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A Noida Resident Shares How It Turned From A Dusty Town Into A Buzzing Mega City

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By Gita Negi:

My parents shifted to Noida in the year 1985, from Delhi. Noida or New Okhla Industrial Development Authority – this full form was a very popular question in general knowledge tests in our schools and carried a prestigious one mark – was planned by the initiative of Sanjay Gandhi, a man who my mother feels had tremendous potential.

I have literally grown from a teething toddler to a self-assured woman in the folds of this city and seen it grow right in front of my eyes.

My earliest memories of Noida go back to the time when there were hardly any apartments except for the one built for defence personnel but only individual houses. The tallest building in the city was the N.T.P.C. office in Sector 24 which could be seen from anywhere you went. I still remember how as a child I thought that the N.T.P.C. building followed our car just like the moon.

Because some of the sectors were still developing, my mother would not let us go beyond Sector 56 as she thought that anything beyond that was too far or, in her words, a jungle. And now when we see people going to Sector 127 or other such triple digit sector for work or to live, we can wonder at how fast development has caught up with our once small city.

There were predominantly two kinds of people who lived in the city then, first the ones who were the original inhabitants and occupied the villages located just behind the well-planned sectors, and the others who had come down from other cities for work and chose Noida for its proximity to Delhi and a cheaper cost of living. The latter occupied the concrete houses in the well-planned sectors.

There were seldom any conflicts between the two groups and they more or less kept to themselves without crossing individual boundaries of any kinds. Sure there were cases of murder and theft, but not so rampant and people knew how to keep themselves safe. So, there were strict timings and hours to visit a particular place. Most of the city usually wore a solemn look past eight or nine o’clock and hardly anyone ventured out after that, except for a few drunkards or people working late in factories.

The only market that Noida boasted of was the Atta market which housed cheap quality stuff, right from clothes to kitchen utensils. But because malls had not made their entry yet, people only went to the market if it was really required as market hopping was not quite in vogue.

But if someone wanted quality products, they had to travel all the way to Delhi. In rickety private buses that were filled beyond capacity and whose conductors yelled “Naveda Naveda Baarah Baes Baarah Baes” in cracked voices on the return journey as they informed eager passengers that the bus was headed for Noida.

This was the time when there was no DND flyover and one had to take a longer Yamuna river route to enter the capital. And later, when there was talk of a road being built to directly connect Noida to Delhi, many people thought it was just a big lie or just one of those government schemes that never see the light of the day.

There were weekly markets that moved from sector to sector and were named after the day of the week on which they camped at a particular place. So, you had a Monday market or a Tuesday market and so on. Basically, the same sellers moved from one place to another as these markets fulfilled the demand of vegetables and other random stuff. All kinds of people came to these ad hoc markets where shiny sarees and baby frocks hung temptingly on wooden poles. The women haggled over vegetable prices as large plastic bags hung from their shoulders while some random men picked up a carrot or a cucumber and merrily walked past the stall. Unseen and uncaught. And it is in these markets that I learned to stealthily paste a sticker from the buckets or jars that my mother bought, on the backs of unsuspecting people.

And then it happened. The big event that was to change how Noida looked and how it was perceived.

The setting up of one BPO after another brought in massive changes and somewhere down the line, Noida as we knew it became a blurred memory.

Agricultural plots were sold to accommodate these money churning organisations. Simple and content villagers became owners of Jaguars and BMWs, overnight. The lazy Atta market became the hub of parties and aimless hanging out, where newly rich boys flashed their cars and Rayban glasses even during the night, while loud music blared from their law-defying beasts. Tinted glasses and thumping engines became the new mark of success and swag.

Sector 18 rapidly grew from a sleepy market to a glitzy urban mela. And with the setting up of Noida’s first mall – Sab Mall – which was nothing but a cluster of a few shops, the culture of mall hopping was firmly set forever.

McDonald’s became a prominent landmark, where hogging on a burger and gulping it down with icy cold Coke, became the easiest way to come close to the dream of an American life. And tiny stalls selling momos, rolls and other exotic sounding delicacies, became as common as corner pan shops.

After the BPOs took care of the land, they pulled in all kinds of people to work for them. When the city could not satiate their demand, new hires were lured from other cities, which in turn gave birth to the paying guest culture. Suddenly, one could see unknown people living with one’s neighbours, occupying their vacant rooms or floors. These new people brought with them a culture of late night shopping and eating out. Every sector became a mini hub for quick snacks and a quicker meetup.

When you visit Noida now, you see that the quiet and slumber has given way to an unexplained hurry and urgency. There is a melee of crowds almost everywhere and the incessant honking of cars at the oddest hours. The thin line that separates a small city from a big one has not only further slimmed but almost disappeared. This is not just the story of Noida, but of several other cities which have met the same fate. Where the new has completely replaced the old and stories of the immediate past resemble folklore. There were long power outages then as well that elongated our play time in open spaces. But the only thing that has changed is that now there is a fear of something unknown lurking in the dark.

As I write this piece, I am filled with an overwhelming nostalgia and feel as if a hundred years have passed since I once walked back home from school alone, without the fear of being harassed or run over by a speeding Mercedes.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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