Signing off from the Working Committee
The members of the
interim Working Committee show burnout symptoms after five months in
office. What's wrong?
"This is a complete basket-case," opined Working Committee
member Ulli, giving as trenchant a criticism as one could wish for. The
question is, what was he talking about? Auroville in general? The work
of the Working Committee? Other Aurovilians? After some probing it
surfaced that he could well be meaning the entire lot. The mitigating
circumstances are that Ulli has never before been part of any Auroville
working group, but instead advised from the sidelines when he was
working as a commercial unit executive. So he didn't really know what he
was in for when he agreed to become part of the Working Committee in
March this year.
Kathryn, though, was aware
of the morass. But having received the highest number of nominations
brought out for a woman during the community-wide nomination process,
she felt she couldn't say no. And she didn't. And regretted it for a few
months, until an illness painfully brought home the reality that this
work wasn't hers. "There's just no job satisfaction. The work feels
like a constant coping with the latest round of failures, both
collective and individual," she said, when asked why she resigned.
"This work makes me
shrink within," explains Frederick, whose track record of trying to
clean Auroville's dirty laundry probably exceeds that of any other
Aurovilian. Present mindsets are worse than in the past, he feels. For
Frederick too this is his first Working Committee. He used to operate
outside the framework, coming in only when he deemed it useful or
necessary. This time he too plays by the rules, being pulled into a wide
variety of community problems, seeing a side of individuals which most
of us would rather not.
Selvaraj is the lone
survivor of the previous Working Committee, which he managed at its end
more or less single-handedly, a feat for which he deserves a medal.
Moreover, he agreed to continue in this Working Committee, which should
gain him another medal if Auroville wasn't so stingy with its praise or
proficient in fault-finding. "I like the work," he says,
"but you have to forget about privacy and trying to plan your life.
If there isn't an important visitor who suddenly needs to be greeted, it
is a fellow Aurovilian who calls you at 6 a.m. to discuss a problem
which could well have waited till 8. Also my partner objects."
Selvaraj hails from Kuilapalayam village and intimately knows both the
Auroville and the Tamil cultures. Critics speak of a certain partiality
but that is unavoidable, human as we all are. He too, however, won't be
available for a next Working Committee, having done this work for almost
two years and "enough is enough, it's time for family and other
matters." Jill, Aurovici and Isabelle, all three new to the work,
also decided that this experience is quite sufficient, probably for this
What's wrong? It takes on
average two years before a working committee completely burns out -
although usually quite a few members already quit mid-term - but this
one managed it within 5 months. The answer lies not in the accumulation
of work, which admittedly has become more intensive, but rather in the
impossibility of ever solving anything.
Back in March, when this
Working Committee was nominated for a six months' period, it also
assumed charge of the work of the Executive Council which had ceased to
exist in December last year. Its first priority was to get community
agreement on a new internal organization, to be in place by September
10th, the date the Working Committee was scheduled to resign. This work
was taken up enthusiastically and a lot of progress was made (see
below). Also normal WC work proceeded as per schedule. Unexpected,
however, was the avalanche of unsolved and apparently unsolvable
conflicts that were dropped into the lap of the WC. These conflicts
ranged from problems with or within working groups such as the
Matrimandir Team and the Interim Development Group, to interpersonal
problems between Aurovilians. The frustration level of the Working
Committee members trying to deal with all these issues can be measured
from a note published by them in the Auroville News, the weekly internal
newsletter: "We really wonder sometimes what some of the people who
live here have for life goals and spiritual aspirations," and
calling for a more stringent entry process as well as an exit process.
Says Ulli; "The Working
Committee, and this is the problem, has no power to kick ass."
Kathryn explains: "It is supposed to help solve conflicts through
mediation, trying to find consensus. But failing consensus - and this
happens often - the Working Committee cannot impose its own solution on
the parties, even when it is clear that not resolving the problem
carries significant and negative implications for both Auroville and the
parties themselves. This is what makes the frustration quotient of the
work almost unbearable."
Frustration is also certain
for at least one of the parties in conflict. The usual result of a
failed conflict resolution is a continuation of the status quo to the
chagrin of the party who wants that status quo to be changed. Angered
parties sometimes ask the Working Committee to call a Residents'
Assembly meeting in an attempt to get their views imposed. But if the
Working Committee refuses, judging that such a meeting would not be
productive, the only thing left for the aggrieved party is to collect
the signatures of at least 50 people so that the Working Committee is
bound to call a meeting of the Residents' Assembly. However, such
meetings are rarely effective.
The situation is even more
problematic when an Aurovilian has been breaking the law. In cases of
physical violence, for example, the Working Committee has no power to
impose any sanctions such as the paying of compensation to the injured
party. Though internal guidelines suggest that Aurovilians solve their
problems amongst themselves, the practical reality is that there is no
structure to ensure this happens. Small wonder than that frustrated
Aurovilians sometimes feel that resorting to a police complaint is the
only way out 'as Auroville doesn't do anything'.
The term of office of this Working Committee has meanwhile been extended
till October 1st so that it can attend the meeting of the Governing
Board of the Auroville Foundation on September 21st-22nd. But what
An idea has been floated to
make this Working Committee part of a larger Auroville Council, a group
of 12 to 20 people, some of whom would be doing Working Committee work,
the others taking care of community matters. However, as long as the
community refuses to give this or any other group the authority to
decide conflicts, it will be difficult to get qualified people. For this
job gains no glory.