Monday, February 15, 2010

Aurovilians have no right of ownership, only the right to occupy a residence they have constructed

What is AV? - AV is an international-universal township in the making, for a population of up to 50,000 people from around the world. It is the world's first and only internationally recognised experiment in human unity, also concerned with - and practically researching into - the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind. It has been endorsed by UNESCO, and receives the full support and encouragement of the Govt of India, its host nation.

Auroville in a nutshell

Ashram - AV is not to be confused with the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, which is an entirely separate entity. The relationship between AV and the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, however, is close, and there is good regular interaction between the residents of both organisations. See also "What is AV?"

Assets management - all matters relating to AV's land, buildings and other assets are handled by a 'Funds & Assets Management Committee'.

AV Foundation - the Govt-appointed holding body for the land and other assets of AV, which is headed by a Governing Board (GB; with Secretary living and working in AV) and has responsibility for the development of the township in collaboration with AV's residents, as per an Act of Parliament passed in 1988. In addition to the GB there are 2 other bodies which come under the Foundation, the International Advisory Council and Residents Assembly.

AV International - in a number of countries around the world, groups of people interested in AV have come together to form AV International Centres or Liaison Groups. These Centres/Groups actively support the development of the township by way of donations and other help.

Aurovilian status - people only become 'Aurovilian' after going through a Newcomer process, usually lasting 2 years. The process is overseen by the AV Entry Group.
Buildings/building construction - nowadays virtually all AV buildings are constructed using fired bricks (bought outside AV) or compressed earth blocks (made in AV). Roofing is usually done with tiles or rows of arched ferrocement channels. There is no building 'Code of Practice', nor is there any "Aurovilian" style of building. As there are a number of good architects living and working in AV, there are many different design approaches. Permission to build has to be obtained via L'Avenir d'Auroville. Building construction is mostly done by AV-run units.
Classes - there are many possibilities to participate in classes - on aerobics, dance, hatha yoga, martial arts, healing, languages (Tamil, Sanskrit and English), etc. Details are posted on notice boards at class venues and around AV, or published in the weekly AV News.

Contributions - guests and Newcomers are required to pay a contribution towards the ongoing development and maintenance of the township. Aurovilians also pay a monthly contribution via AV's Central Fund.

Cooking - most people cook by bottled gas, though a few settlements have biogas units installed. A number of people also use small solar cookers. The collective Solar Kitchen has a massive 15-metre diameter solar collector on its roof to generate the steam needed to cook up to 1,000 meals a day.

Cultural Pavilions - AV's International Zone will be the site of Cultural Pavilions representing all the major nations and cultures of the world. India's 'Bharat Nivas' is already in existence, though yet to be finished. The only finished one is the Pavilion of Tibetan culture, inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 2009. Other pavilions coming up or under study are the American, French, German, Italian and Russian.

Decision making - in all AV meetings, whether involving only a small group or the whole Residents Assembly, after everyone has been given a chance to speak, and the subject under discussion has been thoroughly examined from all angles, the normal mode of decision making is by consensus.
Dress/clothing - noting that Indian women generally dress very modestly, Western women are specially advised to dress in a similar modest fashion, in order not to send out the wrong message and attract unwanted attention. This also applies at the beach, where one-piece swimming costumes are advised. Cotton fabrics are generally cooler and more comfortable than synthetics. During the rainy season, a good raincoat/cape/poncho, or at least an umbrella, is essential. See also "Footwear...".

Entertainment - there are regular in-house film shows, plus occasional theatre, music, dance and choir performances, exhibitions, slide shows, lectures, video showings, etc.

Environmental protection - AV is strongly oriented towards environmental protection and sustainable development.

European Union involvement - the EU has provided, and continues to provide, financial support for a number of projects in AV; also for projects being coordinated by AV for the surrounding bio-region.

Farms - there are a number of AV farms providing rice, vegetables, fruit and dairy products for the community, though not yet in sufficient quantity to make AV self-sufficient in its food requirements. Most food is still purchased in Pondy market.

Festivals & Celebrations - festivals/celebrations recognised in AV, often involving a holiday, fall into 4 categories: strictly AV-related (e.g. Sri Aurobindo's, Mother's and AV's birthdays); Indian/Tamil cultural (e.g. Diwali, Pongal); Indian Government (National Holidays); and international (Christmas, May Day, etc).

Finance - contributions to the development of AV have come, and continue to come, from a number of sources, including Govt of India, Govt of Pondicherry, Indian and foreign NGOs, AV International Centres abroad, private donors in India and abroad, and the personal funds of Aurovilians.
Free for all! - as a general policy, AV tries to provide as much as possible free of charge to its residents. This includes entertainment, health care, sports facilities, education, classes in yoga, dance, etc. Even food is provided free for those who can't afford to contribute. Aurovilians without any remaining financial resources of their own are taken care of fully by the township. A "Free Store" and one other unit, Nandini, provide free secondhand (and new) clothing for anyone in need.

Fundraising - there is no ongoing professional programme of fundraising in support of AV, though various ad hoc efforts have been and continue to be made in support of land purchase and other requirements.

Guesthouses - there are many guest houses in AV. Prices vary according to the facilities and degree of comfort provided. Booking in advance is advised, specially during the peak visitor season of December-March.

Labour relations - AV consciously maintains good working relations with its employees. Most units make an effort to provide a decent working environment, good salaries, bonuses, health insurance, and other benefits such as pension schemes, etc. The occasional dispute or problem arising is handled by an Aurovilian Village Liaison Group.

Land ownership/management - presently AV owns (through the AV Foundation) only approx half the total land needed to make up the township and surrounding Green Belt. A Land & Estate Management group looks after all land-related issues affecting the township.
Mother & Sri Aurobindo - the inspiration for Auroville, plus the spiritual guidance given for its realisation, comes from Sri Aurobindo (Indian) and his spiritual co-worker The Mother (French, born as Mira Alfassa in Paris, but who joined Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry in 1920).

Organic agriculture - AV tries to grow all its food organically. It also encourages the same practices among local farmers, and strongly discourages the use of pesticides, specially on cashew crops.

Organisation - there is no fixed hierarchical structure in the internal organisation of AV. Day to day running of the community is mostly handled by a number of working groups covering areas like afforestation, finance, farms, health, education, entry into AV, and general community coordination, who operate with considerable autonomy. Major community decisions are usually taken at or endorsed by meetings open to all residents, wherein the preferred mode of decision is by consensus. The Residents Assembly (see separate note) selects a body - the Working Committee - from its members to liaise and work with the Governing Board of the AV Foundation, and a second body - the Executive Council - to deal with internal matters.

Ownership - all immovable assets of AV such as land and buildings are owned by the Auroville Foundation. Aurovilians have no right of ownership, only the right to occupy a residence they have constructed in AV - so long as they continue to be 'Aurovilian'. Newcomers are required to wait to the end of their probationary Newcomer period before constructing a residence in AV.

Payment - although the AV Boutique and most guest houses, restaurants and other facilities accept cash, there are an increasing number of places such as the Solar Kitchen, Coffee Shop, Pour Tous stall and Snack Bar where it is only possible to pay via a Pour Tous account. Guests are therefore advised to open an account on arrival, and at the same time get a Guest Card.

Pensions - there are no pension schemes for Aurovilians. The community simply takes responsibility for all its residents, and looks after them as best it can according to their needs and the means available. Pensions for employed workers are handled by individual units and/or a body called SEWA.
Police - there are no police in AV. Security on the roads, and as required in other occasional circumstances, is provided by an 'AV Guard', formed of physically capable young Aurovilians and paid villagers. Matters occasionally requiring the involvement of the Indian Police are handled by an Aurovilian appointed to do the necessary liaison work.
Residents Assembly - one of the 3 bodies comprising the AV Foundation (see separate note), made up of all residents of AV over the age of 18.

Salaries - Aurovilians are not permitted to earn a salary by Indian Govt regulations. Instead most receive a "maintenance" from the unit or service they work for, sufficient to meet their most basic needs. Many Aurovilians take no remuneration at all from the community, maintaining themselves entirely out of their own funds as a contribution towards the township, though they still contribute monthly to the Central Fund.

Security - although Auroville is generally a peaceful and safe place, but theft is not uncommon specially in settlements close to the nearby villages, and there have been occasional incidents on the roads over the years. Women are specially advised not to walk or cycle alone anywhere after dark.

Self sufficiency - this is AV's aim, but the township is still far from achieving it.
Sound pollution - there are occasional parties in AV involving loud music. More frequent sources of amplified sound are temple festivals, weddings and various other social functions in the villages, which usually involve loud music from as early as 4-to-5 am.

Spiritual life - all Aurovilians are expected to live a spiritually based and motivated life, though this does not mean that they put it into practice in any overt and obvious way e.g. collective meditations, etc. It is an inner discipline, pursued by each individual according to his/her personal understanding and commitment.
Support for AV - in addition to being endorsed by UNESCO and supported and encouraged by the Govt of India, AV receives support from many other sources in India and abroad, including government and non-government organisations, specialist agencies, Auroville International groups and private individuals.
Sustainable development
 - this is the overall physical aim of AV, which is reflected in much of the research, forestry and agricultural work done in and around the township.

Swimming/beach - there is an AV-administered beach facility with security guards and snack bar at Repos, open daily 9am-6pm (cool drinks & snacks 9.30am-5pm). This is accessible to guests and visitors on production of a Guest Card. Women are advised to wear modest one-piece swimming costumes, not bikinis.
Tamil culture - AV, which is located in the State of
Tamil Nadu, is supportive of Tamil culture and is in process of establishing a 'Centre for Tamil Heritage & Culture' in the Indian Cultural Pavilion compound of Bharat Nivas. Tamil is taught in all AV schools, and classes are given to adults interested to learn this ancient language. Most long-time Aurovilians can communicate in Tamil.

Taxes - although AV is required to pay House Tax and other publically imposed taxes, there is no system of internal taxation. Tax exemption for Indian donors is possible for certain types of donation to the AV Foundation.

Town Hall - It is currently constituted of 3 buildings, the main one housing among others, the Financial Service, L'Avenir d'Auroville, the Housing service, the Land Service, Security, and various Groups, like the Working Group, AV Council, AFMC, etc, plus the Auroville Radio. A second building, named Multimedia centre, houses the Media offices (Outreach, News & Notes, Web office, AV traductions, plus the Residents Service, the Enthry Service, Video and Music libraries, and the 150-seats "Paradiso" movie theatre. The third building houses the offices of the Secretary and the Foundation. A French-style cafeteria, "Le Norman" is also hosted among the buildings. 
Trusts - there are some 16 business trusts operating under the AV Foundation.

Yoga - all Aurovilians are expected to be interested in the Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, and most are attempting to put it into practice according to their individual level of development. From time to time classes are given on the subject. There are also ongoing scheduled classes in Hatha Yoga.

No comments:

Post a Comment