Geopolitics

Iran Resumes Nuclear Program, Starving South Sudan, Japanese Apology

Hurricane Arthur seen from space.
Hurricane Arthur seen from space.
Worldcrunch

Thursday, July 3, 2014

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN STRIKES CONTINUE
Israel’s air force and Palestinian militants exchanged fire for another night, with 15 air strikes in Gaza leaving at least 10 Palestinians injured. The New York Times reported that multiple rockets were also fired from across the border, with two Israeli houses hit in the border town of Sderot, though no injuries were reported. This came after violent clashes yesterday, as Palestinians demanded justice for those who kidnapped and burned the body of a 16-year-old Palestinian. That murder came as apparent retaliation following the recovery of the slain bodies of three abducted Israeli teenagers. The investigation into the murder of the young Palestinian is still ongoing, and the BBC explains that his burial, planned for this afternoon, would be delayed while the police carrying a post-mortem examination.

SAUDI ARABIA MOVES TROOPS TO IRAQ BORDER
Saudi Arabia is said to have deployed 30,000 troops to its border with Iraq after footage emerged yesterday suggesting that Iraqi soldiers were leaving their posts at the border, Al Jazeera reports. This comes after British analysts said yesterday that Iran had followed in the footsteps of Russia and had sent attack jets to help the Iraqi army fight back the Islamist militant group ISIS.

VERBATIM
"There was a wish to humiliate me," the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Wednesday evening in an interview on national television. Sarkozy was put under formal investigation Tuesday for allegations of corruption, trafficking influence and receiving information violating professional secrecy.

4 MILLION THREATENED BY FAMINE IN SOUTH SUDAN
Famine is likely to plague four million people by August, “if the conflict in South Sudan continues, and more aid cannot be delivered,” the BBC quotes British aid agencies as saying in an alarming report. With over one million people displaced since the crisis turned violent in December 2013, and thousands dead in what some have described as the beginning of an ethnic cleansing, the Disasters Emergency Committee warned it had less than half of the $194 million required to "prevent the growing food crisis in South Sudan from turning into a catastrophe."

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
Inspired by the active lifestyle of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Pope Francis’s timetable would wear out any 40-something, writes La Stampa’s Andrea Tornielli: “‘He decides his own agenda,’ Vatican's spokesperson Father Federico Lombardi told La Stampa, ‘and has a very intense pace of life because he feels he has been called to serve the Lord with all his might. He never took holidays when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires either.’ Even on Tuesdays, the day of the week traditionally free of commitments or private audiences scheduled so the popes could relax a little bit, Francis doesn’t slow down. Instead of using this free morning to rest, he fills it with rescheduled meetings.
Read the full article, Papal Work Ethic: From 4:45 AM Wakeup, Portrait Of A Tireless Pope Francis.

MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD


IRAN NUCLEAR TALKS ENTER LAST PHASE
Talks around Iran’s controversial nuclear program are resuming today in Vienna, as Tehran and the five permanent members of the UN’s Security Council plus Germany are looking to reach a solution, with AFP suggesting that they could go “all the way to the July 20 finish line.”

7x8
British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne may not know his times tables.

XI JINPING VISITS SOUTH KOREA
China’s President Xi Jinping is in Seoul where he will meet his South Korean counterpart Park Geun-hye in a visit aimed at reinforcing economic and diplomatic ties between the two countries. According to Reuters, North Korea will also be on the agenda, with President Park expected to ask China to increase its pressure on Pyongyang to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons. The New York Times sees Xi’s visit as a “move that appears to signal his resolve to unsettle America’s alliances in Northeast Asia,” describing the relationship between Seoul and Tokyo, two close American allies, as “frosty.” Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced it would lift some sanctions on North Korea tomorrow, following progress on talks about the kidnapping of Japanese people during the cold War.

SNAPSHOT
Just hours before Tropical Storm Arthur was upgraded to a Hurricane, the International Space Station snapped this photo over the Atlantic.

HOW TO APOLOGIZE IN JAPANESE
A video of a Japanese politician apologizing over suspicions that he misappropriated $30,000 of taxpayers’ money has gone viral in Japan. Check out why.

— Crunched by Marc Alves.
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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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