Welcome to Monday, where Russia is warned of Navalny "consequences," Egypt's second deadly train crash in a month kills 11, and Mars gets its first ever helicopter ride. Le Monde also explores the feeling of deep injustice surrounding grieving, one year into the pandemic.
• Navalny to be transferred to hospital: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny will be transferred to hospital according to the Russian penitentiary service. The pro-democracy activist is said to have lost 50 kilos after going on a hunger strike. Yesterday the U.S., France and Germany warned Russia against further sanctions if Navalny died in jail.
• Russia-Czech Republic spying row: The Russian government has announced that 20 Czech diplomats have 24 hours to leave the country, in retaliation for the Czech government's decision to expel 18 Russian diplomats on Saturday. The Russian diplomats are suspected of being intelligence operatives involved in the 2014 blast that caused two deaths.
• 11 dead after train crashes in Egypt: At least 11 people were killed and 98 injured after four carriages of a train derailed in Egypt's province north of Cairo. Investigations over the second deadly rail accident in the country in a month have been ordered by President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.
• Syria to hold presidential election in May: After ten years of civil war, Syria will be holding presidential elections next month. Current President President Bashar al-Assad is not likely to face serious opposition.
• Fire in Cape Town: A wildfire coming from Cape Town's Table Mountain National Park is spreading to the nearby University of Cape Town campus, badly damaging historic buildings and forcing hundreds of students to evacuate.
• Australia opens travel bubble with New Zealand: For the first time in more than a year, Australian residents are allowed to travel to New Zealand without having to quarantine.
• Mars helicopter breakthrough: NASA reports its Ingenuity aircraft flew above the Martian surface in the first powered, controlled flight on another planet.
Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport opposes a "Super No" to the creation of a European soccer Super League, made of English, Spanish and Italian clubs. The UEFA warned that the clubs taking part in that breakaway league would be banned from all other competitions. Critics, including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, say this new league could destroy domestic leagues and runs counter to the integrity of sports.
Bad mourning, relatives of France's COVID victims seek solace
Family members who lost a loved one in the early months of the pandemic, at the height of the restrictions, are now demanding a national day of mourning, reports Jérémie Lamothe in French daily Le Monde.
It has been a year and still the "anger," "anguish" and "feeling of injustice" resonate in Claire's voice. Her mother, Marie-Gabrielle, died in the spring of 2020 from COVID-19. She was in an isolated, long-term care unit in Charleville-sous-Bois, in northeastern France. What gnaws at Claire above all "is not having been able to say goodbye to her." At that time, France was going through its first weeks of full lockdown, with long-term care facilities and nursing homes closed to outsiders and visits forbidden.
This story echoes that of many families of COVID-19 victims from the beginning of the epidemic. Accompanying the dead in their final moments of life, seeing their face one last time and organizing a proper ceremony to remember them are essential steps in the grieving process. "But today there is an irreversible element felt by bereaved families who say to themselves: "I am missing something, and this lack, we will not be able to fill it."," explains Marie-Frédérique Bacqué, psychologist and professor of psychopathology at the University of Strasbourg.
A year has passed, but the health situation and the ever increasing death tolls spelled out each evening rekindles the pain for these families who feel they have been forgotten. To question the authorities and to help each other, they have formed an association called CoeurVide19. Created by Julie Grasset, who lost her father on March 25, the group has allowed her to regain "strength by finding people who have experienced the same thing." Together with Lionel Petitpas, who created the association Victimes du COVID-19 after the loss of his wife in March 2020, they are now asking for a national day of tribute to the deceased.
➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com
Msongamano wa magari
Swahili for "traffic jam," as the strict enforcement of COVID-19 curfew by Kenyan police around the capital Nairobi led to major roadblocks, causing uproar from the thousands of motorists (including essential workers) stranded in traffic jams over the weekend.
Austrian man gets reduced fine for "deliberately" farting at police
In Austria, they call it Darmwind — literally "bowel wind."
In June 2020, a man was fined 500 euros for intentionally letting one such Darwmind go at police officers approaching him for an identity check as he sat on a bench in a Viennese park. The Vienna Regional Administrative Court has now reduced the fine to 100 euros.
As Austrian daily Der Standard recalls, the deliberate flatulence — and the hefty fine that ensued — had made headlines last year, with international media catching wind of the affair. Police at the time had justified the inflated penalty by saying the suspect "had already behaved in a provocative and uncooperative manner" before letting her rip.
The individual had appealed the fine, arguing that the incriminated gas was merely a "biological process' that had escaped him. The suspect also argued that the targeted fart should be considered public criticism of police forces, and thus within "freedom of expression" rights.
Unconvinced by such a line of defense, the court responded that to fall within freedom of expression purview, a statement still had to convey certain "communicative content" — which, in the case of this "pure body stimulus," was not the case.
Ultimately, considering this was the man's first offense (as offensive as it may have been), the court decided to reduce the fine to 100 euros. So it seems that this singular story, as Swiss daily Le Matin concludes, is gone with the wind ...
➡️ Keep up with all the planet's police reports and plot twists on Worldcrunch.com
There will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies.
— U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said during an interview for CNN, warning that Russia "will be held accountable" if jailed Alexei Navalny dies in custody. The health of the Putin critic has significantly deteriorated since he started a hunger strike to force authorities to provide him access to outside medical care.
✍️ 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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