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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Abiding by one persons vision (The Mothers) is a form of religion

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Auroville Dreams From The Seventies

My thoughts on AurovilleI had very mixed views of Auroville, for the vision of the town and the way that it is being developed (the infrastructure and the community ethos) is a typical view of how someone in the 1970’s saw the future. As I wondered around the complex I felt as though I was in a 1970’s sci-fiction film. For those that have seen 1984 version of Frank Herbert’s Dune directed by David Lynch, I kept expecting to see Aurovillians walking around with bright blues eyes, rebels against modern living, preserving the ways (spice) of the 1970’s.

Yes Aurovillians have done some great work particularly in advancing architectural planning, environmental technologies and educational thinking and many students flock to Auroville to carry out research and learn from them, but there is still alot that unnerves me about the way Auroville operates and I am not sure that they will ever achieve their vision.

The biggest threat to the contiued growth of the town comes from their sturggle for funding and thier inability to purchase the surrounding land needed to expand their community. The ever expanding nearby town of Pondicherry is pushing up land prices in and around Auroville. Since Auroville relys heavily on grants and donations they always seem to be one step behind, struggling to match the affluent businessmen buying up the land. Without land it will be impossible for them to reach the 50,000 settlers that they are striving for.

Alongside this there seems to be a disaparity between many Aurovillians in terms of opportunities and wealth. The Mother states that individuals will not be limited by their financial and social positions yet many Aurovillians feel trapped in the society unable to move out. This is partly due to the little captial that they have, as previously mentioned they do not own their houses and much of the pay that they get given can only be spent in Auroville, making it almost impossible for people to save money. It is easier for some international Aurovillains who have families that can support them and who often have houses in their native countries to fall back on.

Though Auroville claims that it is not religious for me following this spiritual way of living, strictly abiding by one persons vision (The Mothers) is a form of religion, this collective belief is no different from christanity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddahism etc.

Many of the projects run by Auroville are not practising what they preach. They carry out a lot of community work in the local villages particulary around education, health, womens empowerment, the enivonment etc. Since many of the projects are grant funded and short term, they seem to be forever chasing funding (this is not uncommon in the UK as well) and often come up with projects just to get funds. The problem with this is that they don’t always involve the communities when devising these projects and many of the communities in and around Auroville are being done “to” not done “with”.

As well as this many Aurovillian projects lack the appropriate management skills to run them and manage staff and there is a lot of waste and inefficiency (again not uncommon in the Uk). If they are running a project about women’s empowerment in a local village you will often find that women employed in the project are not empowered and many do not have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

The way that Aurovillains live their lives alongside the local commnunities and the tourists that they attract is often questionable. I think that there is a love hate relationship between these groups. Though Auroville has increased employment for the local communities and investment in the local economies many local villagers do not like having Aurovillains around. Not least because many Aurovillians do not keep to local customs particulary clothing, they still don’t pay the locals good salaries, it is difficult for locals to access their services etc. Tourists are not made to feel hugely welcome yet they generate much needed income for Auroville.

In short there is always more than one side of every story and many people vehemently believe in the good work that Auroville are doing. I did experience this with a re-forestation project who are working across the Tamil Nadu state reintroducing native trees and plants, restoring mangroves and bringing back Indian Bioculture, including the beautiful greenbelt around Auroville.

I can not help thinking though that this is just another ex-pat community, who when it gets hot head home for the cooler climates living 6months in Auroville and 6months somewhere else. The challenge that Auroville faces is how they maintain their core values and vision as they aim to expand and how they work with modern society and not against it. I heard someone describe Auroville as a Hippie Zoo this for sums it up for me, a place that looks out to the world, and world who stares with interest at this little part of the 1970’s.

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