‘We need to talk about male rape’: DR Congo survivor speaks out

“If I talked about it, I would have been separated from the people. Even those who treated me would not have shaken my hands.”

Stephen Kigoma was raped during the conflict in his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He described his ordeal in an interview with the BBC’s Alice Muthengi, calling for more survivors to come forward.

“I hid that I was a male rape survivor. I couldn’t open up – it’s a taboo,” he said.

“As a man, I can’t cry. People will tell you that you are a coward, you are weak, you are stupid.”

The rape took place when men attacked Stephen’s home in Beni, a city in north-eastern DR Congo.

“They killed my father. Three men raped me, and they said: ‘You are a man, how are you going to say you were raped?’

“It’s a weapon they use to make you silent.”

After fleeing to Uganda in 2011, Stephen got medical help – but only after a physiotherapist treating him for a back problem realised there was more to his injuries.

He was taken to see a doctor treating survivors of sexual violence, where he was the only man in the ward.

“I felt undermined. I was in a land I didn’t belong to, having to explain to the doctor how it happened. That was my fear.”

Stephen was able to get counselling through the Refugee Law Project, an NGO in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, where he was one of six men speaking about their ordeal.

But they’re far from being the only ones.

Police not an option

The Refugee Law Project, which has investigated male rape in DR Congo, has also published a report on sexual violence among South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda.

It found that more than 20% of women reported being raped – compared to just 4% of men.

“The main reason that fewer men come forward is that people assume they should be invulnerable, they should fight back. They have allowed it so they must be homosexual,” Dr Chris Dolan, director of the organisation, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

Legal challenges pose a problem when it comes to men reporting rape, he added.

“In the Rome Statute [which established the International Criminal Court] you have a definition of rape that is wide enough to include women and men, but in most domestic legislation, the definition of rape involves the penetration of the vagina by the penis. That means if a man comes forward, they’ll be told it wasn’t rape, it was sexual assault.

“There’s the problem of criminalisation of same-sex activity – it revolves around penetration of the male body, not around consent or lack of consent.”

In 2016, Uganda took in more refugees than any other country in the world, and has been praised for having some of the world’s most welcoming policies towards them.

But for male rape survivors like Stephen, life there can be tough. Homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda, and going to the police to report rape is not always an option.

“When I asked the police, they said that if it has anything to do with penetration between a man and a man, it is gay,” he said.

“If it happens to a woman, we listen to them, treat them, care and listen to them – give them a voice. But what happens to men?”

Modi taking no chances with V-P elections

NDA MPs to take part in mock voting.

The vice-presidential election, scheduled for Saturday, may look like it is in the bag for the ruling NDA, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking no chances.

On Friday evening, he will meet all MPs of the NDA and the parties that have pledged support to its candidate M. Venkaiah Naidu at the G.M.C. Balayogi Auditorium in the Parliament House complex. The meeting will be different from the routine as it involves an exercise of mock voting with replicas of the ballot.

Two names

“There were 21 invalid votes polled in the presidential election, and many of them were from the BJP. It was felt, therefore, that there should be a demo of the voting process again,” said a senior office-bearer of the BJP.

The ballot will have the names of the two candidates in the fray: Mr. Naidu and Gopalkrishna Gandhi, who has been put up by the Opposition. Mr. Modi will also take part in the exercise as an MP.

At the meeting, all parties of the NDA will express their support for Mr. Naidu. This will be followed by a cultural programme and a dinner. The cultural programme is being arranged by Union Minister Mahesh Sharma.

Drug companies flock to supercharged T-cells in fight against autoimmune disease

Researchers in both academia and industry are turning to immune-suppressing cells to clamp down on autoimmune disorders, and the effort is building to a fever pitch.

On 24 July, pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly of Indianapolis, Indiana, announced that it would pay up to US$400 million to support the development of a drug — which entered clinical trials in March — that stimulates these cells, called regulatory T cells. And in January, Celgene of Summit, New Jersey, announced plans to buy a company working on a similar therapy for $300 million.

Other companies, from tiny biotechs to pharmaceutical heavyweights, are also investing in an approach that could yield treatments for a variety of disorders caused by an immune attack on the body’s own cells. Such conditions include type 1 diabetes, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

“It’s a field that’s just, like, crazy,” says David Klatzmann, an immunologist at Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, who has been studying regulatory T cells and advises a Paris company called ILTOO Pharma. “The competition is coming very hard. It’s going to be exciting to see where it goes.”

Booster molecule

T cells are often thought of as key foot soldiers in the immune system’s battle against foreign invaders. But there are many kinds of T cell, each armed with a different set of skills. Regulatory T cells serve to dampen immune responses — rather than attack invaders — and are important for preventing autoimmunity.

People with disorders caused by an autoimmune attack often also have reduced levels of regulatory T-cell activity, leading scientists to suspect that bolstering such cells could reduce the immune system’s attack on the body.

To boost these cells, many researchers — now including those at Lilly and Celgene — are turning to a molecule called interleukin-2 (IL-2). High doses of IL-2 stimulate the ‘effector’ T cells that attack invaders, and in 1992, US regulators approved the treatment for some people with cancer, to prompt immune responses against the tumours. But low doses of IL-2 — roughly ten times lower than those used to treat cancer — instead stimulate regulatory T cells, and have relatively little effect on effector T cells.

This observation was made in the 1990s, but some researchers resisted the idea of using IL-2 to treat people with autoimmune disorders, even at low doses. The high doses used in cancer treatment are notoriously toxic, and can be fatal. “Initially, lots of people were so afraid to use it,” says Di Yu, an immunologist at the Australian National University in Canberra. “They have some bitter memories of IL-2.”

Molecular tweaks

Gradually, a handful of promising small clinical trials have begun to overcome those concerns. And in 2011, a pair of studies provided the first clinical evidence that the approach could work. One of these was in graft-versus-host disease1, a condition that can occur when transplanted bone marrow produces immune cells that attack its new host, and the other was in an autoimmune disorder caused by hepatitis C virus infection2. Researchers have also launched other studies in type 1 diabetes and lupus. The lower doses seem, so far, to be much safer than the doses used for cancer treatment.

Even so, there are still concerns about how specific the IL-2 treatment can be — any potential stimulation of effector T-cell responses in a patient who is already undergoing an autoimmune attack could be dangerous. “It’s a robust field, but a challenging field,” says Jeffrey Bluestone, an immunologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who has advised several companies on regulatory T-cell projects. “It’s still unclear that you can get a regulatory T-specific response without any other effects.”

Instead, many companies are interested in tweaking IL-2 to make it more specific. Lilly’s $400-million investment went to Nektar Therapeutics, a biotech company in San Francisco, California, that has produced chemically modified IL-2 that is less likely to bind to effector T cells. Delinia, the company that Celgene bought, which is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was developing a mutated form of IL-2 that has a similar effect.

Other researchers are investigating possible cell therapies, for example extracting regulatory T cells from a patient’s blood, expanding and activating the cells in the laboratory, and then reintroducing them into the patient. Another approach, still in the early stages of development, is to engineer regulatory T cells taken from the body to help the cells better recognize the molecules that are provoking an autoimmune response and to shut that response down.

And basic researchers are still discovering more about the biology of regulatory T cells that could aid the development of future therapies. Hongbo Chi, an immunologist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, has been studying how the metabolism of regulatory T cells differs from that of other T cells. And Alexander Rudensky, an immunologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and his colleagues, this year reported a new subset of regulatory T cell that may have a more specific function[3].

Although Chi is not directly seeking out new drugs, he has noted industry’s enthusiasm with interest. “It’s really encouraging to see those therapeutics go into clinical trials,” he says. “That motivates us basic researchers to understand the mechanism.”

चरमपंथ के ख़िलाफ़ सेना का साथ क्यों दे रहे कश्मीरी?

पिछले दो महीनों से कश्मीर घाटी में जारी हिंसक विरोध प्रदर्शनों को रोकने की कार्रवाइयों में खासा वृद्धि हुई है. खासकर उस दक्षिणी हिस्से में जिसे नई पीढ़ी के चरमपंथ का गढ़ माना जाता है.
जून-जुलाई 2017 के महीने में लश्कर-ए-तैयबा प्रमुख अबू दुजाना और लश्कर के ही एक और शीर्ष कमांडर बशीर लश्करी समेत कश्मीर घाटी में लगभग 36 चरमपंथी मारे गए, इनमें हिज़बुल मुज़ाहिद्दीन के कई शीर्ष चरमपंथी भी शामिल थे. इस सूची में नियंत्रण रेखा पर घुसपैठ की कोशिश में मारे गए चरमपंथी शामिल नहीं हैं.

एक ओर पुलिस और अन्य सुरक्षा एजेंसियां चरमपंथ को बेअसर करने में मिली कामयाबी का जश्न मना रही हैं, तो वहीं दूसरी तरफ़ अलगाववादियों को यह पसंद नहीं आ रहा. जेल में बंद आसिया अंद्राबी के नेतृत्व वाले महिलाओं के कट्टरवादी संगठन दुख़्तरान-ए-मिल्लत ने मारे गए चरमपंथियों की संख्या में वृद्धि पर खुलकर अपनी चिंता व्यक्त की है.

दुख़्तरान-ए-मिल्लत की महासचिव नाहिदा नसरीन ने 22 जून को एक बयान में कहा, “मारे जा रहे चरमपंथियों की संख्या बढ़ गई है. हम आज़ादी के समर्थक और चरमपंथी गुटों से आग्रह करते हैं कि इतनी बड़ी संख्या में मुजाहिदीनों की मौत के पीछे कमियों को तलाशें और साथ ही गोलीबारी के दौरान उन्हें बचाने की कोशिश में लगे युवाओं की पहचान करें.

पुलिस और सेना समेत अन्य सुरक्षाकर्मियों को चरमपंथियों की मौज़ूदगी की अधिक से अधिक सटीक सूचनाएं मिल रही हैं. जहां एक ओर यह उनके संबंधित ख़ुफ़िया विभागों की दक्षता को दिखाता है तो वहीं दूसरी तरफ़ एक कठोर सच को भी ज़ाहिर करता है कि अब पहले की तुलना में कश्मीर के लोग सुरक्षाबलों की मदद के लिए आगे आ रहे हैं. दुख़्तरान-ए-मिल्लत का बयान यही इशारा करता है.

योगी आदित्यनाथ की सरकार में अपने ही क्यों हैं ख़फ़ा?

उत्तर प्रदेश सरकार स्वच्छ प्रशासन, कार्यकुशलता और जनता के हित में कार्य करने के जहां तमाम दावे कर रही है, वहीं उसकी पार्टी के ही ज़िम्मेदार नेता और मंत्री उस पर सवाल उठाकर सरकार की कार्यप्रणाली पर संदेह खड़े कर रहे हैं.

सरकार को बने अभी चार महीने ही हुए हैं, लेकिन पार्टी के कई नेताओं और विधायकों की तो छोड़िए एक विभाग के कैबिनेट मंत्री ही दूसरे विभाग की कार्यप्रणाली पर नाराज़गी ज़ाहिर कर चुके हैं.

राज्य के आबकारी मंत्री जय प्रताप सिंह ने पिछले दिनों ऊर्जा मंत्री श्रीकांत शर्मा को पत्र लिखकर उनके इलाक़े में बिजली व्यवस्था की अनियमतितताओं की ओर ध्यान दिलाया तो ये पत्र राजनीतिक जगत में सुर्खियों में आ गया.

बिजली का मुद्दा

जय प्रताप सिंह कहते हैं, “दरअसल, हमें क़रीब डेढ़ दशक से जर्जर व्यवस्था हर क्षेत्र में मिली है. ज़ाहिर है बिजली भी उनमें से एक है. हमारे इलाक़े के कुछ विधायकों ने शिकायत की बिजली की स्थिति ख़राब है. उन लोगों ने इस बारे में मुख्यमंत्री से भी बात की थी. लेकिन जब बात नहीं बनी तो हमने ऊर्जा मंत्री को पत्र लिखा.”

जय प्रताप सिंह ने अपने पत्र में साफ़-साफ़ लिखा कि मुख्यमंत्री और ऊर्जा मंत्री के निर्देशों के बावजूद उनके इलाक़े में लोगों को पर्याप्त बिजली नहीं मिल पा रही है और यदि यही स्थिति बनी रही तो ये पार्टी और सरकार के लिए ठीक नहीं होगा.

दरअसल, ये अकेला मामला नहीं बल्कि इस तरह के कई मौक़े आए जब पार्टी के जनप्रतिनिधियों ने अपनी ही सरकार की कार्यप्रणाली पर उंगली उठाई. हमीरपुर के एक विधायक अशोक चंदेल तो विधान सभा में कहने लगे कि छोटे-मोटे प्रशासनिक अधिकारी तक उनकी बात नहीं सुनते हैं.

आम आदमी तक…

वहीं बांदा ज़िले के एक विधायक राजकरन पिछले दिनों अवैध खनन के ख़िलाफ़ धरने पर बैठ गए. उनका कहना था कि प्रशासन उनकी बातें नहीं सुनता है और वो पार्टी में या मंत्रियों से शिकायत करते हैं तो उनकी सुनी नहीं जाती.

यही नहीं, पार्टी के कई सांसद भी इस बारे में अक़्सर शिकायत करते रहते हैं.

राज्य सरकार के प्रवक्ता श्रीकांत शर्मा इस बात को तो स्वीकार करते हैं कि कुछ जगह असंतोष हो सकता है, लेकिन उनका कहना है कि ऐसी शिकायतों पर कार्रवाई होती ज़रूर है.

सरकार की छवि

श्रीकांत शर्मा कहते हैं, “पार्टी में लोकतंत्र है और विधायकों से लेकर आम आदमी तक अपनी बात कह सकता है. जब तक लोग समस्याएं बताएंगे नहीं तो सरकार को पता कैसे चलेगा. रही बात उसके बाद की तो सरकार इन्हें दूर करने की पूरी कोशिश करती है. हमें ये भी पता चला है कि प्रशासन में बैठे कुछ लोगों की आदत ख़राब हो चुकी है. उन लोगों को भी चेतावनी दी गई है कि सुधर जाएं नहीं तो कार्रवाई होगी.”

ऐसे ढेरों उदाहरण हैं जब राज्य के बीजेपी नेताओं ने सीधे तौर पर सरकार की कार्यप्रणाली पर नाराज़गी ज़ाहिर की है.

जानकारों का कहना है कि ऐसा न सिर्फ़ अनुभवहीनता के कारण हो रहा है बल्कि इसलिए भी कि सरकार में शक्ति के कई केंद्र हैं.