Dr. Ariyaratne of the Sarvodaya Movement returns as a member of the IAC
Auroville Today: The effect of the tsunami on the fishing villages near Auroville was terrible, but it also strengthened human unity. Was it the same in Sri Lanka ?
Dr. Ariyaratne: Yes. Within hours of the wave, government troops and LTTE cadres had put down their guns and were working together to save people and bury the dead. This was a great spontaneous thing which shows that, even when people have been involved for many years in armed conflict, they are basically human beings who would like to live together in peace. Actually an unbelievable number of people from civil society rushed to help.
Was the relief coordination good?
Not always. The military was well-coordinated – soldiers came from different armies around the world, they were sent to a particular area, did everything they could and many now have left. Then the international organizations rushed in. While some do a good service, many set a bad example as to the evil effects of money. They immediately brought luxury vehicles for their own use, they offered huge salaries to local people, they were not transparent in their dealings, they were haphazard in their operations and they have done great damage to our values and our culture. You see, when you come to a country, you must work with the organizations that are already in that country; you should support them, not weaken them by weaning away their best workers.
What has been the role of the Sarvodaya movement?
Our approach is what we call the 5 ‘R's' programme: relief (we have distributed supplies to about half a million families), rehabilitation, reconciliation (we help all, irrespective of their faith or politics), reconstruction and reawakening. Of the 15,000 villages we had already been working in, 226 were affected by the tsunami, and some of the things we'd established – like rural banks – were completely washed away. So we placed in each village 10 or more people from our Peace Brigades and they are carrying out a 12 point programme. This includes programmes for women and children, water and sanitation, psychosocial treatment, housing etc. It's important to understand that we are not only rebuilding homes but rebuilding families and the spirit of the community.
How is the relationship with the Sri Lankan government? Do they see Sarvodaya as a competitor?
Every inefficient government servant looks upon us as a competitor, efficient people cooperate with us and help us. Actually, while the government's approach in such situations is different from that of the voluntary organizations – the government always begins by commanding, controlling, while we begin by consulting and cooperating with the victims – we always try to work out a modus operandi. The government certainly consults us – I recently had a long interview with the Prime Minister.
You've agreed to come back onto the International Advisory Council. Why?
I truly admire the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother as a way of unifying spiritual and physical forces in the world, and I consider that Auroville as a community has gone very far in this direction. There has also been a very important professional or technological input into Auroville which is another thing which we in the Sarvodaya movement can learn from. So while at first I wanted to refuse a second term on the Council because I am too busy, when Dr. Karan Singh, whom I have known for almost 30 years, wrote to me I agreed to come back. Personally, I'm willing to make any contribution I can to Auroville, whether I'm a member of the IAC or not.
How do you understand the function of the International Advisory Council (IAC)?
Sarvodaya also has an Act of Parliament which governs our work, and we have incorporated 14 bodies into our structure as we have evolved, so I have some idea as to how a complex community of Auroville's nature can function. Concerning our role as members of the IAC, firstly I look at the spiritual component. This means that every person in this community is important, and it's important that everybody outside this community gets some kind of inspiration from the spiritual work that is being done here. Secondly, I feel it is our duty, in a spirit of brotherhood, to tell the Working Committee, the Residents Assembly, the Governing Board or the Government of India if we have any concerns about the way they are functioning vis-à-vis the ideals of Auroville. I certainly won't hesitate to do this. You see, I allow my heart to guide me. Sometimes, my intuitive kind of contribution has upset some people. On the other hand, I feel that intuition is far superior to knowledge.
Can you run a huge organization like Sarvodaya on intuition alone?
That's what I'm doing.