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October 02


Signing off from the Working Committee

- by Carel


The members of the interim Working Committee show burnout symptoms after five months in office. What's wrong?

"This is a complete basket-case," opined Working Committee member Ulli, giving as trenchant a criticism as one could wish for. The question is, what was he talking about? Auroville in general? The work of the Working Committee? Other Aurovilians? After some probing it surfaced that he could well be meaning the entire lot. The mitigating circumstances are that Ulli has never before been part of any Auroville working group, but instead advised from the sidelines when he was working as a commercial unit executive. So he didn't really know what he was in for when he agreed to become part of the Working Committee in March this year.

Kathryn, though, was aware of the morass. But having received the highest number of nominations brought out for a woman during the community-wide nomination process, she felt she couldn't say no. And she didn't. And regretted it for a few months, until an illness painfully brought home the reality that this work wasn't hers. "There's just no job satisfaction. The work feels like a constant coping with the latest round of failures, both collective and individual," she said, when asked why she resigned.

"This work makes me shrink within," explains Frederick, whose track record of trying to clean Auroville's dirty laundry probably exceeds that of any other Aurovilian. Present mindsets are worse than in the past, he feels. For Frederick too this is his first Working Committee. He used to operate outside the framework, coming in only when he deemed it useful or necessary. This time he too plays by the rules, being pulled into a wide variety of community problems, seeing a side of individuals which most of us would rather not.

Selvaraj is the lone survivor of the previous Working Committee, which he managed at its end more or less single-handedly, a feat for which he deserves a medal. Moreover, he agreed to continue in this Working Committee, which should gain him another medal if Auroville wasn't so stingy with its praise or proficient in fault-finding. "I like the work," he says, "but you have to forget about privacy and trying to plan your life. If there isn't an important visitor who suddenly needs to be greeted, it is a fellow Aurovilian who calls you at 6 a.m. to discuss a problem which could well have waited till 8. Also my partner objects." Selvaraj hails from Kuilapalayam village and intimately knows both the Auroville and the Tamil cultures. Critics speak of a certain partiality but that is unavoidable, human as we all are. He too, however, won't be available for a next Working Committee, having done this work for almost two years and "enough is enough, it's time for family and other matters." Jill, Aurovici and Isabelle, all three new to the work, also decided that this experience is quite sufficient, probably for this lifetime.

What's wrong? It takes on average two years before a working committee completely burns out - although usually quite a few members already quit mid-term - but this one managed it within 5 months. The answer lies not in the accumulation of work, which admittedly has become more intensive, but rather in the impossibility of ever solving anything.

Back in March, when this Working Committee was nominated for a six months' period, it also assumed charge of the work of the Executive Council which had ceased to exist in December last year. Its first priority was to get community agreement on a new internal organization, to be in place by September 10th, the date the Working Committee was scheduled to resign. This work was taken up enthusiastically and a lot of progress was made (see below). Also normal WC work proceeded as per schedule. Unexpected, however, was the avalanche of unsolved and apparently unsolvable conflicts that were dropped into the lap of the WC. These conflicts ranged from problems with or within working groups such as the Matrimandir Team and the Interim Development Group, to interpersonal problems between Aurovilians. The frustration level of the Working Committee members trying to deal with all these issues can be measured from a note published by them in the Auroville News, the weekly internal newsletter: "We really wonder sometimes what some of the people who live here have for life goals and spiritual aspirations," and calling for a more stringent entry process as well as an exit process.

Says Ulli; "The Working Committee, and this is the problem, has no power to kick ass." Kathryn explains: "It is supposed to help solve conflicts through mediation, trying to find consensus. But failing consensus - and this happens often - the Working Committee cannot impose its own solution on the parties, even when it is clear that not resolving the problem carries significant and negative implications for both Auroville and the parties themselves. This is what makes the frustration quotient of the work almost unbearable."

Frustration is also certain for at least one of the parties in conflict. The usual result of a failed conflict resolution is a continuation of the status quo to the chagrin of the party who wants that status quo to be changed. Angered parties sometimes ask the Working Committee to call a Residents' Assembly meeting in an attempt to get their views imposed. But if the Working Committee refuses, judging that such a meeting would not be productive, the only thing left for the aggrieved party is to collect the signatures of at least 50 people so that the Working Committee is bound to call a meeting of the Residents' Assembly. However, such meetings are rarely effective.

The situation is even more problematic when an Aurovilian has been breaking the law. In cases of physical violence, for example, the Working Committee has no power to impose any sanctions such as the paying of compensation to the injured party. Though internal guidelines suggest that Aurovilians solve their problems amongst themselves, the practical reality is that there is no structure to ensure this happens. Small wonder than that frustrated Aurovilians sometimes feel that resorting to a police complaint is the only way out 'as Auroville doesn't do anything'.
The term of office of this Working Committee has meanwhile been extended till October 1st so that it can attend the meeting of the Governing Board of the Auroville Foundation on September 21st-22nd. But what happens afterwards?

An idea has been floated to make this Working Committee part of a larger Auroville Council, a group of 12 to 20 people, some of whom would be doing Working Committee work, the others taking care of community matters. However, as long as the community refuses to give this or any other group the authority to decide conflicts, it will be difficult to get qualified people. For this job gains no glory.

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