Auroville has dismissed as ‘an outrageous piece of tabloid journalism' a film broadcast on the BBC programme NewsNight and BBC World Service alleging that Auroville condones sexual exploitation of children by Aurovilians.
It started innocently. On March 19, 2008, OutreachMedia, the Auroville service set-up to look after the logistics of visiting journalists [see the article Managing the Media in Auroville Today # 231, May 2008] received an email from freelance journalist Ms. Rachel Wright. She wanted to do an eight-minute video on Auroville for NewsNight, the news and current affairs programme of BBC2 and for BBC World. “It would also go on BBC online and I would do a radio version for the World Service and domestic outlets so it would have a massive reach,” wrote Ms. Wright. She stated that “the piece would be trying to explain the philosophy and idealism of Auroville – why it started and how it has developed in 40 years and how as an international township it is unique in the world. We would like to talk to some of the founding members as well as some of the younger members.” Ms. Wright said the she had been teaching journalism in Chennai for the past two months.
After an email exchange on possible shooting sites, Ms. Wright came in early April. OutreachMedia received her well. “We organised the interviews and accompanied her on the Saturday and the Monday she was filming in Auroville,” says Ann, who runs OutreachMedia together with Mauna, Tim and others. “Then she left. Our work, we thought, was finished, and we were looking forward to seeing the result.”
These expectations were rudely shattered when Ms. Wright emailed from England . “As you know I was recently filming in Auroville. While there I approached some locals and found that there was real dissatisfaction with Auroville. As I delved deeper I found that there were many people claiming that young people were being sexually abused by people who lived in or were visiting Auroville. Some had been abused while attending the New Creation school and some were being picked up on the beaches and in Pondicherry . They were being given money and treats in exchange for sex … I also talked to social workers with a local NGO who work with sexually abused children who say that Auroville doesn't scrutinize its members or its visitors and that it is attracting the wrong sort of person and creating a sex industry in Pondicherry. A local politician told me that because of Auroville, Pondicherry is becoming the brothel of South India .” Ms. Wright asked for an interview with Dr. Karan Singh or for a proper and detailed response from OutreachMedia.
“We were shocked,” says Tim. “And we felt abused. Why on earth hadn't she discussed this with us when she was here in Auroville? We could have organized interviews with the Secretary or with members of the Working Committee and other senior Aurovilians and we could have shown her files.”
Why indeed? “People had advised me against talking to Aurovilians about this issue as they would respond violently and I would receive death threats. I felt vulnerable,” replied Ms. Wright in a telephone talk. But for a journalist who claims to have ‘war-zone experience', this excuse was certainly not acceptable. “It's nonsense! In Auroville's entire 40-year history no Aurovilian has ever made any death-threat to anybody!” says Tim indignantly. “We started to wonder if Ms. Wright had arrived with an entirely clean slate.”
Auroville and AVI UK replies
Yet, still trusting her integrity, OutreachMedia replied to Ms. Wright. “Sexual abuse, particularly when it involves children, is something for which there is no tolerance in Auroville. At the slightest hint of such abuse, the matter would be investigated and the person would be asked to leave.” A copy of the Admission Policy was sent, showing that all persons have to go through a one-year probationary period in order to be accepted as Aurovilian. And OutreachMedia explained that, following a case in 1995 when a Newcomer was made to leave Auroville for reasons of improper behaviour with children, all those who work with children are on the alert.
OutreachMedia's letter was soon followed by a letter from Auroville International UK, addressed to the editor of BBC NewsNight, Mr. Peter Barron. “We believe that the allegations made are unsubstantiated and false and have been made with the sole objective to discredit Auroville. We further believe that to broadcast these allegations would be extremely damaging, not only to the world-acclaimed work of Auroville, but to the very children which we would all wish to protect,” wrote Martin Littlewood on behalf of AVI UK, explaining that the fundraising efforts of AVI UK for village education might be harmed by the broadcast.
Auroville's Working Committee wrote a few days later, when from the reply of Mr. Barron to AVI UK it became obvious that he was disregarding the concerns and was determined to broadcast the allegations. The Working Committee objected that no Auroville authority had been contacted by Ms. Wright to give Auroville's position. It requested the BBC to postpone the showing of the film and take up a more thorough and objective investigation, which could ensure that neither the reputation of the BBC or Auroville would be carelessly put at stake.
The BBC, possibly realising that Ms. Wright's story was obviously one-sided and might be attacked as lacking due impartiality, finally agreed that an interview with a member of the Working Committee would be held after the broadcast and tagged on to it. After more pressure from the Working Committee, the BBC also agreed to send the transcript of the video.
The video transcript.
The transcript, which arrived less than 48 hours before the scheduled broadcast, confirmed the worst fears of OutreachMedia and the Working Committee. It showed sensationalism, alternating unsubstantiated allegations with malicious innuendo and peppered with plain misinformation. The interviewees, all non-Aurovilians except one, were biased. The words of the lone Aurovilian who appeared in the video had been taken out of context. The transcript showed an appalling lack of fairness and integrity on the part of the BBC.
The Working Committee wrote a 9-page rejoinder to the BBC, ending with a statement that the airing of this video would be completely unacceptable and below the level of an institution such as the BBC, with a request not to air the video. The request went unheeded. The BBC replied that it would change the transcript. However, it only corrected some mistakes, and broadcast the video nonetheless.
And the interview? At around 5 pm, the BBC phoned that the interview could not take place in Pondicherry , as had originally been scheduled, but had to take place in a studio in Chennai at midnight that same evening. Though this implied a good 7-hour drive to Chennai and back for a 3-minute interview, the Working Committee agreed. But when the Working Committee member was on the point of getting into the car, the BBC phoned again to say that it had also not been able to organize a studio in Chennai. It then proposed to do the interview on Skype. This seemingly unprofessional handling of the interview location created the distinct impression that the BBC tried to discourage the Working Committee from giving the interview.
After the broadcast
After the film had been aired, the Working Committee issued a public statement on the Auroville website condemning the video as ‘an outrageous piece of tabloid journalism'. It was followed by a detailed additional statement on the many distortions in the video. The Chairman of the Governing Board and the members of the International Advisory Council of the Auroville Foundation too sent letters of protest to the BBC, as did scores of people from all over the world, expressing their strong disapproval. “My belief in the BBC as a reliable source of news and information has been shattered, and I will now question the accuracy of future reports,” wrote many people, and asked for a public apology.
Mr. Barron, meanwhile, has more or less standardised his answers to these complaints, stating that “Rachel Wright approached this subject with proper journalistic rigour and the project complied with the BBC's editorial guidelines of fairness and balance” and that he was confident that “the BBC approached the story in good faith and presented a fair and balanced report about this important issue.” It is obvious that neither he, nor Ms. Wright, wanted to be convinced that the BBC failed to broadcast an honest, well-researched and impartial documentary. The many objections notwithstanding, the BBC proceeded to broadcast the video twice on BBC World Service.
As can be expected, local authorities visited Auroville soon after the broadcast. High-level officers of the police and Immigration Office were concerned, for if Auroville was indeed a place where paedophiles could indulge in criminal behaviour, how was it that they were unaware of it?
The Working Committee informed the Foreign Regional Registration Officer about the cases Auroville had been dealing with in the last 15 years: 3 Aurovilians had been asked to leave on the basis of suspected (but never proven) paedophile involvement; one Newcomer was found guilty and had his probationary status ended and the authorities were informed; one guest was found guilty, sent out, and the local authorities were informed; and the attention of the police had been drawn to two persons who were roaming the area and had been bothering minors. Auroville explained that a large number of guesthouses and home stays have come up around Auroville – the Repos community on the beach alone is surrounded by 163 (!) small guesthouses – and that Auroville cannot be held responsible for what happens there.
The question ‘why' Ms. Wright decided to relate child abuse to Auroville remains as yet unanswered. Child abuse, according to a report in the daily newspaper The Hindu, of December 26, 2007, is rampant in Chennai. According to a survey conducted in 2007 by the Tulir Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse, more than 40 per cent of the children in Chennai from all social strata report various forms of sexual abuse. Rumour has it that paedophilia also thrives in the tourist town of Mahabalipuram . Why did she concentrate on Auroville?
“I think she was out for a scoop,” says Mauna. “Child abuse is a problem found everywhere in the world, including India . Ms. Wright tried to connect it to Auroville to show we allow it to happen and do not act against it; and in the process to denigrate Auroville's ideals and good name. She dismisses The Mother as ‘a French woman'; she falsely states in the transcript that Auroville strives for Vatican status; she lies that Aurovilians don't pay tax; she misinforms that Auroville has no money, no rules and no leaders; and she portrays Aurovilians as arrogant Westerners who repress the poor local population and take undue advantage of them which is another falsity – for only 60% of Auroville's population are foreigners. And if she would have compared the lives of people who have been associated with Auroville since the beginning with those of people outside our geographical area, she would have found how much Auroville has done for the surrounding villages.”
OutreachMedia's views are corroborated by the fact that the video shows five so-called witnesses, four of whom seem to bear a grudge against Auroville.
Two of them cannot be identified as their faces have been blackened in the video. But one of them, an anonymous villager, states an absurdity. In the transcript sent to the Working Committee he mentions, speaking about New Creation School , that “one in five children are currently being abused”. This allegation was removed from the video after the Working Committee commented to the BBC that no parent would send their child to a school with such a track record. (Strangely, the remark was not removed from the BBC radio programme.) Yet, this same witness was still allowed to say that “men come in and ask them [the children] to stay after school and then have sex with them.”
The BBC obviously agreed that the first part of this witness' statement was patent nonsense and hence removed it – but why did it still broadcast the second part, when the witness's unreliability had already been confirmed? And why was this statement not followed up with the interview given by the principal of the school?
The Working Committee asked for the names of these two witnesses. The BBC replied that they could not be given, but that they would inform them about Auroville's interest to talk to them. From the fact that the two have never contacted Auroville or any Indian authority can be deduced that their testimony was probably false.
Another questionable ‘witness report' comes from Mr. Ram Kumar Raj, who states in the video that “the sexual abuse issue has to be taken seriously by Auroville – they should scrutinize people coming here and say if you are coming we will be watching you ...”.
This statement was preceded by Ms. Wright saying, “Local charities however, are reacting to the problem. This man teaches local children how to deal with unwanted advances from predatory adults. He has seen the nature of Auroville's members change over the years.”
This introduction has proven to be a clear innuendo. Mr. Raj, who works for the Pondicherry Multipurpose Social Service Society (PMSSS) in the area of child abuse prevention, clarified to a member of the Working Committee “I made a general statement which applies to any organisation. Neither the PMSSS nor any other charitable organization I know considers Auroville to be a ‘problem'.” The PMSSS, he clarified, also does not teach self-defence classes against ‘predatory adults from Auroville'. “I have a lot of respect for the work the Aurovilians are doing for the uplift of the surrounding villages,” he said.
A third dubious ‘witness' is Mr. Raj Batra, a person who stayed as a guest in Auroville for 2 years before his guest status was cancelled and he was asked to leave on account of making misrepresentations about his nationality, and because of complaints by residents of an Auroville community about his anti-social and destructive behaviour while living there. He therefore obviously has a grudge against Auroville.
Another ambiguous witness is Mr. Nandhivarman, the ‘local politician' from Pondicherry , who is most probably the person who made the ludicrous statement, mentioned in Ms. Wright's first email, that “because of Auroville, Pondicherry is becoming the brothel of South India ”. Mr. Nandhivarman hosts many websites. A posting on one of them, dated April 9, 2008, is called “My fight against Auroville soon in Televisions Options.” In it, he refers to Sri Aurobindo as ‘a failed godman' and to The Mother as ‘a Frenchwoman … who found the key to death but is now dead – perhaps she had lost that key.'
Auroville doesn't escape his ire either. “There exists a so-called international city, a dream of the Late Mira Richard, known as Mother of Aurobindo Ashram. That can be said to be the story of deceit. Right from the beginning their aim is to establish a Vatican type of autonomous state.” Nandhivarman continues to lambast Auroville for its lack of leadership and aspiration for Divine anarchy, which he sees as an attempt at creating a lawless society which is against the laws of the land. His website shows many similar curious statements, which makes one question his rationality.
But Ms. Wright doesn't seem to have been subject to such questioning. Many of the statements she makes in the video can be traced back to this particular website. The words ‘ Vatican status', which appeared in the transcript (though edited out in the video); the insolent reference to The Mother; the reference to Divine Anarchy – it's all there. In another attempt to tarnish the image of Auroville she talks in the video about new people being ‘inducted' to Auroville. In the original transcript, the word used was ‘initiation' – it was corrected by Auroville into ‘probationary period' but deliberately not used, to create the impression, as one of Auroville's supporters wrote, that “Viewers who do not know Auroville, upon watching the documentary, may be led to think ‘Ah, here again is one of those weird sects, deluded by some ideal or the other, but only living in dissolution and perversion'.”
Internal website quotation
The journalist states that one ‘disgruntled' Aurovilian – reasons not given – gave her access to Auroville's internal website. She then shows two texts. In the first almost five-year old posting an Aurovilian voiced concern about the possibility of sexual abuse and proposed that Auroville has clear laws about sexual offence. The second text that runs ‘visa has been cancelled' was taken from a security report of 2008 which relates to a mentally unstable person who was neither a guest nor an Aurovilian, and who was seen wandering in the Auroville area.
The journalist takes the existence of these postings as proof of the existence of sexual abuse, instead of what they show: a community being vigilant to ensure the safety of all people in the area.
Lack of honesty
“Ms. Wright wasn't honest when she gave us the reasons for wanting to film in Auroville. There was a pre-planned agenda,” says OutreachMedia. “Her contacts with her so-called witnesses were pre-booked, for it is not possible that in the course of 3 days in Auroville she would have found all five of them. There may have never been an intention to do a film on Auroville – the intention was to find a scoop on the currently best-selling theme of paedophilia, while at the same time denigrating Auroville and the Aurovilians.”
The Working Committee is now lodging a formal complaint with the BBC, as the BBC has done great harm to Auroville's reputation and is insulting the Community. Yet, one Aurovilian commented otherwise. “I didn't find the piece particularly well conceived nor convincing in its scandal-mongering – not for any reasonably intelligent viewer, anyway. It seems more damaging to the credibility of the BBC than to that of Auroville.”
Statements on the BBC broadcast
From Dr. Karan Singh, Chairman, Governing Board
To: Mr Mark Thompson, Director General, BBC
Dear Mr Thompson,
I write to you about a TV clip on Auroville, which was produced by one Rachel Wright for BBC and was broadcast as a part of ‘NewsNight' programme on BBC 2 on May 21, 2008 and on BBC World on May 24, 2008. The international cultural township of Auroville in south India is administered by the Auroville Foundation, an autonomous body set up under the Auroville Foundation Act, 1988, which is accountable to Parliament of India through India 's Ministry of Human Resource Development. I am presently the Chairman of the Foundation's Governing Board constituted by the Government. I am enclosing, for your information, my brief biographical sketch
I was gravely disturbed and distressed to see that the broadcast portrays Auroville as a place inhabited by an anarchic sect where paedophilia is rampant there. By broadcasting a report containing unsubstantiated allegations of a heinous nature without cross-checking them either with the Auroville Foundation or Aurovilians, BBC has damaged its long-standing credibility as a media wedded to truth. I have been Chairman of the Governing Board once earlier. During my earlier and the present tenure as Chairman, I have frequently visited Auroville and have been closely involved in its activities and in constant touch with a wide cross-section of Aurovilians. Further, the Foundation's Secretary, a senior serving civil servant, has his headquarters within Auroville. If paedophilia were as widespread as alleged in your report, it could not have escaped our attention.
I gather that the Working Committee of Auroville Foundation's Residents' Assembly, a statutory body, is lodging a formal complaint with the BBC Trust. Therefore, without going into a detailed rebuttal, I will restrict my observations to certain salient points.
Auroville's founding is firmly anchored in the philosophy of human unity propounded by one of the outstanding spiritual thinkers of last century, Sri Aurobindo, and was given concrete shape 40 years back by his spiritual companion, the late Mirra Alfassa, who is universally venerated as ‘The Mother”. Besides the Government of India, UNESCO unanimously welcomed and endorsed the founding of Auroville as a crucible of the experiment in human unity. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of its founding earlier this year, UNESCO reiterated its support to the Auroville Experiment through another unanimous resolution of its Executive Board. I am enclosing certain documents that will give you some idea of Auroville, its aims and objectives.
I am unhappy that your report on Auroville does not mention Sri Aurobindo at all and dismisses the Mother as “a French woman”, and creates an impression that is exactly opposite of what we are striving to achieve through Auroville. The report keeps on harping on the instances of paedophilia alleged by certain individuals whose credentials your reporter does not establish nor does she challenge the credibility of their statements. You will appreciate that the first task of a seasoned journalist, when faced with odious allegations, is to cross check them with appropriate sources before putting them out as gospel truth as she has done. I am told that Rachel Wright was a guest of Auroville community while she was filming there. It is all the more reprehensible on her part as a conscientious journalist of a responsible organisation like BBC to have blithely abused the generosity of her hosts by keeping them totally in dark and surreptitiously advancing her own agenda of maligning an institution that is considered unique in the world. When confronted later as to why she did not cross check the allegations with her hosts, she is reported to have said that she was advised against it and also felt ‘vulnerable' because of the information, a defence that is specious and unacceptable. When confronted with gross inaccuracies in the report, as a last ditch attempt, BBC has made an effort to insert a bit of praise about Auroville. But it is obviously so inconsistent with the entire trend of the report as to serve no purpose at all.
The Auroville cultural township has a population of around 1,900 adults and children drawn from 40 different countries including the UK . In a community with such a diversity of cultural backgrounds and a minimal of overseeing authority, the possibility of occasional deviant behaviour by one or two individuals cannot be ruled out. But those in Auroville's leadership position within the community and the Auroville Foundation's Governing Board are always alert about such unethical acts and have not failed to take prompt and effective action. Paedophilia is a crime under Indian Penal Code. If it were as rampant as portrayed in your report, the local Police would have surely taken recourse to action under the law.
Instead of promoting the cause of human unity that Auroville represents and the world is in dire need of, I regret to say that the BBC has done great harm to Auroville's reputation. A suitable apology from you on behalf of the BBC is the least that we would expect.
Dr. Karan Singh
Chairman, Governing Board,
From the International Advisory Council of Auroville
Dear Mr. Barron,
We are the members of the International Advisory Council of Auroville, which is empowered under the Auroville Foundation Act to advise the Governing Board. At the same time we also advise Aurovilians and in particular the Working Committee of the Residents' Assembly. We also help Auroville with its international relations and help the separate organization Auroville International to promote knowledge of the township and what it stands for. To do this we meet twice a year in Auroville and we usually spend considerable time there. In this way we have come to know Auroville, its institutions, the way it works, and its activities well. We have developed a particular admiration for Auroville's educational activities. Hence we feel compelled to protest to you about the film you showed on May 21ST in NewsNight and consequently on BBC World.
We know that Dr Karan Singh, the Chairman of Auroville's Governing Board, and one of India's longest serving and respected politicians, has written to the Director General about this film and that Auroville will be filing a formal complaint. We also know that you and the reporter, Rachel Wright, were made well aware of Auroville's views on the draft script and the version of the film before the final one. We will not therefore go into a detailed rebuttal of the film, but just make some salient points.
The description of Auroville contained many errors, and when the script was eventually sent to the Auroville Working Committee for their comments, they were pointed out, but by no means all of them were corrected.
The description of Auroville in the film nowhere near does justice to the philosophy, which led to its foundation, the philosophy of one of the most revered Indian thinkers of the 20th century Sri Aurobindo.
The Mother his spiritual collaborator, was highly regarded by statesmen such as J. Nehru and Indira Gandhi. She is dismissed as “a French Woman”. Sri Aurobindo is not mentioned.
The magnificent meditation centre, known as the Matrimandir, which the Aurovilians built themselves, and which is widely acclaimed as an outstanding and original architectural achievement, is dismissed as “a giant gold sphere.”
The reporter talks of ‘induction' taking one year when it was pointed out to her that the year was a ‘probationary period' and there was no ‘induction' or ‘initiation' whatsoever.
The impression purposefully given and left with the viewer is that Auroville is some peculiar sect, which is quite contrary to all it stands for.
The film also indicates that Auroville is anarchic. There is, as we have said, a Governing Body and an International Advisory Council. A senior Officer of the Indian Administrative Service of Joint Secretary level manages the office of the Auroville Foundation in Auroville. The Aurovilians themselves have a Resident's Assembly, a Working Committee, and several other bodies. The vigour with which the Auroville Working Committee has defended Auroville against your reporter's allegations is proof that Auroville's own institutions function effectively.
The film contains allegations against Auroville, which are not challenged in any way by the reporter. She simply accepts them as true. Her most important witness claims that he left Auroville, and that claim is not challenged. The Auroville records show that he was told to leave and had the reporter checked any of her facts with Auroville Outreach, the organization responsible for the township's relations with the press, she would have found details of the misdemeanours he committed. This was pointed out by the Working Committee when they read the script but still not reflected in the film transmitted.
In the film only one Aurovilian, Mr. Gilles Guigan, is given a chance to say something. He seems to have been a last minute inclusion after the lack of any Aurovilian interview in the film had been pointed out to the reporter by the Working Committee. Mr. Guigan's words have been crudely edited to make him appear to support the film, although the statement is so brief as to be almost meaningless. As we know Mr. Guigan well through his dedicated work in the construction of the unique meditation centre, we can't believe he intended to endorse the film. This was confirmed when we received a copy of his objection to the BBC stating that he felt betrayed by Mrs. Wright to whom he talked for over 45 minutes.
Several of the allegations were beyond belief. One, which was removed when Auroville pointed out its absurdity, stated that one in five children in an Auroville School were being abused. This allegation was made by an anonymous villager who didn't explain his connection with the school or how he had obtained this information. The villager was still allowed to say that men came into the school and asked children to stay and have sex with them after school. This seems extraordinarily unlikely in a school most of whose staff are women and which has been approved by international donors who fund it. It is also inspected by the government of the State of Tamil Nadu . Another of your reporter's witnesses is a social worker. He is unidentified except by his name. Viewers are not told which organization he works for or what his experience is. His allegations are generalisations containing nothing specific. One victim does testify to having been abused by one Aurovilian but he does not appear to be a recent case although it is impossible to be sure about that because the journalism is so sloppy that no indication is given about when this occurred.
There is a deliberate attempt to imply that Auroville is in some way responsible for the unfortunate fact that the increasing popularity of the nearby town of Pondicherry as a tourist destination has attracted foreign paedophiles. In a piece to camera the reporter says she saw three men with boys on beach. The innuendo implied is that all three men were paedophiles and all from Auroville. But there is nothing to back this up and none of the men are shown on film. To strengthen the innuendo the reporter speaks of Auroville or Auro beaches. But all beaches in India are public.
The original script sent to Auroville concluded with the statement by the reporter, “Auroville does not seem to be operating in the spirit in which it was founded.” In a last ditch attempt to make the film more balanced the conclusion was altered to include praise of Auroville but it is so obviously inconsistent with the whole trend of the film as to serve no purpose.
The film will inevitably create damaging and unwarranted suspicion about Auroville. It has already severely damaged the BBC's reputation for fair and balanced journalism among all those who know and admire Auroville. We believe it is only fitting that the BBC finds some way of acknowledging that the film does not live up to those standards, and ensuring that it is not shown again.
Sir Mark Tully, Chairman,
Ms Vishakha Desai,
Dr Michael Murphy,
Dr Doudou Diène,
Dr Marc Luyckx Ghisi
From the Support Group New Creation Bilingual School
Ms Rachel Wright, the freelance journalist who came to NCBS, was not open about her intentions. We thought she was making a straightforward programme on the school and Auroville in general. Needless to say we are appalled and shocked that the BBC would present something so biased and poorly researched, and so damaging to the very children it claims it wants to protect.
When the present Support Group took up the management of NCBS in 2005, we were aware that there had been a few incidents of abuse before our time and that offenders had been asked to leave Auroville. Auroville did not turn a blind eye to such behaviour, as the BBC has implied, but in the early days the community may have been slow to respond because it was quite naive. It seemed unbelievable to Aurovilians then that volunteers working with children could take advantage of them in such a manner.
However, these unfortunate events are now behind us. Auroville has an unequivocal stand on these matters and does not condone any sexual misconduct. One of the first things the NCBS support group initiated in 2005 were educative talks with its staff on sexual abuse so as to alert them on signs of abuse, and we established clear guidelines for all staff and volunteers who work in the school. Volunteers have to provide credentials and sign and abide by a code of conduct which includes absolutely no physical intimacy between a teacher and his/her pupil. We also are watchful for any signs that something in a volunteer/child relationship is not correct.
New Creation Bilingual School
From Shankar, Principal
New Creation Bilingual School
As a long-term Tamil Aurovilian, and being the Principal of New Creation Bilingual School (NCBS), I was shattered to pieces when I saw what you have aired about Auroville and New Creation Bilingual School . I am one of the Tamil locals who was born in Kuilapalayam Village (which was mentioned in the video) and grew up as a villager till I was 28 and joined Auroville. Afterwards I started realising why experimental communities like Auroville are most essential for the world at this crucial moment.
Our school is supported by the Auroville community, the Govt. of India and by others from all over the world. Imagine how exited I was when I heard about BBC coming to our school and filming our children. In fact, I was the only one whom your reporter Rachel Wright interviewed at school (for more than 10 minutes and it was not shown in the clip) and she also filmed some of our children. I thought Rachel Wright was an angel who came to help our more than 200 poor children from my village. But what I saw in the TV was not something like my thought but more like ‘we Tamil teachers working at NCBS have been raping our own uncle's, brother's and aunt's children every day.' You people may not know the culture of South India , but I as a Tamil who has been working with some very dedicated, old-time western Aurovilians for the upliftment of my poor village children, my high ideas about Ms Wright and BBC were brutally slashed into pieces.
What we Tamils have been thinking about BBC has become a nightmare. I cannot understand the way you accept your reporter Rachel Wright. In Indian schools we learn a song “BBC is the media” (if you are interested, I can translate this Tamil children song about the glory of the BBC for you), but now I find myself thinking about forms of falsehood.
Please come to the screen and say “We BBC apologise for the video clip we showed about New Creation Bilingual School and Auroville”. Or be happy about this assassination that your reporter did to my village children and keep talking about Children Development in your TV.
In deep and great sadness,
New Creation Bilingual School , Auroville
From Laurent Sauerwein,
senior reporter French national public television
As a former senior reporter on French national public television ( France 2) and recent visitor to Auroville, I am writing to you to protest against the bias, manipulations and innuendoes contained in Rachel Wright's “report”. I hesitate to use the term “report”, as her sweeping accusations of paedophilia and other allegations constitute, I am sorry to say, a distasteful piece of sensationalist journalism unworthy of the BBC.
I am not a member of Auroville, but have just spent two sabbatical months there, as a paying guest, enough time to be more than a fleeeting tourist. I have met many people, residents and villagers, often more than superficially. From the innumerable conversations I have had in the community and around it, with real people, not anonymous silhouettes on a screen, but face to face, eye to eye, I find Auroville to be a respectful and respectable, beautifully stimulating place. It is a rare social, spiritual, economic and ecological utopia, an open community composed of real people. It is composed of approximately 800 Indian members (by far the largest group, something which Ms. Wright carefully obliterates) and 1200 other men, women and children coming from over 40 countries of this problematic planet.
I went to Auroville with an open mind and a genuine curiosity. Coming from a very different cultural background, I was not particularly predisposed to its spiritual dimension, and I, still now, probably remain more sensitive to the human, social and ecological adventure which Auroville represents in my eyes. But I have also discovered that there is absolutely nothing coercive about Auroville's spirituality, and I recognize that the writings of Sri Aurobindo and of his spiritual collaborator known as The Mother compose an important founding element for the community. The yoga and meditation that some choose to engage in, strike me as activities more respectable than financial speculation or making war. Auroville's contribution to the development of the region and it's concrete action in the surrounding villages can't easily be dismissed. Ms. Wright mentions them in passing, but only to smother it under an avalanche of dubious accusations, made by people whose motivations and credibility are less than clear.
Auroville has problems of course, economic, social and cultural, but the community does seem keen on confronting them. It does so, with lucidity and frankness, both in private and public, on its various websites, on the webcast Auroville radio and in print publications. As opposed to what is stated in the broadcast, Auroville is not without rules, and it goes about managing its internal problems firmly and in a human manner. Auroville is neither a sect nor a religious order. It is a community of humans and it has principles. They are open to debate, but debate is alas not what Ms. Wright had in mind.
It is particularly shocking to see how Ms. Wright extracts a perfectly reasonable sentence from the interview of a known member of the community in order to mobilize it as an element toward the fabrication of her pamphlet: “For an ideal society, you have to have ideal people, and we don't have ideal people,” candidly says the interviewee, without suspecting what would be contrived around his innocent remark. The quote, taken out of context, was of course part of broader considerations on the general welfare and evolution of Auroville. Ms. Wright turned it around to make it fit her dubious agenda.
The rest of her “report” unravels like a text-book model of carefully crafted manipulation and abuse, complete with unsubstantiated assertions, loaded generalisations and disturbing innuendoes. Far from representing the “full investigation” that you claim on your website, the result is unethical and intellectually unacceptable.
Auroville deserves better than this brutal, libellous hatchet job. Sincerely yours,
Laurent Sauerwein, Paris , France .
See also: Response to BBC broadcast Page