The Optimist Citizen

From industrial corridors of Jamshedpur to the rural colonies of Khurai, how one campaign answered the deep religious, economic & gender based differences in our educational system

Samjho Toh Express is an initiative by ComMutiny The Youth Collective which aims at cultivating cross border friendships through an experiential journey which will help the youth in reflecting and breaking the stereotypes that they hold for other communities, genders, castes, religions, ethnic backgrounds etc. A journey through this campaign will help in internalizing the need to understand the ‘other’. This article is an impact story of the campaign.

When one thinks about the city of Jamshedpur and the district of Khurai in Madhya Pradesh, finding similarities seem a difficult task. While the former is a major industrial centre with a cosmopolitan outlook, the latter is a host to a deep-rooted rural and tribal population. But on a deeper search, some acute similarities were indeed found, but they were so startling that we found them difficult to comprehend.

MOCHI KA BETA, GWALA, MAALI KA LADKA…. These names, however discomforting, were regularly being used by students of 11th class for their economically weaker peers in a good private school of Jamshedpur. Two students, living in the same neighbourhood in Khurai, had hardly met each other their whole lives due to the economic disparities between them. A girl in Jamshedpur, studying in a famous school of the city, had never talked to a boy of her own age because of a dense patriarchal setup at home and developed an acute mistrust towards boys.

The list goes on…

What sounds shocking in all these examples is the fact that how two towns, which are inherently so different from each other, share such a hallowed similarity. A similarity which shows the reality of the thoughts which are residing in the minds of students there. Children who are looming in the periphery of their teens are overwhelmed by such pernicious thoughts of economic, religious and social differentiation, such that their everyday actions are being moulded by them.

Witnessing this as a fundamental problem in the society, SAMJHO TOH EXPRESS, a social campaign organized by Commutiny – The Youth Collective, took shape to cultivate cross-border (across religion, caste, class, gender,region etc) friendships through an experiential journey which will help the youth in reflecting on and breaking the stereotypes that they hold for ‘others’.

Working on numerous issues, the campaign understood the need for a much-needed intervention in the educational space of our country, wherein even after claims on mounds of success, the reality proved to be hollow. Partnering with Local organizations in Jamshedpur (PEOPLE FOR CHANGE) and Khurai (AGRINI), the campaign has used simple and innovative approaches for breaking cross-border barriers.

“Our first reaction towards such problems is to identify the groups and individuals and understand the reason behind this animosity”, says Sauvik Saha of People for Change. But, getting everyone on the same platform proved to be difficult. Children from both rich and poor backgrounds, Teachers, school staff, boys and girls alike came together, but the differences persisted. In Jamshedpur, People for Change conducted an event by the name of Chai pe Chamatkar, wherein they discussed about the religions, festivals and cuisines of the participants. In Khurai, Agrini used the help of mutual painting sessions and sports like Khokho to help the participants understand each other.

“Mujhe Ladko se Darr lagta tha. Now, I can proudly say that my best friend is a boy”, says a confident Pooja from Jamshedpur who was paired with a boy in the campaign. Another girl from Jamshedpur was paired with an AAYA (a sub-staff) from her school. What started as an awkward association has now formed into a deep friendship. The girl regularly visits the house of the lady sub staff, spends time with her family and fondly calls her DIDI. Two boys from Khurai who never said a word to each other due to their economic differences, drew a bus that can travel across the solar system and also played Khokho together at an event of the campaign.

May it be playing cricket for the first time with the teachers of your school, visiting a gurdwara for the first time, talking to a boy for the first time or eating cuisines of a different religion for the first time. The participants in both Khurai and Jamshedpur have experienced a lot of firsts during the campaign. What seemed as an illogical proposition to the participants a month ago was now becoming a cornerstone for an enthusiastic future and becoming the stairs for a new beginning.  

Tuhin Sen | TOC

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