The Auroville Guard
Since there are no police in Auroville, and since mishaps on the roads do occasionally happen, a few individuals age 19 to 33 have stepped forth to be representatives of the peace. The way it works is that the core group of the Guard, which is a handful of people, takes up different positions in Auroville over the course of a few hours in the night. Through this steady and regular come-what-may arrangement, they have become a known and visible presence to all Aurovilians and common traffic passing thru the city during evening hours. The core group presently consists of one young German woman and young men of American, French, Hungarian and Tamil nationality who are all Aurovilian. During the day another set of Guards, mainly from the surrounding villages, is circulating through the township.
The night guard
Three or four men, one woman, all Aurovilians in their twenties or thirties.. You find them seated at night on the bridge near Pitchandikulam; or where the tar road to Edayanchavadi meets the dirt road into Auroville; or at the 'Eucies', a small eucalyptus tope adjacent to the road between Certitude and the Solar Kitchen. In the guard room at Certitude another young man is in attendance for telephone calls.
The Auroville night guard, consisting of Frenchman
Philippe, German Rosa, Hungarian Laszlo, Tamilian Vengadesh and Malayan
Ramesh do that every night, seven nights a week.
Patrolling the roads
At ten o'clock all guards meet briefly at the Eucies to give their report. For the past year, the reports have been variations of "all's well" or "reasonably well".
But it was not like that before. "When I was working for Auroville International France," says Philippe, "I used to read in the Auroville News about attacks on the road. I made up my mind to do something about that as soon as I joined Auroville." So, after joining Auroville 4 ½ years ago, he started patrolling the roads, first alone, then with others. "There had been many previous attempts to organise a guard, usually immediately after someone had been attacked at night, but they used to fade out after a few months. When I expressed an interest in doing this work I was gladly given the full responsibility. Now I have been guarding the road every evening for the last 4 years."
What counts is the presence
Philippe has followed a training in martial arts. The others too know how to defend themselves. But this knowledge is in fact not very important.
Says Rosa: "What counts is the presence. The
Aurovilians know that we are there; they can call on us whenever necessary,
and they are not alone on the road at night. That creates a feeling
of safety. When requested, we also provide an escort so that people
get home safely; we help mothers who are looking for lost daughters;
and we give accident assistance. Recently a guest who had crashed with
his motorbike into a palmyra tree needed to be brought to Jipmer hospital
for a life-saving operation. We also help people with petrol if they
run out of it."
"But we are not the Auroville Police," says Philippe. "There are over 100 settlements in Auroville, and safety within each community is the responsibility of the community itself. We only come to help when we are called. So when people phone and ask if we can do something about the party music at the neighbours, we politely decline. Our prime responsibility is the safety of the main road at night."
Road safety greatly improved
Road safety has indeed greatly improved due to the visibility and presence of the night guard. Philippe recalls: "Some years ago we had to prevent drunken people from Pondicherry coming into Auroville every Friday and Saturday night. This doesn't happen anymore because people know that we are here. Nowadays it often happens that people stop by to say hello, like f.i. taxi drivers or the police on their way to some business in one of the villages. But though there have been no major problems for the last few years, I still advise people against taking the deserted Bommayapalayam-Greenbelt road at night as there is no need to take unnecessary risks."
As presently Auroville at night is quite a peaceful place, the Guard gathering at the Eucies is often the venue for an open forum where youthful people are able to come and 'hang out' and be together, to share ideas and express themselves. But this in no way affects the Guard's ability to respond in a second to the emergence of any situation that calls their attention.
Aurovilians stay home
Interestingly, it seems that fewer Aurovilians are traveling at night now. "Since 1 ½ year" says Ramesh, "you hardly see Aurovilians out any more after 9 pm. Perhaps they are all clustered around the video? The only people you can see are guests - who, as they are not always properly informed about us, sometimes are afraid of us - and people from the villages who know us. The local villagers, by the way, are very appreciative of our work."
Aurovilian Santo from Italy is, together with the Tamil Aurovilian Ashok, responsible for the day-guard. Unlike the night guard, the day guard consists of six hired employees from the villages surrounding Auroville. "Since they have been guarding the road, nothing happened, not even a minor harassment," says Santo. "Their main task is to be visible, and to help whenever required."
Battalion of guards
Does the guard feel that it is on the way to fulfilling Mother's vision of a 'battalion of guards' for Auroville? "Perfectly," says Philippe. "The guard recently received a substantial donation which helped it purchase motorbikes and provide maintenance for the people doing this work. Now all we need is a few cellular phones to interconnect more quickly."
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