BBC, THE GUARDIAN, ITV, THE TELEGRAPH, SKY NEWS, PRESS ASSOCIATION (UK)
LONDON- One of the two injured suspects has been named after Wednesday afternoon’s terrorist machete murder of a soldier outside a military barracks in southeast London.
Both alleged attackers were wounded and arrested by armed police in the aftermath of the spectacular murder in broad daylight in the Woolwich section of the capital.
The Guardian named one of the two men as Michael Adebolajo. The Telegraph writes that their British accents suggested that they were “home-grown” terrorists and security sources said they did not believe anyone else was involved in the incident.
Witnesses and cell phone camera footage confirmed that the attackers were taking revenge for Western wars in Muslim countries. "I killed him because he kills Muslims over there and I am fed up that kill people kill Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan," one of the attackers was quoted as saying.
A Cobra meeting, chaired by Prime Minister David Cameron, took place on Thursday morning to plan appropriate measures in response to the attack. Much of the incident was recorded by the public and published on social media sites such as Twitter, with TV station ITV obtaining graphic footage of one the attackers wielding a bloodied meat cleaver and making political statements.
According to the BBC, one of the priorities for those investigating the killing will be to establish whether it was a "lone wolf" attack, or the result of a wider conspiracy - possibly with links to al-Qaeda.
As counter-terrorist police investigate the attack, the strategy meeting was attended by the mayor of London, the Home and Foreign secretaries, head of MI5, and head of the Metropolitan Police force, among others.
A statement from Cameron's office said that “There was an operational update from the police and agencies into the ongoing investigation and an update from the MOD Ministry of Defence on protective security. There was a discussion about community cohesion. The strength and unity of response from Muslim community leaders was recognised and commended by ministers and others around the table.”
In a late morning press conference, Cameron declared that one of the best ways of defeating terrorism is to go about our normal lives.
It was confirmed Thursday morning that the man was a soldier, but has not yet been named. A statement from Scotland Yard said the man’s next of kin had been informed but he has not been formally identified.
Tributes have been left outside the barracks and a Facebook page accumulated more than 1 million likes by Thursday morning.
The Telegraph quotes witnesses as saying that the men used a car to run over the soldier just yards from the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, before setting about him with knives and a meat cleaver as if they were “trying to remove organs”. One unconfirmed report suggested that he had been beheaded.
Both men were wounded by armed police in the aftermath of the murder and one of the suspects is in a serious condition while the other is also being treated for injuries. Both are under arrest.
Sky News’ foreign affairs editor Tim Marshall said: "At least one of them, we think, has converted from Christianity, or at least a Christian background, to Islam around about 10 years ago. The murder appeared to have been planned to ensure maximum publicity, with the killers urging witnesses to take their picture “as if they wanted to be on TV.”
Riot police had to contain an English Defence League demonstration in Woolwich, while elsewhere two mosques were attacked, reports Sky News.
The Guardian quoted EDL leader Tommy Robinson as having said "They're chopping our soldiers' heads off. This is Islam. That's what we've seen today. They've cut off one of our army's heads off on the streets of London.”
Military commanders had told troops not to wear their uniforms until further notice in fear of more attacks, but the Press Association reported Thursday that at the Cobra meeting, it was agreed that issuing orders against wearing military uniforms in public would not be the right response to the outrage.
Julie Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Britain pointed out that the British Muslim community had been quick to condemn the atrocity and warned against letting the far right exploit the situation.
Mayor of London, Boris Johnson declared: The blame lay "wholly and exclusively in the deluded mindset of the people who did it.”
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.
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
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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