Geopolitics

Gaza Toll Tops 500, Latest On MH17, Prehistoric Geography

Palestinians flee the Shujayeh neighborhood during heavy Israeli shelling in Gaza City.
Palestinians flee the Shujayeh neighborhood during heavy Israeli shelling in Gaza City.
Worldcrunch

Monday, July 21, 2014

GAZA DEATH TOLL TOPS 500
Israel pushed ahead with its military operation in Gaza, with Reuters reporting massive attacks, including one that killed 25 members of the same family, as the death toll reached 508 in 14 days of the operation “Protective Edge,” with at least 81,000 displaced.

The Guardian also reported that the IDF is using flechette shells, a weapon described by an Israeli human rights organization as “anti-personnel” and which use goes against “rules of humanitarian law.” NBC News and Al Jazeera said that Israel had fired white phosphorus, a chemical weapon it has used in the past, but the reports have not been confirmed. Haaretz reports that 13 Israeli soldiers have also been killed this weekend during the operation.

In a strong worded statement, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the military operation as an “atrocious action” and called for “an immediate end to the Israeli military operation in Gaza and the rocket fire.” John Kerry meanwhile is expected in Cairo where he will try to renew global efforts to push for a ceasefire.

MH17: NEW BATTLES AS INVESTIGATORS ARRIVE
Three Dutch investigators arrived this morning in the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk where they are expected to be joined later by Malaysian officials, as calls for an international investigation into the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 continue. Simultaneously, reports came out of an assault on Donetskby Ukrainian troops with a leader of the pro-Russian rebels saying that at least four Kiev tanks were trying to break into the city.

Tensions between Ukraine and the West on the one hand and Russia on the other hand escalated over the weekend, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announcing that Washington was in possession of an “enormous amount of evidence” that pro-Russian rebels were responsible for shooting down the aircraft with the complicity of Moscow. Early today, Vladimir Putin reiterated calls for security for the international investigators and criticized those who “use this tragedy for any kind of vested interest.”

More than 250 bodies have been recovered so far, with hundreds of people still involved in the search operation in the area. There were several reports over the weekend indicating the rebels in control of the region were blocking the proper recovery and storage of the victims’ bodies.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
Meanwhile in Saint Petersburg, Russian youth have never been so enamored with Vladimir Putin, reports Swiss daily Le Temps. “At the next door, a small team discusses the best way to support Putin's government policies, writing the major lines on a white board. The network, created a year ago, is based on some essential principles: against gay marriage, in support of Putin, and promoting idea that the four principal religions should be Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism. They also aim to protect the Russian language. For this reason, their actions so far have focused primarily on the events in Ukraine. The first one consisted of installing stands to show passersby “how civilized countries use old tires — for flower pots or sports equipment — instead of burning them like in Maidan.”

Read the full article, Putin As Youth Idol For Russia's Anti-Maidan Movement.

IRAN ELIMINATES ENRICHED URANIUM
The United Nations’ nuclear agency said that Iran has completed the process of converting or diluting its 20%-enriched nuclear material, as agreed last year as part of the negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program. According to AP, the move reflects “Iran's desire not to derail the diplomatic process.” Over the weekend, the United States and the other five countries involved in historic discussions with Iran agreed to push yesterday’s deadline to November 24. “There are still significant gaps on some core issues,” explained the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

PRIVATE HELP TO SAVE WOULD-BE IMMIGRANTS
An Italian-American couple based in Malta have taken the rescuing of migrants coming into Italy’s water into their own hands, launching "Operation Moas" — Migrant Offshore Aid Station. Regina Catrambone and her husband Christopher wanted to "make sure that people do not die in desperation," and their inaugural mission will embark in August. Funded by the philanthropic couple, a team will use drone technology and a boat once involved in search-and-rescue in the U.S., but will not compete with Maltese or Italian rescuers. Read more about the operation from Malta Today. Over the past few days the Italian Navy has rescued more than 4,000 migrants, raising the total number for this year to a staggering 70,000.

FAST FOOD SCANDAL IN CHINA
China is facing a new food safety scandal after a media report revealed that a supplier sold expired meat to McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut. According to news agency Xinhua, the Shanghai food and drug administration suspended the operations of the supplier, which said it would cooperate in the investigation. At the end of 2013, KFC had already been affected by a food safety scandal over the quality of the chicken it sold.

THREE ACTORS GONE
In the span of three days, three acting legends have died: Stritch, Angulo, Garner. Read from our Farewell page.

YOUNG BRITISH OPEN CHAMPION
At the age of 25, Rory McIlroy has nabbed his third grand slam golf title, with a two-shot victory at the British Open. Read more from CBS.

MIDDLE EAST FRIENDSHIPS AND ENMITIES EXPLAINED
Struggling to keep up with who supports who in the Middle East? This simple chart will get you started with the basic friendships and enmities in the region.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD

PREHISTORIC GEOGRAPHY
Researchers in Tasmania found evidence suggesting that the island, which lies south of Australia, has prehistoric North American roots.

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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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