Almost 3 Decades and Counting – Khoj, a Year in Review Inspiring minds in the classroom and beyond, Khoj’s vision of a diverse yet united India endures

25, Apr 2023 | CJP Team

‘I wish to imagine a faith where everyone lives in harmony with each other – where there is no discrimination based on caste, gender, or religion.’ Sahabi, Neha, and Ruby, all of them from Class VI, write for a modular activity during a Khoj class at a school in Uttar Pradesh’s Purvanchal region.

In the academic year 2022-2023, Khoj conducted multiple programmes in collaboration with private and government schools in Mumbai as well as several regions in Uttar Pradesh, where Khoj’s Purvanchal chapter continues its work. 

Khoj is a unique initiative in the field of education that gives an opportunity to children to understand diversity, peace and harmony. We teach students to be critical in their approach to knowledge and decision making. We encourage children to go beyond the narrow confines of their syllabus, and foster an open atmosphere of learning and sharing within the classroom. The emphasis is on pluralism and inclusion. Because the future is worth fighting for. Donate now to help take Khoj to students from all sections across India. Khoj will be made available to more children in many more schools with your support.

CJP Khoj पूर्वांचल: एक नये सोच की तलाश में

Celebration of Constitutional Values

Khoj conducted these activities, engaging children, teachers, and the staff of schools to celebrate constitutional values by also commemorating Gandhi Jayanti and Savitribai Phule Jayanti respectively as Girl Child’s Day, and Human Rights Day. Students and teachers collaborated to hold events that were instrumental in drawing out the creativity of children within the classroom space to hone and discover their talents and skills – as well as engage actively with the values and critical thinking Khoj seeks to inspire. 

*Optimally conducted as regular weekly classes during the middle school years, Khoj’s modular interventions, 54 in number and counting, can also be adapted for us from Classes IV-VIII.

Dealing with difficult topics such as communal harmony and cultivating amiable, free-of- prejudice attitudes towards communities, Khoj believes that children must be allowed to have a space where they can articulate their thoughts – with and without existing prejudices, for an interactive and comprehensive learning experience to then take place. To that end, Khoj conducts workshops that involve students in writing these and not getting shamed or chastised. Instead, he or she is encouraged to think further. As one teacher notes, ‘Khoj does not teach children what to think, but how to think.’ Critical thinking, according to Khoj, is an essential lesson for an individual that will last their entire lives. 

A young student from Maharashtra writes about her dreams.

Khoj in Mumbai 

A senior teacher at Khoj, from earlier years, Zahida Sheikh, had elucidated on the importance of drawing a self-portrait for a child. It is rare that children are asked to draw themselves, she stated, and when they do it invites them to think about themselves, discover themselves, their likes, dislikes, and so on – the activity also gives teachers the opportunity to tell students that their opinions, thoughts, and creative output is valued and appreciated in an educational set up. Given the creative nature of the activity, at times, students even share personal, familiar hurdles they may be facing. Teachers then provide counselling to these students.

Children are given writing prompts and asked to write about what makes them happy or sad (‘Likes and Dislikes’ Session), their dreams, their fears, anxieties, joys or what makes them angry. Many students then write about similar concerns for example, they don’t like it when people fight in their area, when girls and boys are treated differently, or when there are fights between people from Hindu and Muslim religious backgrounds. 

Mapping a Child’s Day and Week is one interesting Module. The young person’s imagination of an ideal religion among several others. The exercise in ‘Mapping’ allows students to situate themselves in the cities they live in and also form a more informed understanding of the city they live in. One of the most fascinating modules within the Khoj Alternate Curriculum is the one on Personal (Migratory) Histories of every Child. This session lasts across two to three years being completed over time. It allows a young mind to explore the migration and origin of her/his family from village or small town to state or cross state, explore linguistic and cultural histories; bringing the class alive to diversity and pluralism.

By keeping constitutional values as central to its orientation, Khoj is invested in encouraging children to ask questions and engage in critical thinking – at the same time, places peacebuilding and conflict resolution through harmony and dialogue as an ideal practice, thereby also at the same time, these practices give children the opportunity to reach out and think, reflect, as well to implement their decisions with confidence. Khoj’s activities are crucial for instilling a sense of confidence, as attested by several teachers, in students as they explore and think about everyday social and historical elements of life with an approach that goes beyond the limited perspectives and confines of textbooks.

Khoj celebrates Gandhi Jayanti with students.

Gandhi Jayanti 

Khoj reaches out to students enrolled in schools with various languages as a medium of teaching, including but not restricted to Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, and Gujarati medium schools. With the vision of celebrating Gandhi Jayanti as a day of peace and non-violence, Khoj conducted programs with the help of teachers and students at Gujarati, Hindi, and Marathi medium schools.

Before conducting the program, Khoj’s coordinator, Noorjahan Sheikh, would go every day to the school for rehearsals with students ensuring an enthusiastic and energetic participation. Before the program was fully conceived and created, students even expressed astonishment at the very idea of celebrating Gandhi Jayanti. 

Yet when it did happen, both students, and teachers collaborated with Khoj to successfully conduct the program with gusto. Songs about Mahatma Gandhi were sung, a play on Gandhiji, and communal harmony was performed with one student playing Gandhiji, donned in complete costume -dhoti, spectacles, all, much to the excitement of everyone, leading one of the teachers to excitedly acclaim that it felt like Bapu was present amongst us again, after all. Students enacted a play on the taboos about inter-dining called ‘Lara ki Kahani,’ as well as recited poems and sang songs that brought an entire emotive aspect to the program.

Post-programme feedback was informative as students expressed candidly that they had been quite nervous and hesitant to perform and speak on stage before the program. Yet, their response to the effort was heart-warming as they expressed appreciation for Khoj for helping them do away confront stage fright while simultaneously instilling confidence and a sense of self-esteem through the program. 

Students take to the stage at Gandhi Jayanti.

Similarly, at Tank Lane, students from Tamil, Gujarat, Urdu, and Hindi medium schools engaged with Khoj to celebrate International Children’s Day on November 22, 2022.

Poems such as ‘Dekho, Dekho Bal Diwas Aaya’, ‘Beti Bhi Hai Insaan’, and ‘Bachpan’ were recited. About 17 activities were conducted by more than 30 students, each revolving around the theme, including environmental preservation and health activities. The school administration commented that the program had been both very informative as well as entertaining, and energetic. 

Students celebrate Savitribai Phule’s fights for equality on Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day

When Khoj visited a school in Mumbai to celebrate Human Rights Day, a teacher expressed curiosity about teaching young children about human rights. The program eased his doubts as it was performed with much gusto and enthusiasm by students. There were speeches, poetry, dance performances on songs, and drama being enacted. Along with this, a student dressed up as Savitribai Phule, commemorating her life on the day as she was a staunch defender of the rights of the marginalised. 

Savitribai Phule Jayanti

On January 3, 2023, an event was held celebrating the life, vision, and struggle of Savitribai Phule.  Students practiced performances of poetry, songs, and plays. As is always the case, the Khoj team discussed the event, its significance, and its need with the Principals of all the schools before the events. Students not only performed for the stage but engaged in writing speeches, poetry, and a drama based on the life of Savitribai Phule.

Khoj’s Purvanchal Chapter

Since 2021, Khoj’s Purvanchal team has been conducting programmes with schools in eastern Uttar Pradesh, namely in cities like Varanasi, Ghazipur, Mai, Jaunpur, and Azamgarh. In a place with a sustained history of violence and discrimination against Muslims, Dalits, and women, Khoj has conducted film screenings followed by lively discussions and engaging round questions and answers with students. More than 300 students were shown educational and inspirational films. Among the films screened was ‘Laddu – Ishwar-Allah Ek Hai,’ a short film directed by Sameer and Ritesh Sadhwani. It’s an engaging short comedy that centers on a young boy and themes of religious harmony.

Another film often screened for students by Khoj is by the Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami ‘Two Solutions One Problem,’ another short film about two school children and how they choose to resolve a conflict between them and the beauty of enduring friendship. These screenings are followed by lively discussions, often emotive and full of energy. For instance, after screening Dr. Saba Yumus’ film ‘Communal Harmony,’ a young girl stood up and pledged never to discriminate based on religion. These discussions post-movie are lively and charged with energy – Khoj believes in cultivating and healthy expression of students’ emotions to be a part of their educational process. Khoj is all set for innovative ways to teach. And thus, in its Purvanchal chapter, Khoj took its students in Varanasi on field trips to religious places of various religions, including a Gurdwara, a mosque, a temple, a Kabirmath, and a church. 

Students on these field trips are encouraged to ask any and all questions they may have. Khoj has received a tremendously encouraging and positive response from students at these field visits. The proliferation of constitutional values and attention to young citizens’ comprehensive development and growth remains an element to which Khoj is unwaveringly committed. Khoj believes that children need to be nurtured into actively thinking, speaking, and decision-making young citizens. In addition to these, CJP and Khoj’s team worked extensively during the COVID-19 lockdown to provide people with oxygen cylinders, rations, and other relief materials. The team also initiated a fact-finding committee in UP regarding COVID-related mass deaths. The team was in touch with schools throughout the lockdown. After the survey on deaths, Khoj distributed masks and other supplies along with the fact-finding commission’s booklet on covid-19 related deaths in UP, CJP’s Hate Hatao kit, and other useful materials. 

Khoj’s enduring vision: beyond the classroom

Khoj, an educational program for students in grades 6-8, 5-7(middle school essentially*), has been running in schools since 1994. Emerging as a force that seeks to develop a comprehensive and critical pedagogy that is suited to deal with India’s social realities, and aims to tap into the creative recesses of a child’s mind, Khoj has been tirelessly working with schools, teachers, parents, and with district administration to implement constitutional values that reinforce values of a peaceful and pluralist society. 

Khoj was initiated in 1994 in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition and the Bombay Riots of 1992. In the backdrop of an immense amount of social upheaval and prejudiced sentiments, suspicion and fear between communities, and, especially against the marginalized, Khoj was envisioned as a pedagogical program that could create an engaging way of learning history and social studies for children in classes 4th to 8th – as well as make learning functional for society, but creating methods to ensure these existing social prejudices and biases that slip into the classroom, and in the minds of children, are addressed. Thereby, evolving from a research project to a full-blown program that tackles multiple issues being conducted in various cities and two states of India, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, Khoj tries to address gaps and schisms left in-addressed by the state and educational policy of India and seeks to fill these keeping a child’s creative and learning faculties central to its vision.

Khoj conducts workshops with teachers as well concerning the content found in History books which can often contain prejudicial content. Khoj found it important to take the opinions of teachers as well as have informed and insightful decisions with them on the impact of such books on children. There have also been workshops where India’s top historians, including Romila Thapar, K N Panicker, and Irfan Habib, have engaged with school teachers on History as a discipline. 

Going further, Khoj has held discussions with the government or trust that is running schools to give school teachers the opportunity to think about the teacher’s respective subject; this prevents teaching from becoming a mechanical process of rote-teaching by allowing the teacher to reflect and further research on the subject. In the past, due to this effort by Khoj, teachers have taken up subjects to research and write about, a few of which include Shivaji’s relations with the Mughal dynasty, forts of Mumbai, on whether caste has been effectively taught in school textbooks. Thus Khoj places an emphasis not just on methods of learning but the content of teaching as well. In a similar vein, Teesta Setalvad, founder of Khoj, says, ‘The textbook must be a vehicle to open up certain ideas and thoughts in the child – and the teacher.’

Khoj in the Mumbai region has also instituted a library for students. This library also acts as a resource that steps in when the school cannot fulfil its requirements. For instance, students often visit the library when a teacher is absent, have a free class period, or need certain books for assignments that the school cannot provide. Teachers and librarians report the library to be a heartening inclusion as students are overjoyed by the library and are always eager to visit it. 

Implementing a collaborative approach, Khoj has worked actively with district administrations to ensure schools are kept up to date regarding essential resources. After surveying and holding discussions with the schools, Khoj approaches the district administration to provide long-pending facilities like water, electricity, and toilets for schools in Maharashtra. Through the medium of the Right to Information provision (RTI), Khoj ensures that school administrations are informed and aware of the facilities the school is supposed to receive, such as a midday meal scheme and the number of books for each student. These elements have enabled Khoj to create a robust and fruitful relationship with schools that aligns with Khoj’s vision of transforming educational systems and society. According to Khoj’s founder, in order for children and teachers to be drawn into its vision and goals, these necessities are a crucial concern for Khoj. 

A drawing by a student


CJP KHOJ पूर्वांचल: एक नये सोच की तलाश में

Khoj: Educating Young minds to question the world around them

First Humanity, Then Religion | KHOJ students in Mumbai


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