Welcome to Wednesday, where Derek Chauvin is convicted for murdering George Floyd, India faces a COVID "storm" and a French town finds not one but two gold treasures. We also look at how Russia is building diplomatic relationships with Pakistan just as U.S. troops are about to leave Afghanistan.
• Chauvin found guilty of Floyd's murder: Ex-police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on all counts over George Floyd's death, including second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. He faces decades in jail. As crowds around the U.S. celebrated, U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were among those reacting to the verdict, urging further progress on racial justice.
• Navalny's allies arrested: Two of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's closest friends have been arrested as Russian President Vladimir Putin is giving his annual state of the nation address. Mass protests are planned to take place throughout the world in support of the jailed Kremlin critic.
• UN seeks proof that Princess Latifa is alive: The United Nations has asked the United Arab Emirates to provide "concrete" signs of life of Princess Latifa, who has been held in detention for over three years and made a recent hidden video appeal that was broadcast by the BBC.
• EU to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030: European Union leaders have adopted ambitious legislation to be carbon-neutral by 2050 and to cut its CO2 emissions by 55% over the next ten years.
• TikTok sued over its use of children's data: Chinese app and social media Tik Tok is facing legal challenges in the UK over how it collects and uses children's data.
• Six English clubs to withdraw from Super League: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham have withdrawn from the controversial European Super League after furious backlash from fans and the UK government.
• "Joints for Jabs': American marijuana activists promoted vaccines during the informal April 20 pot holiday — also known as 4/20 — giving free weed to anyone who had been inoculated, in Washington D.C.
Minneapolis-based daily Star Tribune reports on the verdict in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of murdering George Floyd after a video captured Chauvin kneeling on the victim's throat for more than nine minutes. The killing set off a national and international wave of Black Lives Matter protests.
Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan: perils of a diplomatic triangle
Russia's foreign minister visited Pakistan for the first time in nine years — just in time for the deadline for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan. It points to an important change of actors in one of the deadliest conflict zones in the world, writes Anna Akage for Worldcrunch.
On April 6, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov arrived in Pakistan to lead conversations on Afghan peace, military supplies and cooperation in the nuclear sector. It was the first visit by a Russian official to the country since 2012. "We can confirm that Russia is willing to continue to assist in strengthening the anti-terrorist potential of Pakistan, including supplying them with appropriate equipment," Lavrov said at a press conference, as Russian daily Kommersant reports.
Lavrov's counterpart, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, described Russia as a stabilizing presence at both regional and international levels. These two foreign ministers agreed to assist Afghanistan in its fight against internal terror factions. Their motivation is simple: The increasing influence of terrorists in both northern and eastern Afghanistan is a matter of significant concern to both countries.
This is not the first time that, after numerous political and military failures on the part of the U.S. government, Russia has stepped in to both offer a helping hand and strengthen relationships. For the first time since 2001, Pakistan is not a foreign-policy priority for the new U.S. administration. For over two decades, Pakistan has been a focus of the War on Terror — but not this year. Biden's administration will be focused on managing its relationships with great powers like China and dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, including its subsequent economic challenges. And when the Americans leave, the Russians arrive.
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Town hall staff finds treasure in old French house … twice
Working at the town hall in Morez, we imagine, must be a busy yet somewhat uneventful affair: There's roadworks on the main rue de la République to take care of, planning for the reopening of the Eyewear Museum — and perhaps most stressful, worrying about budget and spending for this village of 4,800 nestled in the peaceful Jura mountains.
So imagine Mayor Laurent Petit's surprise (and delight) when his staff struck actual gold, not once, but twice in a matter of months … Money "almost heaven-sent," the mayor told France Bleu radio station: After discovering 500,000 euros worth of gold coins and bars last spring, hidden in jars of jams in a decrepit house the town had purchased for a measly 130,000 euros, a safe was recently found in the very same house, at the back of an old wardrobe.
In the safe: another trove of more than 500 gold coins, estimated to be worth between 100,000 and 150,000 euros, as local paper Voix du Jura reports.
Rumors had circulated about a hidden treasure in the three-story house in the town center, which belonged to a long line of eyewear and clock merchants. But when the last owner died last year in his 90s, the person who inherited the place chose to sell it to the town hall rather than having to deal with generations-worth of "junk."
As Mayor Petit told France 3 Regions, "the town's budget is only 6 million euros, so that'll do us good, for sure."
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
In 2020, 483 executions were reported worldwide, a decrease of 26% compared with the year before, according to Amnesty International's annual global report on death sentences and executions. The global total is the lowest in a decade, but doesn't include China, which keeps its data secret. Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia account for 88% of the reported 483 executions, with a worrying rise of 300% in Egypt in just one year.
The second wave of infections has come like a storm.
— India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a TV address, urging citizens to keep calm and stay indoors as the country faces a massive surge in COVID-19 cases and risks of shortages of hospital beds, oxygen and antiviral drugs.
✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Emma Flacard & Bertrand Hauger
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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