No Good AirAsia News, Afghanistan Mission Ends, 2014 In Review

At Juanda Airport, relatives of the victims of the AirAsia plane crash
At Juanda Airport, relatives of the victims of the AirAsia plane crash

Monday, December 29, 2014

The head of Indonesia’s search-and-rescue agency has said that AirAsia flight QZ8501, which disappeared yesterday with 162 people on board, is likely “at the bottom of the sea,” CNN reports. Search operations have so far failed to locate the aircraft, which was flying from Indonesia to Singapore. It is the third such incident to affect a Malaysian company this year, after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and the downing of MH17 in eastern Ukraine. Although high-profile plane incidents have made headlines over the past year, 2014 has seen the fewest crashes in more than 80 years. Still, if those on board the AirAsia aircraft are declared dead, the number of casualties would reach a 10-year high of 1,320.

Rescuers worked through the night despite difficult weather conditions to evacuate passengers from a burning ferry traveling from Greece to Italy. At least one person died, though a witness told Italian news agency ANSA that he had seen four dead bodies. At least 363 people have been rescued, but 115 were still on board this morning. Italian prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation into the incident.


NATO formally ended its 13-year mission in Afghanistan yesterday, a move the Afghanistan Taliban called “a clear indication of their defeat and disappointment,” AFP reports. The group vowed to continue to fight “so long as a single foreigner remains in Afghanistan in a military uniform.” About 12,500 NATO troops will remain in Afghanistan as part of a “training and support” mission.

As Die Welt’s Fanny Jiménez writes, German researchers have discovered the neurology and psychology at play when we touch our faces, scratching our noses or stroking our chins. It turns out that we do this when we are anxious or overwhelmed. “Their conclusion is that spontaneous face-touching helps to regulate cognitive overload and stress,” the journalist writes. “This ‘self-stimulation,’ as the researchers call it, balances out disturbances in processing information and emotional swings.”
Read the full article, Unmasking The Mystery Of Why People Touch Their Faces.

Greek parliament members have failed to name a new president, paving the way for a snap general election that Reuters says “could derail the international bailout program it needs to keep paying its bills.” Far-left anti-austerity party Syriza is currently leading the polls, and a date for the election will be announced within 10 days.

Sony Pictures’ controversial comedy The Interview has earned the company $15 million in online sales, far more than the $2.8 million earned from the limited theater release four days ago, The Verge reports. The movie, which is still struggling for a good review, has aggravated the already tense U.S.-North Korea relationship, and the scandal escalated further over the weekend when North Korea compared Barack Obama to “a monkey in a tropical forest.”

  • South Korea announced it had suggested resuming high-level talks with North Korea next month on issues that stand in the way of unification. Pyongyang has yet to respond. South Korea and Japan, meanwhile, finalized a military pact today to share intelligence about North Korea’s missile and nuclear program.

Today marks one year since Al Jazeera journalists Baher Mohamed, Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste were arrested under what the news network says were “false charges of aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and spreading false news.” The three were handed jail sentences ranging from seven to 10 years in June, but their appeal will be heard in court Thursday.

We all share the same sky, but each of us gazes up from a unique place on earth.
Find out what Simon, Italy’s most trusted astrologer, has to say in this week’s horoscope.

U.S. and British intelligence agencies NSA and GCHQ regard encryption as “a threat” and have gone to extreme lengths to crack all types of secure communications, documents released by Edward Snowden reveal. In one striking example, the leaked documents show that the NSA has been collecting Skype data since 2011, even before Microsoft bought it. The agency has also targeted VPNs and other protocols, although some programs are still proving to be too difficult to crack. Read more in English from Der Spiegel.


Worldcrunch recalls the events of 2014 — in 57 seconds.

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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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