Thursday, May 24, 2007

From its made-to-order economy into other areas that are more knowledge-based

On the Subject of Work in Auroville Harini Sampathkumar, Tejas Joseph Ritam Volume 4 Issue 2 February 2007 A Journal of Material and Spiritual Researches in Auroville: Sri Aurobindo International Institute for Educational Research.
Auroville can be viewed from many different perspectives in relation to what it is aspiring to do – embodying human unity in diversity, creating an alternative way of life, building a city for an ideal society, living in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds/politics/nationalities, and so on. But all these perspectives manifest in the life of a group of people who have consciously chosen to live in this physical, geographical place called Auroville, in rural Tamil Nadu, India, by doing some work. The residents of Auroville today are fewer than 2,000. But Auroville, a city in the making for an intended 50,000 residents, employs people everyday from the surrounding villages. These employees numbered 3,709 in March 2000, and today may be as many as 5,000.
The work of 2,000 people living in Auroville catering to the numerous perspectives of Auroville’s aspirations sustains not only their own lives, but those of an additional 5,000 families and their villages – this model by itself is not unique as can be seen in most industrial townships. But there are other differences, some of which are highlighted below.
While the subject of work is one of the most central issues to life in Auroville, as described by the Mother, it defines in great measure what it means to be a resident of Auroville. Work, in simple terms in any place, can be broadly termed as physical or mental effort or activity directed towards the production or accomplishment of something; a job, a trade, a profession, occupation or a means of livelihood. In Auroville this work is also (and primarily) seen as an offering or consecration of oneself to the Divine; but what does this mean at an everyday level that makes it different? Any work in the world can also be looked at as an offering to the Divine, without having to call it thus, but in Auroville when this takes the primary focus, and its interpretation is given by the Mother in The Dream,
“Work would not be there as the means of gaining one’s livelihood, it would be the means whereby to express oneself, develop one’s capacities and possibilities, while doing at the same time service to the whole group, which on its side would provide for each one’s subsistence and for the field of his work,”
there is a shift in focus from livelihood to capabilities and aspirations. It then becomes an area of expression of one’s own potential that allows the individual to grow and is a progressive movement. It is this definition of work that attracts many people to Auroville; for work here breaks the confining and limiting barriers of formal contractual, routine and choice-less tasks in market situations and social institutions. Yet this very freedom offered by this new definition of work in Auroville has its own challenges because it assumes that it is accompanied by its complementing counterpart – responsibility.
  • If changes in personal lives are deemed necessary for growth, then how would this translate when we experiment with frequent changes in vocations and types of work as part of such personal changes?
  • How can we create a dependable work force within the community that can be relied upon to run our essential services, from education, infrastructure, economy, etc?
  • Is there a lack of responsibility (or self-discipline) or dislike of routine/repetitive tasks or need to provide livelihoods for the villages, that makes us dependent on an external workforce for building up the economy of Auroville through commercial or non-commercial activities?

For this reason of dependability, there is obviously a preference, particularly in the commercial sector for employees as opposed to voluntary and selective inputs based on personal choice and ability.

  • How then do we plan future developmental needs with people whose personal objectives and needs may not match with that of a larger collective vision of Auroville?

This is one of our present dilemmas. Working for the collective welfare while sustaining themselves with difficulty When work is not connected to gaining livelihood, and should be the case of at least all those Aurovilians who are on a centrally funded maintenance doing work for the collective economy through production and services of essentials (as contrasted to those producing non-essentials that once again go to subsidize the life of people producing essentials), and when these sustenance levels provided are below the needs because of rising market prices and expansion of the minimum needs basket itself that is accompanied by the development of any society, some of these people are forced into taking up economic activities and responsibilities outside the community (if not possible within the community) only in order to sustain themselves. The problem here is not so much taking up the economic activity as much as it is pursuing an interest dictated by money that was precisely what the role of work was not meant to be in Auroville...

Such knowledge can assist us in framing more openended and innovative definitions and guidelines for work, which could also help in considering how future work forms and ethics are very likely to be influenced by improved technology and other global trends that will affect the economy of Auroville and its carrying capacity. Auroville could use this opportunity to move from its made-to-order economy into other areas that are more knowledge-based, in which it is equipped to be part of these emerging trends. This not only means up-gradation of the educational/skills training of its young residents, but also that of the surrounding village youth. This is likely to be Auroville’s challenge for the future – having the insights to identify our core values and the creativity to redesign them in new ways that matter.
Harini Sampathkumar, Indian, living in Auroville since 1994, and working at Life Education Centre – an outreach school of Auroville; and the Social Research Centre – a centre for socio-economic research studies on Auroville.
Tejas Joseph, Indian, living in Auroville since 1995, with special interest and experience in sociology, and consultant to the Social Research Centre.

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