Since December 10, residents of Auroville in Pondicherry have been holding silent, peaceful protests against the construction of the Crown Road, which they allege has been initiated without any deliberations and discussions. They were taken by surprise when they found out that clearing would start in an area called Bliss and the Youth Centre at Auroville would also be targeted because the Crown Road construction would begin. On Friday (December 10th) workers at the service of the Town Development Council and Auroville Foundation began the process of clearing out the Dharkali forest trees. This has resulted in a staunch opposition from the residents of Auroville, who believe that this move has negated the collective and democratic decision making process practiced at the centre.
Reportedly, the construction of the “Crown Road” or the ‘future of the way’ was planned as part of Auroville to meet the needs of the people and was approved by Mirra Alfassa, the spiritual guru known as the Mother, herself. Since this is an old plan it is now contested as “unsustainable” and not-resident-friendly by the environmentally conscious and socio-culturally aware. Reportedly, some of the places that have been destroyed recently includes a water shed, a low-lying area.
According to the residents who spoke to the author under the condition of anonyminity, the section of the residents who support the Foundation’s original plan of construction of the Crown Road accuse the ones who are against the plan of being “anti-development”. However, Aurovillians who support the Foundation’s idea of the construction of the Crown Road according to the original plan say that Auroville is a waste, Auroville, is a disaster, and accuse the Aurovillians who are not in favour of going by the old plan “anti-development”. As a result, the incident has resulted in a heightened sense of difference among them, a resident shared.
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The residents who oppose this plan insist that they are not against any development along the lines of what the Mother envisioned and approved of and that they only want the development to happen in ways that are ecologically friendly and do not disrupt the lives of the many residents and civilians in and around Auroville.
Meanwhile, according to a report by The Hindu, Sindhuja Jagadeesh, the spokesperson for Auroville Foundation said that it was agreed upon in a meeting on December 6 that the residents will themselves dismantle the buildings to make way for the Crown and a site will be allocated for a vocational centre for youth in the township. Countering this, one of the residents told the reporter that the youth were told that if they obstruct the earth-removing activity, their visas will be taken away and hence, a more peaceful solution of inviting the youth to dismantle the building was arrived at, as a result.
“Auroville security then helped secure the site and prevent people from coming too close to the earth-movers, and evacuated the structures, ensuring that no harm came to anyone. Indeed, nobody was hurt, even though emotions ran high and discontent was expressed,” Jagadeesh added.
However, in contradiction to Jagadeesh’s claims, an extremely worrying video that has surfaced online shows a woman being lifted off of a JCB by several men while she’s protesting. “I was pushed, groped, shoved by two policemen and one man claiming to be a police officer, and throughout that time I made no movement, didn’t even scream, I was alone in the night, and I was harassed. It was very shocking for me”, says a resident (under the condition of anonymity). “Then they claimed that I assaulted them, and that was also shocking. I had my hands in prayer in front of my chest, I’d never touched them. They also took a friend’s phone, and getting the phone back was very difficult,” she added.
The recent incidents have left the residents and civilians frightened. “People are scared to talk. Some of them are injured, but they are even scared to file any complaint. They’ve been hurt, they’ve been punched in the face. For the last few days, the whole community is shaking and crying”, said one resident. “In addition to a gag order on Auroville’s Outreach Media, reportedly, the visas of the opposing foreigners will be taken and criminal action will be taken against the Indians raising their voices. On the nights of December 4 and 5, 200 police came to the Youth Centre (YC) and covered all the entry points. The youngsters inside the YC were then caught and detained for a few hours,” the resident claimed.
The residents have continuously been pushing for a dialogue with the Foundation, hoping to explain why the project construction needs to be put to stop and that they are not against development in their demands.
Reacting to how the construction activities are not keeping in mind environmental concerns, one resident said, “We have groups of young people, architects, designers, foresters, experts and environmentalists that have been trying to create a design for the Township of Auroville that incorporates all the different ground realities for years. We’ve submitted proposals time and time again. There’s a circular road, then there’s the outer ring road that passes through various villages, the radials… it’s a vast space, it’s more than just the youth centre. The circular crown road is an idea, but the ground realities look very different. Several houses have been built over time, and one thing that’s constant in master plans is that it has to be updated every once in 5 years. And our plan is a flexible one, the residents must take part in the building, and it has to be updated every 5 years. The town development council has ignored that part.”
In response to the developments at Auroville, Vasanthi Devi, former Chairperson of the State Commission for Women of Tamil Nadu wrote to the CM on 10 December. “We are deeply disturbed at the attempt by the Union Government, acting through Tmt Jayanti Ravi, IAS, Secretary, Auroville Foundation, to take control of Auroville. We refer to the incidents of the last week where force has been used to demolish a Youth Centre, and mow down the trees to construct a road”, it read.
Also read: Mirra Alfassa: The Mother Of Auroville
Although the protests have resulted in a stay order for a week, residents who have been embroiled in these developments now worry about the future of Auroville. “This is not the Auroville we would want to live in: One where men are hired and paid to intimidate the residents and destroy the property. We feel like the spirit of Auroville is dying.”
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