Ritam "The SAIIER Development Proposal"
Right from the start, the idea of Auroville as a"universe-city" inspired a vivid image of a vibrant place, planned as an open and dynamic centre of research, learning and teaching. Contained within this vision was the idea of a learning society implying that all residents would be students as well as researchers and teachers and the basic economy would be an exchange of knowledge, an economy of research, teaching and learning. Throughout the last 35 years of Auroville's development, the flame of aspiration contained within these images has remained persistently alive in the collective consciousness in one form or another. Today we see that this flame which has been burning quietly and steadily is rising! Since the year 2000, Auroville has been preparing a proposal for major expansion of its educational and research capabilities, the details of which have been formulated as the SAIIER development proposal. This proposal was submitted to the Government of India for consideration in 2001 and recently, Auroville has received confirmation that it will receive a substantial financial support for the 10th 5-year plan which commenced 31st March 2002.
In this paper, we would like to take you on the journey that describes the very special unfolding of events that have led to this moment whereby Auroville is poised to take this major step towards fulfilling on a large scale an important aspect of its dharma. It is our hope that by contemplating in its entirety the unfolding of these events, that one may see a kind of red thread that runs throughout Auroville's history and feel the sense of destiny that we are collectively being moved towards.
The Red Thread of Destiny
Auroville's vocation as a site dedicated to research, exploration and experimentation is made very explicit in its charter which speaks of it as a "place of unending education", a "bridge between the past and the future" and "the site of material and spiritual research." One can also read in publications produced during the first years about life in Auroville being "dedicated to education and organised in such a way that it is open to all who want to learn and study its activities". Education and research is an integral part of a curriculum given by the Mother and Aurovilians it could be said, are bound through the charter to keep questing to work out a new way of life in accordance with this curriculum.
In Auroville's founding years, the focus was necessarily on establishing a material base and the relatively few early settlers had their hands full with this work. The first major appearance of some solid evidence of this thrust came with the establishment of the Sri Aurobindo International Institute of Educational Research (SAIIER) in 1984 which was a deliberate effort to give greater prominence to these key points from the charter at a critical period in the township's growth. SAIIER was recognised by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) of the Government of India as an All India Institution of Higher Learning devoted to educational research and was created to continue and broaden the work that was already underway to co-ordinate and develop the educational and research capacity of Auroville. From its inception, the founding members set up schools, research teams, libraries and theatre groups with a great deal of creativity and enthusiasm. The themes of evolution and value-oriented education were given a priority through this initiative and research into the production of innovative learning and teaching materials began in earnest at this time. The combination of qualified and unqualified staff gave expression to the spirit of unending education, as the staff were able to learn from one another as well as from the children themselves. In general though, it could be said that while education, particularly for children, was significantly enhanced in the years since SAIIER's birth, higher education was yet to come into focus in a widespread way.
The next major appearance of this red thread of destiny could be seen in the birth of the concept of the Centre for International Research in Human Unity (CIRHU) in 1986. CIRHU was envisioned as a major project for Auroville that aimed at addressing the evolutionary crisis that was becoming increasingly apparent at a global level. The specificity of CIRHU is that it was to become a world class centre of international relevance whose material and spiritual research would be dedicated towards a transformation of human consciousness - seen as the root cause of the multifaceted global problems. Certain operational concepts were given to focus the activities of CIRHU including knowledge as synthesis, sovereignty of the child and education as free progress. A location for CIRHU had been earmarked on a prime site within the city centre adjacent to Matrimandir and the construction – which is yet to be started - was envisioned as a large complex of many buildings that would house the multifarious activities of this centre.
Later we see another form of the same idea reccuring in the birth of the Sri Aurobindo World Centre for Human Unity (SAWCHU). In 1997 – the year of the 125th birth anniversary of Sri Aurobindo – the Government of India had constituted a special committee with representatives from all the centres around India where Sri Aurobindo's thoughts were given prominence (including the Ashram, Auroville and various other national centres) to decide how they would like to commemorate Sri Aurobindo's birth anniversary. The 35 members of this committee unanimously agreed that they would like to create an international centre to promote the vision of Sri Aurobindo and that this centre should be in Auroville. Those involved with this undertaking felt that a stage had been reached in Auroville where research pertaining to higher education could be given a much larger impetus. The centre would take as its main themes of research: evolution, synthesis of knowledge, synthesis of culture, human unity and next species. Methods of research were to be experiential and experimental aiming at concrete realizations. It was a good opportunity for Auroville, but again the limitations at the ground level became evident rather quickly and while some funds went toward activities and publications, most of the funds in the end went into creating a building which is now the most commonly used meeting space for public meetings held in Auroville at the time of writing.
Then in March 1999, Dr. Kireet Joshi was appointed the chairman of Auroville's Governing Board and with his active re-involvement in Auroville after many years of close but more peripheral relationship, the same idea of Auroville becoming a site for advanced educational research took a major boost. He perceived both the ripeness of potential within Auroville – more so than the Aurovilians themselves! - and the favourable conditions within the government of India at this time, and stimulated a move to make a substantial application for funds to the government of India. He wrote and distributed a concept paper to all residents of Auroville for feedback under the title of CIRHU where he introduced a concept for organising the themes of research that had been previously given to the SAWCHU in a new way and expanded the concept to include faculties that would focus research under specific themes such as Education for Human Unity and Indian Culture and Human Unity.
The team of people who had been meeting to coordinate the activities of SAWCHU and had a natural interest in this initiative as a whole, decided to probe more deeply within Auroville which had largely been somewhat unresponsive to the CIRHU paper as proposed by Dr. Kireet Joshi. This group began a research within Auroville itself to explore and try and determine more precisely the degree of interest and maybe more importantly, Auroville's capacity to more actively orient itself around education and research. In undertaking this study, the team spoke with many Aurovilians about the ideal of a learning society and the ideas contained within Kireetbhai's paper and was for the first time in Auroville able to qualify and quantify the range of possible learning opportunities that existed. Interestingly, what emerged from this research were a few important things – f rstly that the overwhelming number of respondents were indeed willing and enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge in one form or another with interested learners – youth right through to adults. The main limitation to them doing so was a lack of resources such as space and equipment. Secondly, it was noted that there was a particular novelty about research in Auroville - that it tended to span more than one field of interest and there was a general interest to study not just an outer problem but the inner dimension of it as well. These findings plus the knowledge that there already existed over 20 centres of team based research at the time in Auroville, gave the team the needed confidence to pursue the opportunity that was being presented through the CIRHU development proposal.
However, some fine-tuning was needed. The idea of faculties contained within the paper sounded a bit pompous to some people and some activities such as those related to environmental regeneration and the human body, did not apparently have a natural place within the proposed faculty structure. Some adjustments were made to allow the proposal to more accurately reflect the situation on the ground in Auroville. One important modification was the decision to actually route the whole proposal through the existing SAIIER channel and to make CIRHU - originally in Kireetbhai's proposal seen as the overarching centre under which the faculties would operate - a major centre within the overall structure of SAIIER. Over a one-year period, a team - who had by this stage agreed to intentionally undertake this work in a spirit of co-operation and collaboration - worked on collecting and examining proposals from altogether about 150 people representing about 30 centres of existing or proposed educational research in Auroville. This was a massive work resulting in the first draft of the SAIIER development proposal - a proposal requesting a generous grant from the Government of India to definitively establish Auroville as a site of national and international importance in the fields of innovative, value-oriented educational research.
After the proposal had been submitted through the appropriate channels of the HRD ministry, the authorities of the Ministry decided to send a very high level visiting committee to Auroville to study the proposal and assess the feasibility of Auroville being able to implement what it was proposing to do. The 3-day visit took place in September 2001 and the visiting committee was very impressed by the many displays and presentations made by a vast number of the researchers involved in the proposal and recommended that maximum possible support be given to this undertaking. In view of the magnitude of the SAIIER Development Proposal, which would obviously take more than 5 years to be fully implemented, the Visiting Committee recommended that a more modest grant be sanctioned as a 1st phase. The specifics of this recommendation were spelt out in a Financial Resolution signed by all the 5 members of the Committee for implementing the SAIIER Development proposal during the 10th 5 year plan 2002-2007.
The SAIIER development proposal
The SAIIER development proposal outlines a concept to further develop and focalise in a significant way the specialised work that is being undertaken through the existing educational and research centres within the whole of Auroville. It describes the objectives and proposed activities or each of the 7 faculties and CIRHU. The following briefly describes the main thrust of each of the faculties and CIRHU:
1) The Faculty of Education for Human Unity: The purpose of this Faculty is to advance educational pedagogy by researching and developing methods, curriculum and programs in value-oriented education applicable and appropriate for children of any age. The primary modality of instruction will be an integral education as envisaged by Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The Faculty will integrate this vision with current world developments, problems and proposed solutions. All research outcomes and results will be transmitted through teacher training programs and educational materials produced within Auroville.
2) Faculty of Studies in Sri Aurobindo and the Mother: The aim of this faculty is to facilitate a bridge between the work of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and the translation and application of this vision to contribute towards the realisation of a concrete human unity, through a new kind of human society.
3) Faculty of East, West, and Human Unity: The faculty will promote and facilitate research, study programs and cultural exchanges so that the unique contributions and qualities of each individual culture can enhance our current understanding of the world and ultimately foster the realisation of a common unity within diversity.
4) Faculty of Indian Culture and Human Unity: The purpose of this Faculty is to bring out the gains of Indian culture that are relevant to the unity of mankind and, in the setting of Auroville, to represent the essence of Indian Culture that seeks unity and endeavours to re-mould, or transform, all the activities of life in the light of the Spirit.
5) Faculty of Arts, Crafts and Technologies: The purpose of this faculty is to explore how the proper development and use of arts, crafts and technology can enhance development of creative expression, enhance value education and foster the emergence of a unity consciousness.
6) Faculty of Humanity, Nature and Development: The purpose of this Faculty is to research and develop replicable and sustainable models of development relevant for India and other urban areas facing a shortage or destruction of natural resources. Studies and research focus on the interrelationship between humanity, nature and development and seek solutions to environmental problems that promote harmonisation through appropriate management of these elements.
7) Faculty of Perfection of the Human Body: The purpose of the Faculty is to elaborate through practice and research, methods to deal with the body, to keep it fit and in optimal health, aiming towards its progressive perfection. The influence of various states of consciousness on the body will be experimented with and the effects of food, hygiene, environment and physical culture on the body will be systematically studied.
In addition to these faculties, the Center of International Research in Human Unity (CIRHU), as mentioned earlier in this paper, is envisioned as a world class centre of international relevance and through the SAIIER development proposal, it would be able to be re-invigorated in a more mature form than has been possible until now. The themes of evolution, synthesis of knowledge, synthesis of culture, human unity and next species would remain. CIRHU will be interdisciplinary in the sense that it will be a synthesising centre integrating related streams of knowledge that will flow into it from research institutions in India and abroad as well as from the other faculties of SAIIER.
Funds which are expected to begin to flow into Auroville from early 2003 will be utilized for construction of new or expansion of existing educational and research centres, equipment and research programs. In preparing to receive these funds, SAIIER is currently developing a new organisational structure and preparing the project holders in the new procedures for accounting and reporting that will be necessary to manage such a large project.
By this stage, it should be clear that the latest injection of funds into Auroville for the purpose of supporting education and research has its antecedents from the very beginning of Auroville - the charter itself. This vision has remained alive and as a result of recent developments, is poised to take a major leap. Arriving at this point, one can plainly see that many fortunate co-operations have happened both within Auroville itself, and beyond by those who can clearly perceive Auroville's destiny as being for something bigger than its own glory - that Auroville does have an important part to play in the emerging evolutionary picture on the globe. For the first time though since Auroville's inception, with the recent inflow of funds set to pour in, Auroville can take a quantum leap in its destined direction. The little flame than has burned patiently and persistently is now, with the kindling of funds from the Government of India, set to become a blazing fire. And, apart from the visible changes this will mean for Auroville in terms of new buildings, more programs and more people flowing through, within Auroville itself, less visible changes have been taking place. It has been the first time in Auroville's history that there has been a process whereby a very large number of residents from diverse working areas have come together in agreement to move in a similar direction together – to consciously say yes to Auroville actively moving in the direction of a learning society. These Aurovilians have collaborated and co-operated in making various, sometimes difficult, decisions regarding priorities and on the whole it has been a very smooth and harmonious process - quite remarkable considering the vastness and complexity of what is being planned!
“The permanent university will be the key to Auroville's raison d'etre. It must to be a leap forward: so that it can hasten the advent of the future - a world of harmony, beauty and union.” - Mother to Roger on 1st February, 1969 (from Roger’s personal notes, translated from the French)
Could it be that this is an idea whose time has come?
- Equals One - “The universecity”, p.16
- The members of the visiting committee were:
a. Prof. G.C. Pande: Chairman of the Committee, expert on Buddhism; Chairman of Tibetan Institute at Sarnath; Chairman Institute of Advanced studies Shimla.
b. Dr. Venkatasubramaniam: member of the Planning Commission.
c. Mr. Venkateswaran: Additional Secretary in charge of expenditure in the Ministry of Finance.
d. Dr. Subash Kashyap: Constitutional expert and member of Auroville's Governing Board.
e. Mr. Champak Chatterjee: Joint Secretary Ministry of Education, Head of the Higher Education Cell.