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of Free Speech
How Auroville’s external communications service was silenced
Auroville will not be silenced
The Auroville community’s long-standing media liaison service, Outreach Media, was taken over last week (9 February 2022) by the Secretariat of the Auroville Foundation, in an act of questionable legality.
The takeover of the community’s media liaison unit, and the silencing of residents is yet another of the many escalating tactics of intimidation exerted by the Secretariat towards residents over the last two months.
This move to silence Outreach Media began with the disturbing events in early December, in which authorities razed inhabited structures and felled 900 trees, without notice to residents or correct authorisations.
In a highly conspicuous move, the Secretariat issued a gag order on December 7, stating that Outreach Media “and others” should “refrain from issuing any statements until further notice”. The Secretariat announced that it had appointed two “Official Spokespersons”, without any consultation with the community.
The gag order was issued two days before the most violent event on December 9, where passive resistance by residents was met with violence at the hands of a hired mob, who enforced the destruction of Auroville’s youth centre. The gag order seems designed to scare the large part of the Auroville community into not speaking out, as residents were subjected in the following weeks to strategic and increasingly authoritarian threats, propaganda and coercive actions – all of which are well-documented on social media.
Six weeks after the gag order – on 20 January 2022 – the Secretariat demanded that Outreach Media “hand over” all its “assets”, including the office space, media accounts and intellectual property. The Secretariat stated that these elements were required for “Information and Public Relation activities of the Foundation.”
The Secretariat then ignored appeals from the community, even though Auroville’s long-standing Funds and Assets Management Committee (elected by Auroville’s Residents Assembly) reminded the Secretariat that the Foundation that it does not own these assets, and that the Secretariat is acting outside its jurisdiction. Auroville’s Residents’ Assembly is the sole legal body that can make such decisions in Auroville.
In the latest act of antagonism, Secretariat staff took over the office space in a series of escalating incidents over two days (February 7-9). These include placing a sealed padlock on the door, posting a warning notice, and refusing to reason with concerned residents present. On February 9, the Secretariat announced that it had appointed two new executives to Outreach Media, thus “replacing” the long-standing executive who had diligently operated the unit for more than 20 years.
Auroville’s positive relationship with the external media has been facilitated for more than 20 years by Outreach Media, which is an Auroville community service. The service is well-respected for its work with the media, as well as being the voice of the Auroville community with its extensive video documentation work that is offered to the world.
The larger part of the Auroville community sees the actions of the Secretariat as a violation of the community’s right to free speech, and as an intimidating tactic to prevent the community from presenting their version of the ongoing struggle over development to the world. The actions are a breach of the Auroville Foundation Act (1988), and have been carried out with support of a handful of community members in ATDC (Auroville Town Development Committee) and Auroville’s Working Committee, whose views are not in sympathy with the majority of the community.
Auroville residents support the development of the township in an integral approach that is environmentally conscious, and responsive to ground realities and local village sensitivities. They emphasise that development should be collaborative and transparent, in order to uphold the community’s long-standing commitment to human unity.
The community remains committed to its right to free speech, so that Auroville can continue to be an inspiration to the world and a model of urban development.
See the communication between the Office of the Foundation and Outreach Media below.
Collective Statement of Support for Outreach Media
On Tuesday, December 7th, the residents of Auroville have been informed by the under-secretary of the Auroville Foundation that the Secretariat of the Auroville Foundation has appointed two spokespersons for Auroville. We have also been informed that the Secretariat of the Auroville Foundation has instructed that “the Outreach Media of Auroville and others shall refrain on issuing any statements until further notice”.
The Auroville Foundation is an autonomous body under the Auroville Foundation Act, which is composed of three legal authorities, including the Residents’ Assembly. Unless the Residents’ Assembly agrees to it, the Secretariat of the Auroville Foundation cannot appoint spokespersons to represent Auroville as a whole. The Secretariat can only appoint people to represent itself, namely “the Secretariat of the Auroville Foundation”.
We, the undersigned residents, support our Outreach Media team, which has been put together in 1996 as a service to the Auroville community and is experienced in dealing with media relationships and can take care of the communication with the media. The two spokespersons of the Secretariat do not represent Auroville.