Europe Ebola Warning, Kenyatta In Court, Typhoon Eye

Typhoon Vongfong is expected to hit Japan in the next 48 hours.
Typhoon Vongfong is expected to hit Japan in the next 48 hours.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

ISIS fighters have withdrawn from areas they had earlier seized in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani after a series of strikes from the U.S.-led coalition, Kurdish officials in the town have said, echoing previous a previous report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. But the battle for the city, which sits on the border with Turkey, continues. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had warned yesterday that Kobani was “about to fall,” amid criticism and frustration, including Washington’s, over inaction from Ankara.

The events unfolding in Kobani have led to violent protests from Kurdish minorities across Turkey, which left at least 14 people dead as the police tried to disperse demonstrators with tear gas and water cannons, AP reports. Similar protests also took place in Brussels and in the German cities of Hamburg and Celle, where Kurdish protesters clashed with armed pro-ISIS radicals.

West African countries, who also face a jihadist threat in Boko Haram, agreed yesterday to form a regional force that will start operating next month against the Nigeria-based group.

Fears over the Ebola virus are rising in Spain and more generally in Europe, with the World Health Organization warning that the Madrid nurse who mysteriously got infected with the virus was likely the beginning and that more cases were expected among health personnel in Europe and in the U.S.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta arrived this morning in The Hague to appear in front of the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity, becoming thus the first serving head of state to come before the court, CNN reports. Kenyatta, who temporarily appointed his deputy as President before he left for the Netherlands, faces five charges over the ethnic massacres that followed the 2007 Presidential election in which more than 1,000 people were killed. He has repeatedly denied the accusations that he orchestrated the violence, calling the charges politically motivated. The ICC is expected to determine today whether his case can proceed to trial.


Japan is facing yet another natural disaster as Vongfong, a super typhoon believed to be the most intense storm this year is picking up speed and is expected to make landfall this weekend, AFP reports. According to a Japanese meteorologist, Vongfong is “very much similar” in strength to Haiyan, another typhoon that left nearly 8,000 people dead or missing when it hit the Philippines last year. Meanwhile, the death toll at Mount Ontake after a violent volcanic eruption a week-and-a-half ago now stands at 55, after rescuers found four more bodies.

Reporting from the Syria-Turkey border, Le Monde’s veteran war correspondent Remy Ourdan managed to speak to two former ISIS foot soldiers who recount how they’d fled the terror group after witnessing the arbitrary killing of Syrian civilians: “Maher then did something unimaginable: He shouted at his emir, a Saudi jihadist, Abu Hafs al-Jazrawi, who immediately ordered his arrest. The incident triggered a frenzied and bloody escape through the Syrian countryside. "The emir left me in a house with two guards. One had a stick to beat me up. I managed to get hold of it and I beat him until he passed out, then I beat the one standing outside the door." Maher ran through the deserted village until he reached the road, and while still in the ISIS black uniform, clambered into a civilian car with a Syrian family. Read the full article: These Two ISIS Foot Soldiers Fled In Horror - But One Wants To Return

A UN report on the human rights situation in Ukraine between mid-August and mid-September, due to be published today, shows that some armed groups and battalions under the control of Ukrainian army have violated international humanitarian law, Russian state news agency Ria Novosti reports. The 37-page document denounces the violation of “principles of military necessity, distinction, proportionality and precaution,” and in particular the “beatings, poor nutrition and lack of medical assistance” of people detained by the Ukrainian army during the months-long conflict that has killed more than 3,500 people in eastern Ukraine. The Kremlin-backed agency notes however that the UN report doesn’t mention the several mass grave uncovered in government-controlled territories.

Two Americans scientists, Eric Betzig, William E. Moerner and Germany’s Stefan W Hell, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for the development of super-resolved fluorescence microscopy,” a finding that “has brought optical microscopy into the nanodimension.”

In a expand=1] video uploaded to YouTube, two male kangaroos were spotted boxing it out in the streets of a suburban Australian neighborhood. Set to Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker suite, it's rather graceful.

— Crunched by Marc Alves

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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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