The Yoga of Integral Violence
A lot has happened over this half century for Auroville to become what it is today. Aurovilians (the residents of Auroville) have been successful in offering alternatives in sustainability, ecology, farming, education, art… all that by following their inner call to live a life of integral yoga, together, in peace and harmony. Over the years, they have received the help of countless individuals to buy the lands and build houses, and from the Government of India and other organisations for a variety of projects, education and infrastructure through grants.
Unfortunately for the Aurovilians, their sadhana (spiritual practice) is now facing an unforeseen obstacle: Violence.
The dawn of violence
Auroville is a very special place: Most people living here have sold everything they had in their home state or country to give it to the communal common pot. Auroville has been their home for 10, 20, 50+ years. Even if some don’t have an Indian passport, they have a very strong feeling of belonging to this place.
A year ago, IAS officer Jayanti Ravi was nominated as the new Secretary of the Auroville Foundation (the civil servant in charge of the relations between the GOI and the residents). Since then, Auroville’s core values have methodically been replaced: status quo with bullying, peace and harmony with threats, spirituality with dogmatic religion, and Auroville’s development with real estate projects.
What is Auroville?
- A UNESCO project endorsed 5 times
- >3,000 people from 60 countries
- An experiment in human unity
- A small town managing its school system, health clinics, waste…
Violence against the environment
Auroville is an example of reforestation and progressive farming praised all over India and the world. Countless students come here to learn how to save dead soil and improve the resilience of their farming practices. Furthermore, the quiet green environment of Auroville has attracted other people dedicated to the survival of our ecosystems, who came here to share their knowledge. It is the perfect example of the future of cities: adapting to nature, building with – not against – it. Aurovilians continue to revive arid lands every year: They plant saplings and take care of them with all the love of spiritual seekers; they praise Mother Nature and make her well-being an integral part of their dedication to the Divine, working towards what future cities could look like.
Suddenly, a year ago, it was decided that a road would be built for dubious dogmatic reasons. Inexplicably, all the funding Aurovilians needed for years to develop the city were made available for this one project. However, it was made clear that it would be done Right Now. The plan was simple: Two perfectly circular roads would be built and connected with 12 smaller roads. In other words, some 1,60,000 trees, shrubs and understory would be destroyed within days, to showcase a dramatic growth of Auroville.
To do so, external contractors were called on, external ‘enforcers’ were hired to manhandle residents, and bulldozers were instructed to destroy the forest and precious water catchment areas, without any notice or discussion. Aurovilians were in shock. This trauma was however just the first of a series. After that, violence spread out, like a vicious cancer.
The narrative is very basic: Auroville was supposed to be a city with 50,000 inhabitants built 50 years ago, so it was late. It would finally happen. This is an obvious lie. Numerous studies have been made over the years to develop the city, some with detailed plans and planning. Auroville was just waiting to find the money and means to do so in a sustainable manner.
Violence against the communication
Residents’ meetings have always been a core tool for information sharing within the community; Aurovilians realised very early that online exchange platforms and document sharing between working groups and residents were also necessary. They developed an active internal sharing platform, on which every resident had an account, to discuss the many aspects of Auroville’s development, offering a centralised platform for the working groups to communicate reports and requests for feedback, and allowing residents to share projects and thoughts in a safe space. Residents also set up a centralised auroville.org.in domain hosting more than 3,000 email addresses, spanning all age groups, to share information and documents. For external communication, they created the OutreachMedia service, which had been liaising with journalists and creating content for the outside world to keep up with Auroville development.
Right after the beginning of the destruction, as residents started to respond, a gag order was put on communication channels and OutreachMedia was shut down and replaced, to make sure these actions were not made public. Police complaints and extradition threats also started to flourish and anyone dissenting with the Secretariat was dubbed a criminal and anti-government. A few weeks later, all internal tools, emails and forums from the residents were taken over to investigate on so-called suspicion of anti-national activities. From one day to the next, residents could not communicate anymore with either their working groups or even amongst themselves, as some email addresses or intranet accesses were targeted and blocked. Furthermore, when the working groups started creating alternative email addresses, these were instantly blacklisted from the auroville.org.in domain. Like everywhere in the world, email is one of the main communication channels here. So imagine, in a time of crisis, an entire community unable to efficiently relay essential and urgent information…
Violence against women
Gender equality is a human right. Currently, our world faces a persistent gap in access to equal opportunities and decision-making power for women and men. Systems that try to impose gender quotas to balance participation seldom work. Inequalities always persist somewhere: domestic violence, salary difference, gender discrimination, etc.
A mostly unnoticed distinctiveness in Auroville is the balance between men and women in every sector: no salary difference, no under-representation. Just pure and simple equality. Though India is ranked 17th worst country for gender equality by the Global Gender Gap Index of the World Economic Forum, Auroville – located in India – showcases a unique story. Auroville has launched several programmes for women’s empowerment, as well as many outreach schools to educate young girls and boys about the importance of gender equality values.
Auroville is a place where people don’t work for fame, power or money. They work for the wellbeing of the community and their own inner growth. This example is of course hard to follow for countries obsessed with production growth and GDP, but if these dying models would dare being inspired by Auroville’s core values, the societal difference between men and women would also disappear, leaving space for common human values, with respect for each other and for mother Nature. Is it because of the peaceful environment created in Auroville by its reforestation achievements? Or because the life goals of residents are different from everywhere else? The reasons may be many, but the community has been a beacon for gender equality until December!
In December 2021, several violent actions – including molestation – were perpetrated on women. Since then, a feeling of insecurity has arisen. In July 2022, a local Aurovilian – who was trying to protect a workspace from being taken over – was brutally pushed around. That is a perfect example of the kind of energy used to push authoritative agendas through. To make things worse, the police then refused to register the complaint, claiming it concerned a central government issue, including state governors and other government officials. But are they really above the law? This kind of violent daily life threatens the very existence of the community and the security of women in Auroville.
Violence against governance
Auroville is a unique experiment of over 50 years. Residents here have created groups to take care of the numerous tasks at hand: building roads, internal and external relations, waste management, art services, resource management, communications, etc. All these activities are taken care of by residents and represent all the different colours of the community. Over the years, Aurovilians have tried different decision-making processes, but have always solved problems in a spirit of understanding and synthesis, remembering they are the servitors of the Divine Consciousness.
It came as a shock for residents to suddenly have to deal with archaic and top-down conventions, and decisions to annihilate everything they had consciously built over fifty years through self-governance. It started with various forms of intimidation. Violent action was always the answer for any given situation: As soon as the plans to build the road were paused by the National Green Tribunal, heavy retaliation tactics commenced. Unusually reduced, very short-term visa recommendation letters were granted to some foreign Aurovilians without reason, after excruciatingly long waiting periods and demeaning interviews for a simple signature.
Then, one of the main internal groups – called the Working Committee – was taken over, even after almost 900 residents voted to select other members through a standard decision-making process. The aggression did not stop there: FIRs were put on several Working Committee members and other residents, accusing them of non-bailable crimes such as anti-national activities.
How does one have a balanced life in these traumatic conditions? How does one work on oneself and the Mother’s Dream when someone is trying to destroy you a little more every day? Group after group were taken over to make Auroville the private toy of the Secretary and her supporters.
As a last resort, residents registered court cases against the Auroville Foundation Office, and had fair judgement in two major cases on August 26th, 2022. Unfortunately, instead of accepting to work hand in hand with the residents as suggested by the court, Jayanti Ravi appealed the verdicts.
In the meantime, Auroville’s fundamental structure continues to be destroyed piecemeal every day, maybe to a point of no return.
Violence against residents' sense of belonging
In Auroville, nothing belongs to anyone. It is one of the core values of the city. You build a house, you create a company, but if you leave, it goes back to the community. You do not own it, you will not get compensated. You work for the community and the community works for you. For Aurovilians, this is just a normal fact. It is kind of like planting a tree: You can plant the seed and water it, but the tree will never be yours. It might provide you shade, but it will most likely die long after you. This way of functioning nurtures a real sense of community. It makes people’s lives lighter: They do not need to worry about property and can focus their energies on the greater good. For spiritual seekers, it is a unique experience. Some houses have been built over 50 years, starting as a simple hut and transforming into a piece of art for two generations of the growing family.
India’s gift to grant visas to foreigners wanting to join Auroville has also created a very profound sense of belonging. A country accepting people from all around the world to create a place that belongs to humanity as a whole is in itself purely divine.
Visa threats create one of the worst human feelings: the fear of losing everything. For most foreigners, India is now their country. They have few contacts outside and certainly not a place to go “back” to. This is actually the same for most Indian Aurovilians: They left their state and city instead of country, but the result is identical.
It still does not stop here. Even the way Aurovilian assets are managed is being distorted, leaving residents with a vague status of “squatter” in houses they spent years building, with the threat to be moved somewhere else on a whim. This is a direct threat to the very basic need of security that every constitution in the world provides its citizens with. To make it even worse, the same will be applied to Auroville companies, farms and forests: The executives and caretakers thereof will be changed every two years, which directly calls into question the right to dignity.
All ego- and power-driven a
Violence against the fundamental values of Auroville
Mirra Alfassa, known as the Mother of Auroville, wrote a text called “The Dream” in 1950, in which she describes what Auroville should be. Initially, this text had been written for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, but the Mother decided that this project had to attract different kinds of people, and it did. One of the core values of Auroville is that there is no religion here. The teachings of Sri Aurobindo are very important indeed, but they are neither exclusive nor dogmatic. It is more a divine quest for sense that most residents are trying to embody, and it works very well. Countless types of yoga, therapies and meditation are taught and practised by numerous residents and visitors. You will find a lot of pictures of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo in Auroville, but without any religious following of their works.
After just a few months as Secretary of the Auroville Foundation, Jayanti Ravi was filmed singing a prayer to the Mother with members of the Golden Chain Fraternity. It was very disturbing for Auroville residents, as this event clearly showed the gap between actions and words since it was held right at the dawn of violence, beginning of December 2021. Furthermore, this type of “religious behaviour” holds no place in the agenda of an Auroville official. Then she started quoting the Mother as much as she could, calling for the “real devotees of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo” to join Auroville and occupy the soon-to-come apartments she would build for them.
Auroville is not a place for dogmatic readings of holy books and training routine for everyone. It is a place that grows organically, spirituality included. It is also not an Ashram, although some residents respect the ashramic way of living. Auroville aspires to move beyond existing cultures, norms and structures.
“I KNOW THAT AUROVILLE WILL BE. It may be in a 100 years, it may be in a 1,000 years.”
“It will take a long time. Sri Aurobindo says 300 years. I am learning that impatience is no way. In 300 years Auroville will be a very nice place.”
“In Auroville I do not want many men. I want some people, but true people.”
“There is no need to build another ordinary city in Auroville; already there are so many. If people are like that, it will become an ordinary city and our money and efforts will be wasted.”