[Feelings of discrimination surfaced after two Tamil members of the Working Committee were not given proximity passes for the Prime Minister's visit on February 24th. This led to a rift within the Working Committee, and the debate spilled over into the larger community. The Auroville Council, asked by many members of the community to look into the matter of feelings of discrimination, called for a Restorative Circle to support the Working Committee to work through some of their internal dynamics. In addition, Restorative Auroville also organized a Cross-Cultural Dialogue on the topic of discrimination. L'aura reports.]
Although I can connect with the discomfort that many Aurovilians felt with regards to the recent claim of discrimination being published on Auronet, I’m actually celebrating the courage and clarity that it took to name it, and to do so this publicly. And instead of spending time and energy on defending or disproving the claim, I wish we would simply acknowledge the legitimacy of the inquiry, whether true during the Prime Minister’s visit or not, and take this incident as a real opportunity to reflect deeply on how we live and work together in Auroville – and especially now, after our 50 years together.
I’m reminded of some of the comments we received as we were planning our first Cross-Cultural Dialogue two years ago (September 2016). “You are opening a dangerous conversation; you would be better off not getting into it.” “There’s no discrimination in Auroville; you are looking for problems where none exist.” “If you raise this topic so openly, you will encourage the Tamil community to feel justified in their victimhood.” I was quite horrified hearing these comments, which I in turn disregarded and judged as denial and non-willingness to engage with something that would clearly be an uncomfortable, yet radically revealing, conversation.
And yes, of course it’s uncomfortable! Strong emotions, blame, judgements, not understanding each other, maybe not even really wanting to understand each other, because maybe choosing what’s familiar is easier. And yet, at the end of that first Cross-Cultural Dialogue journey together, the 55 Aurovilians who participated felt a deeper connection with one another, and there was gratitude for the scary honesty that was expressed, as it provided an opportunity for a heartfelt sharing and introspection.
One of the biggest take-aways from that Dialogue (2016) was acknowledging how easily we, as individuals and as a community, can jump to conclusions about people’s behaviour, based on what labels and stereotypes we place on them, and indeed we neglect to seek connection or to understand what might have motivated the person’s choices in that moment. For example, we might label one group as arrogant and treating others as less worthy, and another group as not understanding the ideals of Auroville. Several Aurovilians in the room expressed a commitment to engage with our fellow brothers and sisters as individuals, and to be curious about who we are as unique human beings, instead of clubbing one other into stereotyped groups.
As we prepared for our second and more recent Cross-Cultural Dialogue (April 2018), the comments were of a very different nature. “It’ll all just be a waste of time; we’ll sit around and say nice things, but nothing will actually change in Auroville.” “We won’t get anywhere on this topic, because the real people who need to be there won’t come; you should force them to come and take responsibility.”
And yet interestingly, two years later, and clearly marked by the wake-up-call during our 50th anniversary events, the conversation among the 47 Aurovilians who joined this second Cross-Cultural Dialogue was palpably intensified and riskier than the first one. And almost every person in the room expressed, in their own way, that undoubtedly non-Tamil Aurovilians do discriminate against the local Tamil community in Auroville.
What was strikingly touching about this Dialogue was how much space was both taken and given, spontaneously, for Tamil Aurovilians to express themselves. They said that never before had they experienced such a safe and open space to share and be heard for their story. What I registered was a rich array of human depth, from sharing about painful experiences, to deep questions about our distinct paradoxes in Auroville, to true commitment and intention to serve Auroville, to simple unassuming acceptance of our differences in education and lifestyle, to courageous honesty in disclosing internal dynamics and “politics,” and to dreaming and aspiring to create a better world.
Now, just as in many other Auroville conversations and platforms, we often seem unable, as a community, to translate our meaningful experience together into something that’s felt tangibly in the community. For example, a resounding plea in the room was for a more balanced cultural representation in Auroville’s governance structure and working groups. So how do we shift something systemically, at the core of how we function, to truly include and embrace all of us? If Mother said that the simple Indian villager is closer to the divine than the educated Westerner, it seems unfair that we place more merit on fluency in English and computer skills than on other forms of knowledge and wisdom. So how do we start to truly meet each other, without our ideas of being separate?
From the spiritual point of view, India is the foremost country in the world. Her mission is to set the example of spirituality. Sri Aurobindo came on earth to teach this to the world.
This fact is so obvious that a simple and ignorant peasant here is, in his heart, closer to the Divine than the intellectuals of Europe.
All those who want to become Aurovilians must know this and behave accordingly; otherwise they are unworthy of being Aurovilians.
~ Mother on Auroville, 8.2.1972