Originality, quality and fun were reasons enough to appreciate the efforts of the khojis. I also enjoyed the spirit of the journey being as much, if not more, important as the destination. What blew me away, however, was the sheer honestly and simplicity with which with they shared their experiences. I was glad to have experienced the presentations by khojis at Swaraj University. This sharing was a part of their first year activities.
The learning program at Swaraj University is a two year journey. The aim of the first year, to quote the website is, “to unlearn the dependence on external sources of knowledge and to engage in co-creating their self-directed learning path. There are various explorations and experiments to understand the meaning of Swaraj, and the core principles related to it, which are sustainability, social justice and holistic living.” While the focus of the second year is, “to move into deeper learning around the khoji’s& emerging vision for community action.” Khojis are the students and in their journeys they are helped by the mitras and facilitators. Together they form the Swaraj community. This is a university that neither seeks degrees and certificates prior to joining nor offers them after the journey; it is a part of the ‘healing ourselves from the diploma disease’ campaign.
Self-directed learning will hinge on the freedom, the space to think and do what one feels at that point of time. This freedom that Swaraj stresses and prides on is apparent. During my week at the campus I could sense the intensity of rawness and energy. In course of the session I was a part of –– khojis had the option of attending, could sit (or stand) as they wanted, ask the facilitator not very easy or happy questions, fall asleep and even stretch themselves. All this, of course, without disturbing others present. The session itself was organized based on a need they had put forth and held in a discussion space; walls physical and metaphorical were absent. Freedom of this nature meant absence of a lot of barriers we take for granted and as a corollary immense possibilities of channelizing energies in a positive direction.
Within this sphere of freedom of a lot of thought has been invested especially on the core principles. Swaraj has a holistic view of sustainability and this manifests itself in the well deliberated actions. For example, at one corner of the dining space is a table that has clean and neatly folded clothes. ‘Hand me downs’ says a colourful chart paper in happy writing. A t-shirt which one would have put to use and does not intend to use now can be placed thus. Someone else from the community could pick it up and use. One of them, during a conversation, shared how for few years she had not purchased a new piece of cloth! Many institutions talk about sustainability, very few explore reducing consumption in this manner.
It is not only about ‘what’ but also about ‘how’. Not only are the vessels cleaned by the community members themselves but there is a laid down process which enables minimal wastage of water and uses aritha in place of chemicals! Food is an area of avid concern. The idea is to eat healthy and understand the relationship with what one eats. Also care is taken to avoid wastage. The community members not only informed the kitchen in advance if they were not having next meal but also happily shared from each others’ plates during meals.
With one of the mitras I had a longish discussion on our relation to the environment. I shared of some of the actions I have dabbled in as also my anxieties over the contradictions I came across, especially in the not for profit sector. He responded saying that he found environmental issues to be very personal concerns; one has to feel from inside, act on those lines and there was little merit in preaching. On my prodding he shared of the efforts he was taking on his journey to be more in tune with the earth including those on campus.
Swaraj is located within the Tapovan Ashram nestled in the Aravallis; roughly 15 kms from Udaipur. The 15 acre campus, which abuts a lake, promotes environment friendly farming practices. Wild mammals frequently make a visit. The lake and Aravallis take different forms and colours based on seasons and the Khojis shared that they swim in the lake as also walk up the Aravallis.
I was interacting with the seventh cohort of khojis. Majority of them hailed from states north of the Vindhyas; given the bias towards Hindi this was not surprising. Sixteen was the age of the youngest khoji, thirteen years junior to his eldest batch mate. There were few from the earlier cohorts who had returned as mitras and facilitators. Together they shared responsibilities on the campus including cooking, filing water and maintaining common spaces. They co-designed the sessions and also shared their skills and learning with others in the community. Their clarity of thought, sensitivity towards others and the ability to look inwards were rare and presented a hope for a positively different society and country in the coming years. I was envious and happy at the same time.
This was a week which made me question my understanding, beliefs and practices. To any place which does so – one is immensely indebted!
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First published on the author’s blog