Tag Archives: Auroville

Not India’s first woman saint

Francois Gautier, Pioneer

Indian media went into a tizzy while covering the canonisation of Sister Alphonsa, an obscure nun, to prove its secular credentials! Indian journalists forget that this country has had other women saints too.

As a Frenchman, I was coached right from childhood that logic, what we in France call cartesianism, is the greatest gift given to man and that one should use one’s reason to tread in life. Thus, I taught to my students in a Bangalore school of journalism, the SSCMS, that the first tool of a good reporter is to go by his or her own judgement on the ground, with the help of one’s first-hand experience — and not go by second hand information: What your parents thought, what you have read in the newspapers, what your caste, religion, culture pushes you into…

Yet in India, logic does not seem to apply to most of the media, especially when it is anything related to Hindus and Hinduism. One cannot, for instance, equate Muslim terrorists who blow up innocent civilians in market places all over India to angry ordinary Hindus who attack churches without killing anybody. We know that most of these communal incidents often involve persons of the same caste — Dalits and tribals — some of them converted to Christianity and some not.

However reprehensible was the destruction of the Babri Masjid, no Muslim was killed in the process. Compare that with the ‘vengeance’ bombings of 1993 in Mumbai, which killed hundreds of innocent people, mostly Hindus. Yet Indian and Western journalists keep equating the two, or even showing the Babri Masjid destruction as the most horrible act of the two.

How can you compare the Sangh Parivar with the Indian Mujahideen, a deadly terrorist organisation? How can you label Mr Narendra Modi a mass killer when actually it was ordinary middle class, or even Dalit Hindus, who went out into the streets in fury when 56 innocent people, many of them women and children, were burnt in a train?

How can you lobby for the lifting of the ban on SIMI, an organisation which is suspected of having planted bombs in many Indian cities, killing hundreds of innocent people, while advocating a ban on the Bajrang Dal, which attacked some churches after an 84-year-old swami and his followers were brutally murdered?

There is no logic in journalism in this country when it applies itself to minorities. Christians are supposedly only two per cent of the population in India, but look how last Sunday many major television channels showed live the canonisation ceremony of Sister Alphonsa, an obscure nun from Kerala and see how Union Minister Oscar Fernandes led an entire Indian delegation to the Vatican along with the Indian Ambassador. It would be impossible in England, for instance, which may have a two per cent Hindu minority, to have live coverage of a major Hindu ceremony, like the anointment of a new Shankaracharya. What were the 24×7 news channels, which seem to have deliberately chosen to highlight this non-event, trying to prove? That they are secular? Is this secularism?

The headline of the story “India gets its first woman saint”, run by many newspapers, both Indian and Western, is very misleading.

For India has never been short of saints.

The woman sage from over 3,000 years ago, Maithreyi, Andal, the Tamil saint from early in the first Millennium CE and Akkamahadevi, the 15th century saint from modern-day Karnataka, are but a few examples of women saints in India.

What many publications failed to mention in the story is that this is the first woman Christian saint — not the first Indian woman saint.

This statement is ok, when it comes, for instance, from the BBC, which always looks at India through the Christian prism (BBC ran a few months back an untrue and slanderous documentary on Auroville), but when it comes to the Indian media, it only shows the grave lack of grounding in Indian culture and history of most Indian journalists.

As a result, they suffer from an inferiority complex.

This inferiority complex, as expressed by television’s live coverage of the canonisation of Sister Alphonsa, is a legacy of the British, who strove to show themselves as superior and Indian culture as inferior (and inheritor of the ‘White Aryans’, a totally false theory).

Is it not time to institute schools of journalism, both private and public, where not only logic will be taught, but where students shall be made aware of Indian history and of the greatness of Indian culture, so that when they go out to report, they will use their own judgement and become Indian journalists, with a little bit of feeling, pride and love for their own country?

Reciprocity and Hindu anger

Source: Rediff.com

August 19, 2008
Once upon a time, there was a tiny village in South Arcot district in Tamil Nadu, called Kuilapalayam. Now Kuilapalayam is like hundreds of villages around Pondichery: it is peopled with Hindu Vanniars, poor, living off agriculture, usually a few meagre fields of cashew nuts. But then Kuilapalayam just happened to be in the midst of Auroville, the international township founded by the Mother of Pondichery based upon the ideals of the great yogi and revolutionary, Sri Aurobindo.

Thus Kuilapalayam prospered: Its inhabitants learned trades needed for the city: carpenters, masons, craftsmen, and some of its children attended Auroville’s schools and were educated along with Western kids and in time graduated and went into white collar jobs. From a few bicycles 40 years ago, Kuilapalayam today has motorcycles, tractors, cars, vans, cable television, cell phones, etc. The main road of Kuilapalayam, which used to be only shady huts, became lined with fancy shops which sold everything, from vegetables to handicrafts.

And then the unavoidable happened: A Kashmiri from Chennai heard about Auroville and the prosperity of Kuilapalayam and understanding that he could make a packet with so many Westerners passing though Auroville, he opened the usual shawls and carpets shop in the village. Now Kuilapalayam never counted a Muslim amongst its population in its 1,200 years of recorded history; but in true Hindu tradition, this one was welcomed and nobody raised any objection, although he was competition for some of the other shops.

Our Kashmiri Muslim, seeing his success, called his cousin in Kolkata, who came and opened another shop; and that one phoned his friend in Mumbai, who also landed up and opened a third shop. Still nobody found anything to say. Kashmiris are sociable fellows and they quickly made friends with Westerners, so business was booming, till they were seven or eight Kashmiri shops in Kuilapalayam. And again nobody complained, even when the fellows started doing their naamaz in the open. “Isn’t God everywhere and isn’t He Krishna, as well as Allah?” said one of the villagers.

Then Rathinam, one of the young boys of Kuilapalayam who had gone to study in Delhi [Images], told his parents when he came back, about the fact that not only were no outsiders allowed to buy land or start a shop in the valley of Kashmir, where the shopkeepers came from, but that 400,000 Hindus were chased out of the valley by terror. His parents started talking to their friends and there was the first hint of resentment against the newcomers.

Fifteen days later, the Amarnath row exploded. Rathinam’s father went to see a group of Kuilapalayam Kashmiris having tea and told them that Hindus never complained about the government giving billion of rupees in subsidies to Indian Muslims so that they can visit their most holy place, Mecca. But when Hindus, he continued, need shelters, toilets and basic facilities at a height of 15,000 feet to worship at Amarnath, one of the holiest places of Hinduism, why do you Kashmiri Muslims deny it to us?

The Kashmiris looked a bit uneasy, then replied that anyway the Amarnath ice lingam had been discovered by a Muslim shepherd and that Muslims had always welcomed their Hindu brothers to Armanath. But this did not convince the Kuilapalayam man who had heard from his son that many grenade attacks had happened over the years on the Amarnath pilgrims. And anger has started mounting in Kuilapalayam.

So, it is all a question of reciprocity. Most Hindus are peace-loving people. The average Hindu that you meet in a million Indian villages, such as Kuilapalayam, is easy-going and accepts you and your diversity, whether you are Christian, Muslim, Parsi or Jain, Arab, French or Chinese. He goes about his business and usually does not interfere in yours.

In fact, Hindus go even a little further, they hate trouble and go out of their way to avoid it. Have you noticed how every time there is a possibility of a strike or riot, Hindus stay home? Or how — forget about rioting — Hindus never speak up, complain or protest in a united manner? There is a UN Human Rights Conference on terrorism in New York coming up on September 9, and they have been desperately trying to get Hindu survivors of recent bomb blasts to testify; but no one is willing to come forward.

Despite that, everywhere in the world Hindus are hounded, humiliated, routed, be it in Fiji where an elected democratic government was twice deposed in an armed coup, or in Pakistan and Bangladesh where Muslims indulge in pogroms against Hindus every time they want to vent their anger against India (read Taslima Nasreen’s [Images] Lajja to know more).

In Assam, Tripura, or Nagaland, Hindus are being outnumbered by Bangladeshi illegal immigrants and terrorised by pro-Christian separatist groups while local governments often turn a blind eye.

Yet, in 3,500 years of known existence, Hindus have never invaded another country, never tried to impose their religion upon others through force or even conversion. No, rather it has been through peaceful invasions that Hinduism has stormed the world, whether in the East — witness Angkor Vat — or in the West today, where the by-products of Hinduism — yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, pranayama — have been adopted by millions.

Hindus also gave refuge to all the persecuted minorities of the world, from Parsis to the Jews (India is the only country in the world where Jews were not persecuted) to Armenians and Tibetans today. The first Christian community of the world, that of Syrian Christians, flourished in Kerala [Images], thanks to Hindus’ tolerance; Arab merchants were welcomed by Hindu rulers to do trade and live in India while practicing their religion, from very early times.

Thus Hindus, who accept everybody and welcome all religions, allow Indians from other parts to trade next to them, as it happened in Kuilapalayam, do not receive in return any gratitude and the same respect.

So, sometimes, enough is enough. At some point, after years or even centuries of submitting like sheep to slaughter, Hindus, the most peace-loving people in the world, those Mahatma Gandhi [Images] once gently called ‘cowards’, those who cringe in their houses at the least sign of a riot, erupt in fury, uncontrolled fury.

Instead of trying to pour water over the fire, instead of appealing for calm and communal harmony, political leaders, journalists as well as spiritual leaders would do well to look at the root cause of Hindu fury, and try to address their demands and frustrations.

Auroville, the City of Dawn

Auroville, the City of Dawn
Author: Francois Gautier
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 12, 2001
The project of Auroville is now thirty-three years old. This city, a few kilometres north of Pondicherry, was born of a dream that the Mother (1878-1973) had in 1967: There should be somewhere upon earth a place that no nation could claim as its sole property, a place where all beings of goodwill, sincere in their aspiration, could live freely as citizens of the world, obeying one single authority, that of the supreme Truth.

It was also directly inspired by Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), India’s great yogi, philosopher, poet, revolutionary and prophet of man after man: “The final dream is a step in evolution which would raise man to a higher and larger consciousness and begin the solutions of the problems which have perplexed and vexed him since he first began to think and dream of individual perfection and a perfect society…” Thus, in February 1968, in the midst of a severely eroded plateau extending eastward to the sea, young people representing 124 nations and 23 Indian states each placed a handful of earth from their countries in a simple lotus-shaped urn: a gesture symbolising the start of the international township. The Charter of Auroville was then read by the Mother herself: Auroville belongs to nobody in particular. Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future. Auroville will be a site of material and spiritual search for a living embodiment of an actual human unity.

The beginnings were auspicious: money poured in from many countries keen to have a role in the shaping of Auroville; the UNESCO took a keen interest in the project; journalists and television crews from all over the world came to report about the City of the Future; and the Government of India lent active support to the budding township. One million trees were planted by the early pioneers, dams were built to stop the rain water from running into the sea; and beautiful buildings, which were revolutionary for their times, sprang up from nowhere, such as the Last School and the Sanskrit School.

Thirty-three years later, what is the assessment? Well, certainly many hopes have been belied. Instead of the 50,000 population that the Mother had envisaged, there are only about 2000 full time Aurovillians; the development of Auroville has been severely curtailed because of lack of funds, and many of the ambitious buildings lie unfinished, although, money is starting to trickle in again. The pioneers of yesterday, clad only in loincloth, have been often replaced by executives with laptops. And the cultural, social and economic gap between the 5000 villagers living in city area and the Aurovillians, many of whom come from affluent western countries, has never been fully bridged, although the standard of living of the villagers has considerably gone up because of the work generated by Auroville.

Yet small hesitant steps have been made: the circulation of money has been reduced to the minimum between Aurovillians; it has been ensured that those who are in charge of running the City are chosen by consensus and have limited tenures; communities, such as Verite (Truth in French), have managed to evolve an interesting blend of collective sharing with a living spirituality; Auroville has also become one of the few green areas in Tamil Nadu and ecologists from all over the world come to study the city’s forest and water management. And above all the `Matrimandir’, the Mother’s House, an extraordinary 100-foot-high elliptical sphere resting on four pillars sunk deep into its foundation, where in the inner chamber lies a sphere of pure crystal, 70 cm. in diameter, illuminated by sunlight channelled from an opening at the top of the chamber, stands today as Auroville’s spiritual centre.

It is no coincidence that the project of Auroville is happening in India with its tradition of tolerance and encouragement to all kinds of experiments, regardless of their unorthodoxy. Indeed, today the Government of India is once again actively helping Auroville, a positive development. For Auroville’s greatest virtue is to show that there is still, in this world engulfed by uniformity, globalisation, MTV and Coca Cola, a place where men and women of goodwill are attempting to live differently, to evolve novel ways of controlling money and power. This is why Auroville deserves our respect and help.