drone delivery service in the United Kingdom, reports The Daily Telegraph.


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Summer has arrived, and with it, an infinity of selfies, #foodporn pics, Snapchat postcards, etc. For French daily Les Echos, philosopher Roger-Pol Droit writes: “There was a time, in the history of mankind, when there were a lot more humans than pictures on Earth. They were rare, precious, magical, possessing powers of good or evil. They’ve since proliferated, become emancipated, uncountable â€" and common. Maybe not common as such, considering the way they have quietly taken over culture. This transformation deserves to be explored.

At first, there was distrust. Plato had great contempt for images, and this fueled a long tradition. For him, nothing is further away from reality than images.”

Read the full article, Why Plato Would Hate Instagram.


VERBATIM

“Anything’s possible,” U.S. President Barack Obama told NBC , when asked if Russia was behind a recent leak of Democratic National Committee emails that appeared to show a bias against Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign.


PARDON FOR FORMER PERU PRESIDENT FUJIMORI REJECTED

Peru’s outgoing President Ollanta Humala rejected a pardon for his predecessor Alberto Fujimori, convicted in 2009 of embezzlement and human rights violations. El Comercio reports that president-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who defeated Fujimori’s daughter Keiko by a razor-thin margin in a presidential run-off in June, also declared he was unlikely to extend a pardon.


â€" MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD

Roses And Chirps â€" Paris, 1967


PALESTINE PLANS TO SUE BRITAIN OVER 1917 DECLARATION

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced his intention today to sue the United Kingdom over the 1917 Balfour Declaration, in which then Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour endorsed a “national home for the Jewish people” in the British-controlled territory of Palestine. According to Haaretz, Abbas asked Arab states to aid in preparations for the lawsuit, which will be filed in international court.


BRITISH AND IRISH PMs PLEDGE TO KEEP COMMON BORDER

After meeting at 10 Downing Street, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Irish counterpart Enda Kenny pledged to not reinstate a “hard border” between the two countries in the wake of last month’s Brexit vote. Read more from the Irish Times.


MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH

SNAKES FROM SEOUL

In its latest bizarre accusation, North Korea blamed its southern neighbor for the high number of snakes found near its northern border with China. Pyongyang asserted the snakes are part of a “cunning plot” by Seoul to infiltrate the North with the reptiles, which are rumored to have killed several people near the Yalu river.

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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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