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Dec 01

 

New "Joining Auroville" document approved -

Entry Group plans to re-open Auroville soon

by Carel

After a one-year process, a new document on joining Auroville has been accepted by a meeting of the Residents' Assembly. The main changes are that the newcomer period has been extended from one to two years and that newcomers are expected to participate in the Economy 2000 experiment. The document also contains a confusing statement about housing, to be clarified in a future attachment. A declaration that the newcomer understands and agrees with the document and commits him/herself fully to the realization of the ideals of Auroville, has to be signed.

The way this new document has come about raises certain questions.

When Auroville closed its doors to newcomers in October 1999, the reason given was that Auroville could not offer decent housing to its newcomers and that newcomers were often housed in inappropriate structures. Members of the Entry Group explained that about 40% of the new applicants - an average of four persons every month - were not in a position to provide the finances for their own housing and hence ended up living in storeroom-like structures. By closing Auroville, the Entry Group was attempting to find solutions by "referring the problem to the community" - in other words, by putting pressure on the community to find a solution to the housing crisis.

While waiting for the community's response, the Entry Group - witnessing, in the words of some of its members, "the development of class society where affluent Aurovilians built houses in the price range of 10-30 lakhs (US $ 20,000-60000) while others had to struggle to find a decent accommodation and break even with the monthly expenses" - meanwhile embarked upon an attempt to rewrite the entry policy. This effort was stimulated by the introduction of the Economy 2000 experiment, in which more than 300 individuals opted to share their income, and moves were set in motion to make it mandatory for newcomers to join the experiment. This provoked strong protests within the community as the Economy 2000 experiment is not universally regarded as a step towards the ideal economy Mother had described. The final wording was modified to read "newcomers are expected to participate". Objections were also raised to other strong statements in the first and subsequent drafts of the revision. (See AVToday #135, April 2000 and #137, June 2000)

It took the Entry group, together with other interested Aurovilians, about one year to come to a new policy document. It regularly called upon the community to participate, and published drafts and final versions of the document in the AVNews before the Residents' Assembly meeting was called to ratify it. The 70 or so Aurovilians who attended this meeting - the choice of the day and time for this meeting, Saturday afternoon at 5 p.m., should be questioned - soon learned that the time for discussion was over. It was 'yes' or 'no', a process with which not all who attended agreed. Finally, only 45 people voted: 30 in favour and 15 against. The Entry Group then announced that the document had been ratified with a two-thirds majority.

"Those who expressed reservations may please acknowledge that it is exceedingly difficult in Auroville to reach consensus on any policy document, even after having followed all the necessary steps - in this case, a transparent one-year process, with regular calls for participation to the whole community, resulting in a wide-spectrum involvement. Still, at one point, a conclusion has to be reached for the work pertaining to the document to start, in this case, for the entry process to resume," wrote the Entry Group in the Auroville News, announcing the ratification of the document. And the Entry Group later confirmed that, as soon as the two appendices to the document "Joining Auroville" (one on housing policy the other on economy) are ready, newcomers can join again.

While it is good news that Auroville will soon reopen its doors to those who aspire to join, feelings of uneasiness remain, notwithstanding all the good intentions and the hard work done to come to this new document.

The main criticism is, of course, that the reason why Auroville was closed - to solve the problems of those who would like to join Auroville but who do not have the financial means to contribute towards a house - has not been solved. The attempt of the Entry Group to pressurize Auroville to find a solution by closing has failed. What is worrying is that even today, no working group is engaged in finding a solution to this problem.

Another criticism concerns the way in which the new Entry document has been made, as the process was less transparent than the Entry Group maintained. What was presented for ratification was what a certain group of Aurovilians felt should be the new entry rules for Auroville. Many of the suggestions for changes or deletions of parts of the document or to improve the document did not get incorporated in the final draft because those responsible for the rewrite did not agree with them. These suggestions were never presented to the community.

This problem touches upon one of the core problems of decision-making in Auroville. The case of transparency would certainly have been served by publishing all the suggestions made in the AVNews, together with the reasons for rejecting them, even though this process would have been very time consuming.

A third criticism is that, since the meeting of the Residents' Assembly was called only to cast a vote, better systems could have been thought of to allow for a wider community participation, such as voting by mail or e-mail. For can it truly be said that the community has accepted a document if only 30 out of the 900 adults explicitly approved it?

And finally, in view of the large number of people within the community who objected to the closing of Auroville, the question begs to be answered why there was no vote called on formally ending the closing.

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