Welcome to Thursday, where WHO chides the EU's slow vaccination rollout, two of Hong Kong's best-known democracy leaders are convicted and Japan has a pricey solution for those missing airline food. Buenos Aires daily Clarin also has the scoop on the meat industry's beef with a former Beatle.
• COVID update: The world's second most populous country India starts mass vaccination campaign for people aged 45 and older, as the number of daily cases hits a record high. Brazil has detected a new coronavirus variant in Sao Paulo state, said to be similar to the South African variant. France is about to enter a third national lockdown, with schools closing and travel between different regions banned. Meanwhile, WHO calls the rollout of vaccines in Europe "unacceptably slow".
• Hong Kong pro-democracy activists found guilty: Seven major pro-democracy activists, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai and Hong Kong's "father of democracy" Martin Lee, have been found guilty of unauthorized assembly charges.
• California shooting: Four people were killed and two injured in a shooting in an office building near Los Angeles. An exchange of gunfire with the police left the suspect wounded. So far, no motive for the attack has been given by the authorities.
• Day 4 of Derek Chauvin's trial: A newly disclosed body-camera video displays Derek Chauvin's defending his actions after George Floyd left in an ambulance, with the Minneapolis police officer saying "he Floyd was probably on something" and needed to be under "control".
• Facebook removes Trump video: Donald Trump's daughter-in-law Lara Trump reveals that Facebook removed a clip of an interview with the former U.S. president from its platform. Trump has been banned from the platform, along with Twitter, since the insurrection at the Capitol, in early January.
• Italy bans cruise ships from Venice: The Italian government has officially banned cruise ships from the center of Venice, with 2.2 million euros allocated for the construction of berths outside the lagoon.
• Google cancels April Fools for the second time: With much of the world still mired in the COVID-19 crisis, Google has decided not to make April Fools' Day pranks for the second year in a row. Worldcrunch, likewise, couldn't muster much new humor — but we can't resist sharing some archive footage of foolishness past.
"Endless," laments French regional daily L'Yonne Républicaine, a day after President Emmanuel Macron announced tougher COVID-19 restrictions nationwide.
Argentina's meat industry has a beef with Paul McCartney
It goes without saying that beef is a big deal in Argentina, where barbecuing remains an almost sacrosanct pillar of social life. And yet, as of January, consumption has dropped to an historic low of 41 kilograms per person annually. Could it be that the rise of vegetarianism and veganism are taking a toll? Or could the former Beatles band mate Paul McCartney be to blame for that decline in the BBQ-loving country? asks Colombian daily Clarin.
That's the question Argentine beef lobbyists in what's known as the IPCVA, the meat industry's promotion institute, are asking, as this past January, former Beatles singer Paul McCartney wrote to Argentine President Alberto Fernández to ask him to join the Meat Free Monday initiative. To gauge the impact, IPCVA asked a sample population of 1,100 nationwide how they reacted to such actions on the part of environmental or vegan activists. The result? Seven out of 10 said that such campaigns did not lead to reduced meat consumption. Respondents found such actions ineffective, in other words.
Why, then, are Argentine's cutting back on beef? For money reasons, most likely. That, at least, is the conclusion of the IPCVA, which accuses pro-vegetarian activists of being unnecessarily divisive. Their campaigns merely add to the "the social divides we sadly have in our country," the institute deplores.
In this case, the lobby group argues, there's a "food divide," with people expressing their opposition to one another "in the way each of us manifests his or her way of eating."
Most of the poll's respondents effectively blamed vegans for feeding this gastronomic divide, accusing them of being more "narrow-minded" than meat eaters.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
Caribbean frog hops on banana, flies to France — only banana is eaten
Perhaps it was looking to make a statement about the carbon footprint of the food industry, or maybe it was hoping to hop up the Eiffel Tower some day. No one will ever know why (or how) the tiny Guadeloupean frog clung to a banana for 6,400 kilometers to land in France, but the odd adventure ends well.
It begins with a student in Bordeaux who was about to bite into a banana she'd just bought at a local market, when she noticed a tiny semi-translucent creature on the peel. According to FranceInfo, the little-amphibian-that-could measures only 3 centimeters and is believed to be a Barlagne Robber frog, known as eleutherodactylus barlagnei. Commonly found in Guadeloupe, the tree frog has been listed as endangered by the United Nations' Environment Program (UNEP) since 1991.
France Info reports the Bordeaux-bound creature's life was "hanging by a thread." Yet kind locals went to great lengths to keep the courageous banana-rider alive. First, the startled student called Vénus, a local animal protection society, which didn't know how to take care of the exotic creature. A veterinarian working for the regional department for protecting local species finally found a specialist who adopted the little grenouille and named it Guaba. It's a heartfelt story of animal appreciation in a country where frogs found in grocery stores usually end up on someone's dinner plate.
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
Japan's biggest airline All Nippon Airways is offering $541 first-class dining experience aboard its planes, but on the tarmac — the latest in the industry's efforts to put its grounded fleet to use during the pandemic.
A bloodbath is imminent.
— During a close-door meeting, UN envoy Christine Schraner Burgener warns the Security Council of impending civil war in Myanmar, urging it "to take collective action and do what is right, what the people of Myanmar deserve and prevent a multi-dimensional catastrophe in the heart of Asia." The warning comes as rights organization Save the Children reports that at least 43 children have been killed by armed forces in the country since the Feb.1 military coup.
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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