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Erdogan Doesn”t Like Challenges: Turks Won”t Let “Chapulling” Thaw

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By Soumya Raj:

We are stuck. We are stuck between the East and the West. Between the past and the future. On the one hand there are secular modernists, so proud of the regime they’ve constructed; you cannot breathe a critical word. They’ve got the army and a half of the state on their side. On the other hand there are the conventional traditionalists, so infatuated with the Ottoman past; you cannot breathe a single word. They’ve got the general public and the remaining half of the state on their side. What is left for us?

– Excerpt from “The Bastard of Istanbul”, by Elif Shafak.


Democracy, as a concept, is a kitsch in Turkey. The recent protests are emblematic of that. Going steady for the past one month, the people of Turkey refuse to give in, and continue to fight for the rights that have been denied to them. It is wrong to observe these protests as a “revolution”, rather, they are a much needed remedial required for the regressing democracy that is Turkey.

Turkey’s democratic regime is an exasperated adolescent (barely two decades old), and has been reborn after a tumultuous period against various coup d’états and military intrusions. The people of Turkey are restless, they are agitated and impatient, and are fighting for a more tolerant, secular and egalitarian governance. On 28th May, 2013, a small group of people occupied the Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul, protesting to save one of the last few green spaces in the city against government encroachment. The autocratic Turkish rule intends to replace the Gezi Park with the Taksim Military Barracks demolished in 1940, and also wishes to house a shopping mall in the complex. This small fire gradually ignited the whole country, urging the masses to step in and voicing the various grievances not met by Erdogan’s monocratic rule.

Spreading nationwide like a forest fire, the protests grew and arose in many parts of Turkey, also going on actively in countries where the Turkish population is a majority. On 31st May, 2013, the police attempted to dampen the protesters’ agitations by using tear gas, arresting activists and injuring hundreds. The protest and the police tyranny received wide attention online on social networking forums like Twitter and Facebook, which are also the central organizational agent of these demonstrations. Over the weeks, the subject of the protests, which have a sharp resemblance with America’s Occupy Movement, have extended to government’s encroachment, lack of freedom of expression and assembly and secularism in Turkey. Feeling threatened, Erdogan went on to say that Twitter is “the worst kind of menace for the society”, “a curse” and “all kinds of lies can be found there”. Ironically, the prime minister himself is an avid Twitter user, with about 2.5 million followers.

Erdogan’s political party, the Justice and Development Party, is deeply traditionalist and Islamic-rooted. Not used to such blatant displays of intolerance for his regime, he has, in a fit of arrogance, used despotic and disproportionately forceful measures against the people of a country who are profoundly accommodating and peaceful. For now, the protests have become a symbol of a range of people’s disapproval. Turkey needs the checks and balances of a free democracy, with the agency of different mechanisms like a press with freedom of expression, unbiased, independent judiciary, honor of minority rights and public consensus. For now the protests have sprouted a new branch with the LGBT parade, adorning the streets with rainbow hues, fighting for an anti-homophobic, transphobic, sexist, and forbearing society. The “provocateurs” consist mainly of the working-class Turks, minorities, journalists and the opposition parties who, it seems, are reluctant to back down unless their demands are met.

Erdogan seems unlikely to accept defeat and is harvesting political support from the traditionalist and orthodox strata of the public. It is finally now that Turkey is awaking from its dormancy, and the unreality and improbability of these dissensions have upset Erdogan’s rule so much that he hasn’t bitten his tongue twice before talking. He has gone ahead to term those who have aligned to protest as “extremists” and “terrorists”. Not only has he misused his power against the protesters, he has also attempted to manipulate the Turkish Constitution in his favor, altering it such that it keeps him in power perhaps till 2024.

Turkey’s democracy is backsliding, and Erdogan seems to have had a taste of power on his tongue. The dust of the movements may settle down but not until the people overthrow the dictatorship Erdogan is bent on constructing. The people of Turkey have shown remarkable unity and courage in the face of unfairness and brutality, refusing to crumble despite the tyrannous and cloudy strategies adopted by Erdogan. The people nationwide have gone into a state of permanent protest and shall not rest unless the egalitarianism and fairness promised to them is restored. The people will be stopped from “chapulling”(a term coined by the Prime Minister himself, meaning fighting for rights), and the energy of the movement will not die down, not so soon.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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