Building tomorrow’s foundations: Khoj in Purvanchal

CJP’s Khoj Programme has had a busy few months, transforming young minds, encouraging social harmony, and reaching out to the marginalised

In the first half of the year alone, Khoj and its various chapters have progressed on multifold grounds with their work on impacting young minds, communities and the educational system at hand in the Eastern parts of Uttar Pradesh, India.

Khoj is an endeavour started by CJP almost 3 decades back. Faced with rising communalism and growing division amidst people, Khoj was an attempt at making an intervention right where it mattered, and with the tools that mattered. Thus armed with the constitution and its ideals, Khoj’s team has spread across Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh with its message of peace.

And thus in the historically famous city of Varanasi of UP, CJP’s  Khoj Project is leaving an indelible mark on the educational and social landscape by establishing its vision of knowledge, peace, and inclusivity as it lays the path for the dissemination and propagation of constitutional values. Khoj is primarily a programme that seeks to supplement and fill in the gaps that our formal educational system leaves open, Khoj has partnered with various schools to start its programme for children in middle school and up. In addition to these educational programmes, Khoj has also looked at the facilities available at these schools and has tried to mitigate issues of access to basic amenities with school administration whenever possible. It has also held its libraries in certain schools.

Thus, as Khoj’s journey unfolds in Uttar Pradesh, it continues to make strides towards unity amidst rising hate, knowledge, and social harmony. Through education, constitutional values, culture, and community engagement, Khoj is not only nurturing young minds but also weaving the diverse fabric of society together as a means of walking towards a harmonious society.

In the early months of 2023 Khoj in UP continued on its  journey with a jam-packed set of months that has not only enriched the minds of students but also united communities, and championed the cause of education as a powerful tool for social change.

Dedicated to shaping a peaceful society and fostering critical thinking,  Khoj organised a series of programmes in collaboration with Prof. Vasanthi Raman who is the Chairperson of the Centre for Women’s and Development Studies, New Delhi, and Mr. Mikko Zenger, a freelance journalist. These programmes aimed to empower teachers and students alike and also recognise the crucial roles both play in fostering harmony and understanding in society.

The interaction with school teachers at Dream India School ignited discussions on the vital role of educators in creating a peaceful society. Prof. Raman shared various insights on effective teaching methods and understanding the minds of children. Teachers actively engaged in the process and posed several important questions and shared the challenges they face during teaching, to the point where one pivotal but oft-forgotten inquiry prompted a discussion around students’ lack of interest in learning and what can be done to mitigate this learning hurdle. Raman’s response was simple yet profound and groundbreaking, “Know your students, listen to them, explain with love.”

Prof. Vasanthi Raman further engaged with Khoj students at United Public School. This interaction with students from grades 5th to 8th allowed the students to dive into their experiences with the Khoj sessions, and presented students the space to share their experiences.  Two such students, Rehaan and Eram enthusiastically shared their fondness for the “Likes and Dislikes” session, while others expressed their love for the “Family History” module, which granted them the option to discuss their own backgrounds as a creative and reflective process.  Prof Raman made sure that process was dialogic and thus asked them about their experiences as part of the programme which really laid the ground to reveal the profound impact of Khoj on students, teachers, and parents alike.

Furthermore, the students’ enthusiasm was palpable as they shared their  experience with Khoj’s learning modules, excursions and activities with Khoj, particularly their appreciation for Varanasi mapping, which deepened their understanding of their city. As one student, Moon, remarked, “I live in Banaras, yet I didn’t have complete knowledge about it until I joined Khoj class!” This enriching two-hour conversation not only expanded their horizons but also saw them learning a few sentences in Tamil as they shared their experience. Furthermore, CJP Khoj’s commitment to making learning a practical and enjoyable endeavour continues as students have also been taken to visit around five different religious sites of worship by Khoj, to which the response of the students was enriching, heartwarming and inspiring. This is a testament to the environment Khoj creates which fosters students to step out of restrictive boundaries and act as active agents in their learning, by prompting them to ask questions, share experiences, and engage in conversation.

Khoj embodies the values of the Constitution and firmly believes in imbibing them as children – but also believes in the all round development of the child,  which requires learning to be engaging physically and mentally. Therefore, the Khoj journey in Varanasi continues this year with the Inter-School Sports Competition, aptly named Chak De Konia, which started early on 2nd January 2023 this year. Khoj students from various schools participated heartily. Khoj and the partner schools also distributed T-shirts and certificates to winners.

Keeping in mind the importance of spreading love and harmony in the underlying politically charged atmosphere of the country, the team held another series of enriching programmes with Prof. Vasanthi Raman and Mr. Mikko Zenger. These include mohalla meetings on CJP’s Hate Hatao Desh Bachao programme with discussions with the weavers to address their issues, and lectures and open discussions on history, constitution, and women’s issues with teachers from various schools. CJP also organised meetings with weavers in Jalalipura, emphasising the importance of understanding and addressing the challenges faced by the marginalised community. These skilled artisans shared their concerns to Khoj, and further the meeting served as  a testament to Khoj’s dedication to marginalised communities and ensuring their voices are heard.

Furthermore, Khoj students were all given a chance to showcase their talents to present a play, along with other cultural activities at the annual school function on 27th February, which also saw prize distribution to students. These preparations in tandem with the school reflected Khoj’s commitment to nurturing well-rounded citizens who appreciate their cultural heritage and history.

Khoj encourages learning to be an all round process and thus it has frequently organised sporting events, especially for girl students. This year, Khoj also organised a joint annual programme between three different schools. Khoj also helped students put up a play on the life of Savitri Bai Phule, where students played the roles of Savitribai Phule and Fatima Shaikh, and recited poetry on these themes. Students also dressed up like freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr B R Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Bhagat Singh and so forth.

Khoj’s  deep resolve to disseminate constitutional values is embedded and strengthened further through its involvement in various educational and cultural events that celebrate India’s rich legacy of struggle for freedom and justice. For instance, on the martyrdom day of Mahatma Gandhi, Khoj students engaged in discussions about Bapu and his principles. Khoj even arranged for the opportunity to actively participate in events organised on Martyrdom Day at Assi Ghat, which included poetry recitation and poster exhibitions.

It is notable that Khoj’s reach extends from and beyond education and into community integration as well. For instance, during the Inter-School Sports Competition, Mr Harsh Nath Yadav, manager, and founder of several schools, spoke in admiration of having witnesses Khoj’s vision and goals  and also extended  an invitation for Khoj classes in more schools, revealing the success of Khoj as an endeavour.

In one such Khoj event in April, 2023, organised at the Harsh Public School,  children participated in a rally, raising slogans celebrating and demanding for unity such as हिंदू मुस्लिम सिख ईसाई,  हम सब मिलकर करे पढ़ाई (translated as Hindu Muslim Sikh Christian, let us all study together). The Harsh School’s Principal Upender Yadav was also present at the events and he shared his careful observations with the team,  noting the positive transformation in the children since the arrival of Khoj at school. Principal Yadav noted that he had witnessed  change in children when Khoj teachers enter their classrooms. He said, “One can sense a palpable change and enthusiasm fills the air as well as a sense of excitement among these young minds during Khoj sessions which is a contrast to the regular classroom atmosphere”. The principal also recounted a change witnessed in the morning prayer routine after Khoj sessions had started at the school. Muslim children now, who initially refrained from folding their hands during prayers, had now lo and behold, started folding their hands during prayer. Even more so, Hindu and Muslim children who had mostly interacted and made friends within their respective communities, now were transformed and started to spend time with both groups. The Khoj experience in this school, and in many like it, has evidently broken down  barriers of communal sentiment which as Khoj has historically noted can find fertile ground in young minds. Therefore, fostering genuine friendships between children of diverse backgrounds reveals the practical change Khoj has brought in the minds and lives of young children through its curricula.

Thus, the action and learning packed year continues for the team at Khoj, who are invested in making a lasting and transformative change.


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