“Auroville needs a new momentum to attract new participation,” says Michel Séguy, the out-going Consul-General of France in Chennai and Pondicherry.
His term of office is nearly over. By the end of July this year, Michel Séguy will have completed four years as Consul-General of France in Pondicherry . In this time, he and his wife Martine Quentric Séguy developed an active interest in Auroville and participated in many of its events. While Martine gave evenings of story telling and exhibited her paintings, Michel was instrumental in making Auroville better known. It was in reply to his invitation, for example, that consuls from 14 nations visited Auroville in November 2004. Auroville Today asked him about his impressions of Auroville.
You and your wife have become much involved with Auroville.
Yes. We are very much interested by the experiments and the people; in what interests and motivates them. Fortunately we could meet many Aurovilians, including some who have been here from the very early years, dedicated individuals who have remained committed to the ideals of Auroville ever since they joined.
Were you aware of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother before you came here?
During my earlier posting in India I had heard about Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Through Martine I came into contact with their writings. Martine has always been interested in Indian philosophies and had read some of Sri Aurobindo's books. We were less aware of The Mother, we discovered her only when we came to Pondicherry . In France , The Mother is not known as a famous Frenchwoman unlike Sri Aurobindo, who has an important status in India as freedom fighter and yogi.
How well known is Auroville in French diplomatic circles?
Pretty well, I would say. The former French Ambassador, Mr. Bernard de Monteferrand, was even a member of the International Advisory Council of the Auroville Foundation for a short while. I do not believe that during his membership a meeting of the Council was called, but he did visit Auroville. And so did the present ambassador, Mr. Dominique Girard. He visited Auroville recently and is in touch with quite a few French Aurovilians. Yet the understanding of Auroville could be better.
Rumour has it that some people consider Auroville a sect.
Not in the embassy. Auroville is the opposite of a sect! In France , a sect is described as something easy to enter, costly to stay in and not very easy to get out of. It is completely the contrary in Auroville! It is quite difficult to enter, life is not that expensive and it is very easy to leave.
Shortly after the murder of a Dutch citizen in Auroville in January 2005, you proposed an active involvement of the foreign missions in India . Could you explain your motivations for this proposal?
The 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations specifies in one of its first articles that a Consul's main duty is to protect the interests of his/her nationals. The murder of one of your nationals is one of the most drastic things that could happen. I was aware that the Dutch Embassy in New Delhi and the Consul-General in Mumbai got involved, but proposed that representatives of some other nations could also express their deep concern in order to boost the response of the Tamil Nadu authorities. Though we have no right to get involved in the internal affairs of a country, we do have the right to ask the government to solve the problem. But the Auroville authorities did not wish to put pressure on the Indian government and hence my proposal was not followed up.
It is part of the function of a Consul to interact with Indian government officials in case of problems with their nationals.
Did you often have to intervene for Aurovilians?
Rarely. There have been a few cases where French Aurovilians were asked to leave the country forthwith, and that is always painful. Because of the Indian Foreigners Act all Aurovilians have a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads as they can be asked to leave India immediately at any time without any reasons. We have the feeling in the Consulate and the Embassy that the French in Auroville adopt the French saying ‘pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés', which could be freely translated as ‘to be happy in Auroville, let's lie low.' They behave like that even with the French Consulate. Many Aurovilians, for example, have not registered themselves with the Consulate, as it is not mandatory.
In September 2005, during a French book release function in Auroville, the Chairman of the Governing Board, Dr. Karan Singh, asked you to encourage the building of the French cultural pavilion in the International Zone. What is the French position here?
I personally am convinced that the French Government will be very interested in being involved in the French Pavilion, because France is traditionally committed to the values of philosophy, spirituality and equality, and this is all there in the ideals of Auroville. But the French participation will be proportional to the investment of the Aurovilians, in other words it will depend on the visible commitment of Auroville. We have the feeling that Auroville has somehow stagnated or not grown as much as it can or should. Auroville's achievements are quite good, but it seems that Auroville is not moving on, that there is a declining growth curve.
Would France take the lead in stimulating other countries to build their pavilions?
Yes, but again the ball is in Auroville's court. I believe that Auroville needs a new momentum to attract such participation. It is a matter of being stimulated by the Aurovilians with the active collaboration of the members of the Governing Board and International Advisory Council of the Auroville Foundation. That is absolutely mandatory.
Aurovilians should realize that most of Auroville's development problems are due to a lack of proper information on Auroville. For example, when my ambassador visited Auroville he had to discover everything himself. You need to provide up-to-date figures, names of committed people, projects, and so on. You have to inform about and sell the Auroville idea. Otherwise you won't get anywhere.
Have you a message for Auroville?
Move on, speak loud and clear, and make people aware of what you do and aim to do.