With the dream of unity and fraternity surrounding
us, a complex relationship between Auroville and its neighbouring
villages has developed throughout the years
Over the last fifteen years, Auroville Today has covered a variety
of aspects on village life such as education, youth groups, history,
health, village action, women's groups and cultural events. Going
deeper we have also tried to examine the complex relationship
between the rich local culture and the variety of international
cultures which have been coexisting for the last 35 years. To
attempt to summarize in one article the dynamics of such relationships
is unrealistic. But a brief insight into some of the trials and
triumphs of such an experiment can be given.
At the time of Auroville's inauguration, the
surrounding area was one of the poorest in the south of India.
The land had been robbed of its natural flora, leaving it desolate
and dry. The working population consisted of small farmers, skilled
and unskilled labourers and fishermen. Families worked night and
day to make ends meet. The whole area was certified as "backward
and in need of development" by the Collector of South Arcot
District in 1984.
When the first foreigners came to the local lands, there were
mixed feelings among the people who had been living here for generations.
"Some of the villagers were very scared because they felt
that the white people would come and rule them again," reported
an elder from a local village. "But I read about the project
in a local newspaper and explained to them that Auroville was
meant to help them, not dominate them. Afterwards, I was taken
to meet the Mother a number of times. She told me many times that
the villagers should cooperate with the project, because it was
for them. And this wasn't just words. She said it in a way that
I knew she would make it happen. This made me very happy"
(Auroville Today, May 1995). During Auroville's first few years,
the Mother's physical presence calmed many fears and bridged understandings
between the diverse backgrounds. Her Dream reached out to all
the people coming to and already inhabiting the area of Auroville.
It was a chance for new beginnings and growth on both external
and internal levels.
The first years are often recalled with affection.
Life seemed much more simple and straightforward. A larger percentage
of the newly formed community participated in local customs and
activities which created a feeling of 'doing it together.' Furthermore,
the Matrimandir, which was very much the 'soul work' of Auroville
at that time, brought everyone together in a harmonious routine.
However, as the years rolled by, life became more complex. With
the growth of the Auroville community as well as the villages,
new dimensions appeared and gaps between common understandings
seemed to grow. As one villager said, "In the beginning we
worked with the first Aurovilians to help purchase the land. But
after this some of these people just forgot us. Auroville has
done a lot for the villages over the years, like improving the
water supply, building the Health Centre and providing employment
but I would be happy if Aurovilians came to our meetings again.
We live beside each other, we must work things out together"
(Auroville Today, June 1993). Though some of the Aurovilians turned
their focus in directions that were not entwined with that of
the local people, others of this growing population dedicated
themselves to building bridges between the varying backgrounds
and striving to achieve the 'fraternity' Mother spoke of. The
following summary touches on a few of the many projects that have
been started over the years and continue to succeed today.
In the beginning of Auroville, Udavi school
was started by the Mother to provide an ongoing education for
local village students. Today, this school, located in Edayanchavadi,
educates 250 students who come from Edayancha-vadi, Kottakarai,
Alankuppam, Irum-bai and even Kuilapalayam. Udavi school is unique
as it has remained a project of both the Ashram and Auroville.
Under the Udyog Trust of the Ashram and SAIIER of Auroville, the
school is situated on Ashram land while being managed by Aurovilians.
Isaiambalam School in Kotta-karai was started in 1979. Today there
are 120 children attending from Edayanchavadi, Alankuppam and
Kottakarai. Along with pre-school and primary education, Isaiambalam
School teaches many teenagers who have not had primary education
and now hope to educate themselves for future possibilities.
New Creation School opened in 1983, offering
children from the neighbouring villages (largely from Kuilapalayam)
a well rounded education which incorporates dance, pottery, singing
and theatre. Currently, there are over 250 students in New Creation,
37 of whom live in the community.
Other schools such as After School, the Kuilapalayam
Trust School and a recently constructed school for the children
from Bommayarpalayam continue to grow and succeed.
The Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG),
which started in 1983, actively works today with 40 villages in
the Auroville bioregion. The work of AVAG not only improves the
lives of villagers through education and employment but largely
empowers individuals to take charge of their lives and their community
development. Approximately 2000 women and 750 men have joined
the network of AVAG and are monitored by a group of 50 development
workers consisting of men and women from neighbouring villages
who have been trained by AVAG in community development and social
work. Last year 2000 women participated in the AVAG's Women Power
Program. An example of women's empowerment can be seen when in
village elections in October of 2001, twenty women with the encouragement
and support of AVAG ran for office; fifteen were elected as Panchayat
ward members and one as Panchayat vice president. Such successes
have encouraged the women today to believe in themselves.
An Auroville Village newsletter called Auroville
Grama Seydhi Madal was started in 1998 by Meenakshi, a Tamil Aurovilian
well known and appreciated throughout Auroville and the villages
alike for her continual optimistic outreach. This newsletter covers
such topics as village life, school celebrations, and includes
quotations of Mother and Sri Aurobindo, stories of Tamil culture
and heritage as well as reporting on aspects of Auroville such
as the Residents' Assembly, Governing Board meetings and commonly
asked questions concerning the Auroville community. Currently
entering it's 7th year of publication, the Auroville Grama Seydhi
Madal sends out over 300 copies per month and is read by over
1,000. Meenakshi is also a founder of SEWA (Small Employees Welfare
Administration) that deals with Auroville conflict/resolution
forum, pension fund and employment services, and she is currently
active with the Tamil Heritage Centre.
The Dental Clinic of Auroville treats approximately
250 non-Aurovilians per month, and does extensive work with the
villages. In an experiment started in 1994, the first sub-centre
was opened in Edayanchavadi training women to become Dental workers.
The success of this outreach led to the introduction of ART (Atraumatic
Restoration Treatment) promoted by the World Health Organisation
in 1999. This program further trains workers to deal with caries
(tooth bone decay) and small cavities. It also promotes training
in oral hygiene. Currently there are 32 women from local villages,
some of whom have no more than a 10th standard education, but
have been sufficiently trained through these programs. To their
credit, the Auroville Dentistry is the only clinic working in
'rural dentistry', through the ART program in India.
The Auroville Health Centre treats over 30
and provides medication and advice to another 300 non-Aurovilians
per day. It has trained many health workers who go out to approximately
20 villages in the surrounding area, providing for those who cannot
get to a medical centre outside their village. Six village sub-centres
have also been created for this purpose. Education on hygienic
care and prevention are given alongside treatment. The Health
Centre also provides an ambulance for emergency cases.
Yet, even with these clearly positive developments
regarding Auroville's relationship with the surrounding region,
there have been some more controversial aspects which have led
to resentment and frustration. Though Auroville's presence and
Mother's dream brought much into the lives of the Tamilians, it
also brought rapid change among a people whose place in society
is very defined by their culture. For example, "There is
no full caste system in every village. There is mostly one caste,
and a separate Harijan (untouchables) colony. Sometimes Harijans
from the colonies are not even allowed to walk into the main village.
Many Harijans have found work in Auroville and benefit by the
absence of caste restrictions here" (Auroville Today, January
1990). Some employers in Auroville found those of the Harijan
caste to be willing, hardworking and honest, but their employment
and economic raising brought in contradictory feelings from other
There was also a change occurring on the home
front of many village households. Whereas before, women were typically
at home caring for the household at large, they began to get jobs
in Auroville and their absence demanded an adjustment from the
rest of the family. Children being raised in Auroville soon became
young adults with views and outspoken opinions contradictory to
that of their parents. Family crafts and trade were sometimes
disregarded by the son assigned to carry on the tradition. Increasingly
daughters wanted to continue their studies and postpone marriage
while elders sought to secure their lineage. The whole concept
of 'love' marriage or even relationships without marriage as seen
in Auroville, caused some to question what had not been questioned
Furthermore, with the economic rise of the
region, consumerism has grown and continues to grow within and
around Auroville. The differences in personal income can often
be seen, leading to feelings of resentment, jealousy and frustration
between the villagers themselves as well as between the villagers
and Aurovilians. When Mother was asked how the Aurovilians should
relate to the villagers, she responded,"The best way, you
see, is education. To educate them not by words and speeches but
by example. If you can make them mix with your life and your work,
and they get the influence of your way of being, your way of understanding,
then, little by little, they will change"(21 April 1970,
CWM, XIII, p.333). However, with materialism and the lack of economic
equality visible in the Auroville community, the examples are
sometimes different from those that Mother envisioned.
Another common upset revolves around feelings
of racism and discrimination. One Tamil Aurovilian said, "In
the past there was less theft and everyone moved freely and received
a warm welcome. These days Auroville is not a free city. Whites
enter places easily, while we must answer many questions. Our
own people, who work as watchmen, respect foreigners more!"
(Auroville Today, August 2001). From a different angle, many Aurovilian
women have found themselves being judged and approached by Tamil
men who have preconceived perceptions towards women in general
and a discriminating attitude toward Western women in particular
because of different cultural backgrounds and sometimes because
of socially inappropriate behaviour of visitors to Auroville.
With such a mixing of cultural sensitivities, it is not a surprise
that these issues arise.
Trust is a very important aspect in building
a strong relationship between Auroville and the villages. While
there are many trustworthy relationships between Auroville and
its neighbours, there are also areas that could use more work.
For example, some of the villagers around Auroville, especially
from Kottakarai, feel cheated by having been encouraged to sell
their land in the early years of Auroville's development. Though
at the time the land was not so high prized and selling it provided
money for family functions such as marriages, the money was not
being re-invested, leaving a family twenty some years later in
the same economic state, knowing that the piece of land they sold
is now worth much more than what they got. Furthermore, some villagers
recall being promised jobs in Auroville. "Everybody in the
village wanted to sell land to Auroville," explained an elder
from Kottakarai, "because they could have good food and a
good life. They stopped doing crops, and the land spoiled. When
they sold their land, they didn't buy more. They lived well, but
afterwards they had to go to Auroville for work. But sometimes
there was no work. I sold 15 acres of land to Auroville and I
understood my son would get a job with Auroville. But, he never
got one. If people sell land to Auroville, Auroville should try
to help them by giving them a job" (Auroville Today, Feb.1989).
One of the most important links between Auroville
and the surrounding villages is in those who walk between both
worlds: the Tamil Aurovilians. Today, Tamil Aurovi-lians represent
38% of the Auroville community. The number has increased from
25% in 1993. "People who wish to join Auroville from the
neighbouring villages are in something of a special situation.
They are born into a culture where certain traditions are still
strong and as their families are just 'across the road', the demand
made upon them to fulfil certain family responsibilities and traditional
religious practices can be overwhelming" (Auroville Today,
June 1993). Many of the Tamil Aurovilians grew up in Auroville
surrounded by its ideals, freedoms and possibilities.
Particularly in the 80's and early 90's, a
clear economic division could be seen among the young adult Tamil
Aurovilians and those from the village. This led to a build up
of resentment. One young villager expressed his views, "The
Tamil Aurovilians could do so much for the village, but they've
turned their backs on us, forgotten us completely; they behave
like foreigners now. If some villagers dislike Auroville, it's
because of the arrogance of these people" (Auroville Today,
May 1995). But for a Tamil Aurovilian the balance is not easy
Today, the complexities of our neighbouring
relationships continue to be a challenge and new avenues are sought
in building stronger, more trusting relationships. Just this past
month, 22 Panchayat leaders and village representatives met with
a group of Aurovilians for a very successful day of cultural exchange
including visits to Auroville's farms, schools and the Matrimandir.
Future events of this kind will hopefully help to bridge our communication
gaps and strengthen our mutual respect while working toward the
true fraternity Mother spoke of…one step at a time.