Auroville, City of Dawn (India)
Special Topics in International Development
Auroville: a Utopia in the Making
A. History of the Bioregional Area
Legend spoke of how people from faraway lands would come and turn arid lands green. This legend sprung to life when Auroville’s history began; a jar filled with soil from 124 countries was placed in what would become the center of the city on February 28th, 1968. Until this day, Auroville was a vast region of dry red soil along the Coromandel Coast, deserted by the government. Researches indicate that the bioregion had been arid redland for at least 250 years. The first Aurovillians recount tales of how they would cycle for an hour to the nearest well, fill up a jar of water, come back to water a sapling, and make the trip again and again to water trees. A successful case of reforestation, the region today stands as a vast jungle forty-three years later, as a collection of forests and green fields, and one wonders if there ever was a time it was not so.
B. Connection to the Outside World
From Auroville’s very beginning, its vision and ideals were accepted and supported by many. Soon after the city’s first birthday, Indira Gandhi, late Prime Minister of India, hoped that “[…] Auroville truly become a city of light and peace”. Over the following years, Indian government officials voiced their support for the city and continue to visit this experimental township. On January 20th, 2009, Auroville’s Pavillion of Tibetan Culture was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama. The city also continues to receive endorsements from UNESCO, an organization which passed resolutions of support for the project continuously in 1966, 1968, 1970 and 1983. In 2003, a presentation on the city was held at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris; its birthday was celebrated in 2003 and in 2008 by then Director General Matsuura Koichiro, where he emphasized how Auroville’s ideals, principles and values are similar to those of UNESCO’s. In 2010, its incumbent Director-General Irina Bokova visited the city and held a speech at the Town Hall.
The ideals of the city were created according to ‘The Mother’ (born Mirra Alfassa), a spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo (born Aravind Ghose). She envisioned a city of 20,000 where people of all nations would live in harmony, striving to develop themselves spiritually. Sri Aurobindo also spoke of a ‘new kind’ of man, which would come to be soon, and said that the current human kind is in a transitory state. The Auroville Charter, written by The Mother herself, reads as follows:
1. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. But to live in Auroville, one must be the willing servitor of the Divine Consciousness.
2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages.
3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Taking advantage of all discoveries from without and from within, Auroville will boldly spring toward future realisations.
4. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual researches for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.
The principles and ideals of this simple charter are reflected in all aspects of Aurovillian life; human unity, ecology, and harmony are emphasized at schools, organization and community life.
Auroville does not function of a top-down or bottom-up basis. Instead, it functions as a network of different organizations, groups and individuals who all monitor and help each other. Based on the idea that every person’s perspective must be taken into account, Auroville’s structure may seem ineffective, and is indeed slow in decision-making procedures but do not overlook any minority’s opinion.
A. Organizations Created by the Auroville Foundation Act
The Auroville Foundation Act (henceforth “The Act”), which entered into force in 1988, specifies the creation of three governing bodies: (a) The Governing Board; (b) The Residents’ Assembly; and (c) The International Advisory Council. Although the Act has given birth to the following three organizations, the Governing Board is the only one under direct Indian governmental influence.
1. The Governing Board.
The Governing Board was created in 1988, with the Auroville Foundation Act. Composed of Indian government officials and other prominent authors, artists and scientists, its job is to monitor and make sure that Auroville follows its visions and principles stated in The Act. The Indian government dispatches the “Auroville Foundation Secretary” for a term of four years, who oversees the administrative procedures of the community, such as visa issuance for residents and tax reforms. Agendas and character of each secretary may differ.
2. Residents’ Assembly
The Residents’ Assembly is Auroville’s decision-making body, open to participation from any Aurovillian over 18 years old. To reach a decision, more that 10% of the residents must be at present, and decisions are reached through majority voting. Before a final vote, however, many ‘General Meeting’ sessions must have taken place in order to debate and analyze the issue at hand. In the case that an Aurovillian Organization wishes to modify its policies or procedures, they may bring it forth without the petitioning process. For an individual or group to bring an agenda to the Residents’ Assembly, they must have a petition which has received more than 10% of residents’ signatures. Once the organization, group, or individual has expressed its wish to manifest the agenda, they must form ‘Study Groups’, which conduct researches on the issue, after which they may bring their results and opinions to a General Meeting session. Once a final draft has been completed after several GM sessions, it may be brought to the Residents’ Assembly for a final vote. Since Auroville’s belief is it is possible for minority opinion or idea to be superior to that of the majority, much discussion is made as to not overlook them. This lengthy procedure may be considered ineffective but necessary according to Auroville’s ideals.
3. International Advisory Council (IAC)
Since Auroville is an international community supported by many organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, it may be necessary for the IAC to provide advice to the Governing Board.
B. Organizations Created By Aurovillians
Auroville over time has developed many organizations within the community, mostly rising from need. All organizations work with other organizations in order to solve problems or to carry out projects. All members participate voluntarily and are elected with given terms.
1. Funds and Assets Management Committee (FAMC)
The FAMC, the centre of all Aurovillian organizations is comprised of each organization’s deputy and the Auroville Foundation Secretary. All final decisions concerning budgets are made by this group.
2. Working Committee
The Working Committee deals with all external organizations, such as the Indian government, local communities and judicial branches. It works closely with the Governing Board and the IAC. The Committee members are selected by the Selection Committee; each resident must list a candidate of their choice, and based on these lists, and taking account of gender, nationality, and age diversity the Selection Committee reaches a decision. The Selection Committee is newly selected every time.
3. Auroville Council (The Council)
The Council deals with all internal issues, making sure and helping when needed, (a) that all Aurovillian organizations work well; (b) that all Aurovillians work well with internal organizations; (c) and solving issues between Aurovillians. In the case of person-to-person issues, the Council may help the persons involved through the help of the Mediation Group, which may dissolve once one of the parties decides to withdraw, in which case the Arbitration Group will retry to solve the issue and make a decision for the parties involved.
4. Entry Group
If one wishes to become an Aurovillian, they must go through a one-year ‘Newcomer’ process. After the initial interview, their names and introduction appears in the News & Notes(Auroville’s weekly newsletter), and if no one objects within the next three weeks, they are accepted as a Newcomer. During the next year, they must fulfill all following conditions: (a) provide unpaid voluntary work to the community; (b) pay monthly contribution fees; (c) not leave India; (d) have interaction with the community and community members and not receive complaints from members; (e) undergo an interview at the end of the one-year process with the Entry Group. If all conditions are fulfilled, they are accepted as Aurovillian and registered under the Master List. A child who has grown up in Auroville (“A Child of Auroville”) must decide, at the age of 18, whether they wish to go through a 6-month newcomer process and gain Aurovillian status or not. The Entry Group is also responsible of Exit Policies, according to which they may, through deliberation and research, exile an Aurovillian from the community for reasons of crime of other disturbance.
5. L’Avenir d’Auroville (L’Avenir)
L’Avenir is in charge of city planning, under the master plan of Roger Anger, a French architect. All construction must be registered under this group’s permission.
6. Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Education and Research (SAILLER)
SAILLER oversees all Aurovillian educational institutions, including all schools, research groups, village educational groups, and cultural activities. Children of Auroville are entitled to free education (Crèche, Kindergarten, elementary through high school), meals and snacks, extracurricular and cultural activities of their liking. They must also exercise a sport or combination of sport activities of choice for at least two to three hours per day.
7. Housing Service
Distributes, provides maintenance for, and renovates houses for residents. The Housing Service is also in charge of receiving ‘Fraternal Contributions’, which account for 10% of building costs of any house costing more than 4 lakhs. From this pool of contribution, the Housing Service is able to help residents without houses (who housesit) and maintain the quality of housing. Since the mid-2000s, Auroville has seen a sharp increase in the population and therefore a shortage of housing supply for Aurovillians and Newcomers alike.
8. Economy Group
Oversees the income and distribution of income inside the community. The Economy Group is in charge of all contributions from units (Aurovillian enterprises) and individuals. Every unit must contribute 33% of its net profits, each Aurovillian 1500 Rs per month, and each Guest(visitor) 100Rs per day. Aurovillian service groups, such as the Housing Service, may request funding from this group. The Human Resources Group helps Aurovillians find work inside the community, provide ‘Maintenance’ (monthly income which may vary according to time but not to difference in profession), and ‘Kinder geld’, maintenance for children of Auroville.
9. Forest Group
The Forest Group is made up of stewards, who are in charge of different areas in the greenbelt. Each steward receives project funding from Auroville and from outside, and may work together to proceed with the project or to solve touble within the group. A steward must only use alternative energy, such as solar of wind energy and work in the greenbelt as a profession.
10. Farm Group
Made up of all farmers, this group work in a similar manner as the Forest Group.
11. Auroville Board of Commerce (ABC)
Made up of all units in Auroville, works in a similar manner to the Forest Group.
12. Auroville Village Action Group (AVAC)
The AVAC is in charge of connecting Auroville to its surrounding communities. It is in charge of health care, education, job training, cultural activities, women’s rights, and many more projects. As more than 5000 people from surrounding villages are employed in Auroville, it is essential that the communities work together.
13. Residential Communities
Auroville is made up of many residential neighbourhoods called ‘Communities’. Communities usually are formed by people with similar lifestyles (family or single), profession (farms, teachers, artists) and to join a community one must first be accepted by its members.
Other non-permanent or less active groups exist, such as the Selection Committee, Outreach Media and the AVIS (Auroville Volunteer, Internship, Studies Programs, on hiatus from 2011 due to visa issues with the Indian government).
Auroville’s Official Website, http://www.auroville.org/environment/env_history.htm
UNESCO Portal, http://portal.unesco.org