We are deeply disturbed by reports from the experimental township of Auroville (a living UNESCO world heritage site), that unique forests, water catchment areas, community spaces are being bulldozed, and most importantly of all, community processes being ignored and bypassed. All this is being done in the name of “development” and a narrative that those who have been speaking for the forests, waterways and community processes have been standing in its way. The website www.standforaurovilleunity.com documents the unfolding of events in Auroville, and the responses from within the community and outside.
As videos and photographs show, about two weeks back, bulldozers flanked by police started clearing a forest bypassing due consensus-building processes within the community, which is among the founding principles of Auroville. This included a night-time raid at Auroville’s Youth Centre by nearly 80 policemen, involving police aggression, followed days later by forceful demolition of the centre’s main structures by involving nearly 100 hired strangers and violence at the hands of some. Residents who have raised the alarms have been threatened with gagging orders, deportation, FIRs, and denied the freedom of speech and the freedom to protest.
This kind of aggression imposed in an international intentional community, known for its innovations, is unacceptable and risks undoing much of what Auroville has offered and may continue to offer to India and the world. It jeopardises Auroville’s future relevance for our country and the world. People cannot innovate when they live in fear of violence and deportation.
We recognise the key role that Auroville has played in the research and design of systems of food production, ecological restoration, natural healthcare, education, architecture, and watershed-sensitive town planning. It has been an inspiration for numerous ecological projects and practices across India and the world during the past 40 years. Two years ago, we, members of Vikalp Sangam, gathered in Auroville with leading pioneers in the sustainability movement to re-imagine pathways for economy and governance that fit today’s global challenges, such as rampant inequality and the ecological (including climate) crisis. We have since been continuing our collaboration in small ways and working towards deepening our relationship with the community in a spirit of mutual learning and offering.
We understand that the present situation is the precipitate of a long-term unresolved conflict within the community regarding the development of a major circular road around the centre of Auroville called the Crown Way. We learn that while the administration, supported by a group of residents in positions of power, have been imposing the implementation of a plan that has been found to result in serious social and ecological damage, the community has made alternative proposals accommodating the ground realities, with minor adjustments to the road. We also learn that these alternative proposals, backed by detailed studies and plans and led by well-accomplished and internationally renowned urban planners living in and associated with Auroville, have been repeatedly ignored.
It is apparent that for decades, Auroville’s residents and government representatives have operated in a delicate balance of power, enshrined in the Auroville Foundation Act 1988. It appears now that this balance is being destroyed, with top-down decisions emanating from the central government, decisions that are oriented towards fast-track urban construction at the cost of community participation, consensus and ecological integrity. At a time when the world is asking questions about the currently dominant ‘development’ mindset because of its unsustainability and inequity, we fear that such imposition will undermine the role of Auroville as a site for innovation towards collective creativity and harmony.
As a civil society, we are inspired by the unique experiment in Auroville towards self-organisation and localised governance; an aspiration that has been growing across India and the world. Many aspects of it still need to be worked out, but that is to be expected in a situation where residents converge from many nationalities and cultures and have to work out the intricacies of genuine democracy. Instead of using its inadequacies and challenges as the rationale for such a top-down imposition, we urge all concerned to help strengthen the Auroville Residents Assembly, enable its empowerment to function to its full potential and become a true instrument of the collective labour towards the creation of the ‘City of Dawn’ that it aspires to be.
We support the residents’ plea to drop plans and processes of the imposed land clearance, and to instead enable a process of true collaboration and co-creation for deciding on what is the best interest of people and the environment in Auroville. The Vikalp Sangam stands for a pluriverse of pathways towards well-being and development, and we need Auroville as an autonomous laboratory for evolving such pathways through collective living and work.