The General Meeting of March 24th had unusual attendees. The Superintendent (SP), the Deputy Superintendent, the Inspector and two Sub-Inspectors of Police shared their thoughts on how Auroville could improve its internal security set-up and strengthen its relations with the police and with the neighbouring villages.
“This was the first time such high-ranking officers came to Auroville for a meeting with the collective,” says Ramesh, the 38-year old Tamil Aurovilian who heads Auroville's Security Service. “We have an increasing interaction with the police. They always accompany VVIP's who visit the Matrimandir, such as recently the Governor of Tamil Nadu, Shri Surjit Singh Barnala. And we visit them whenever we have a problem in Auroville – which are plentiful.”
Security in Auroville hasn't really improved over the last years. “We are maintaining statistics about all issues we are involved with, in the area from the East Coast Road to the National Highway from Tindivanaman to Pondicherry ,” says Ramesh. “In the calendar year 2008 we dealt with 28 thefts; 5 burglaries; 1 case of chain-snatching; 12 cases where ladies were harassed on the roads; 8 cases where people were beaten up; 5 cases of aggressions without physical attack; 2 fights involving Aurovilians and non-Aurovilians; 11 ‘nuisance' cases where non-Aurovilians created problems for Auroville residents; and 3 fire incidents, one of which was started wilfully by a person from outside Auroville. On top of this, we were also involved with the after-effects of 25 traffic accidents.” He clarifies that the Auroville Security Service only deals with issues affecting Aurovilians, Newcomers and guests of Auroville, not with happenings in the villages.
The statistics have convinced the police that Auroville's security situation is a matter of concern. “They are willing to help us improve our security set-up,” says Ramesh. He explains: “At present we have 25 people working full-time for security in Auroville. Eleven of them are guards we hire from the G4 Security Services organization. The others are people we employ ourselves, such as the five guards at the check post at the Visitors' Centre and the people who guard the roads in daytime. But this is not enough. We want to create a team of Security Volunteers consisting of Aurovilians, similar to Village Vigilance Committees or Friends of Police groups that exist elsewhere in Tamil Nadu. The SP is very supportive of this idea and has agreed to issue identity cards to make the work for the volunteers easier. The police are also willing to provide basic training.”
The Mother, as early as 1966, said that security in Auroville should be ensured by ‘a battalion of guards made up of athletes and gymnasts'.
“This is more or less our intention,” says Ramesh. “The Security Volunteers group is intended to be a rapid-response team. The group will staff the security office 24/7 from where it will organize assistance in emergencies. Volunteers will rush to the spot whenever there are accidents, robberies, burglaries or disputes, such as over land or assets of Auroville. They will also help get medical aid or an ambulance, organize fire-fighting and even provide an escort when requested. They will provide the quiet presence necessary for people to feel safe in Auroville.”
An issue to be addressed, says Ramesh, is informing guests of Auroville about safety. “The majority of the thefts,” he says, “have been reported by guests who have been carelessly leaving their valuables lying around”.
Guests are sometimes also victims of harassments, particularly when they are inappropriately dressed for Indian sensibilities. “People are sometimes pestered on the road by youngsters on motorbikes who engage in ‘eve-teasing'.” Eve-teasing is an Indian euphemism for sexual harassment or molestation of women, ranging from sexually coloured remarks to outright groping. “The guests have to be warned about eve-teasing and advised to wear appropriate clothing.”
To increase road safety, G4 guards are posted at various road crossings. Also more solar street lighting needs to be put in place. The next step, says Ramesh, is to address the problem of access. “At present, there are 16 access points into Auroville. We should reduce that number and work out an access system on the lines of the suggestions made by the Secretary of the Auroville Foundation two years ago, to have check posts and guards at every access point,” he says.
The Auroville security team is also increasingly getting involved with settling demands for compensation, for example after a road accident. “Sometimes victims of a minor traffic accident caused by an Aurovilian ask outrageous amounts as settlement, and resort to aggression and bullying tactics to get it,” says Ramesh. “We plan to publish a document ‘What to do in case of an accident'. We advise the people to report an accident to the police and get a Certificate of Damage from them and inform their insurance company. But Aurovilians do not like to go to the police, as it takes a lot of time and many do not speak Tamil. This opens the door to bullying. Moreover, the victims do not like to wait for the insurance company to pay, and also believe that the compensation they can get by pressurising the Aurovilian will be more than what they would get from the insurance company.”
Ramesh says that bullying tactics to get compensation have become more common recently, not only in road accident issues but also when trying to settle other disputes. “Every time an Aurovilian gives in, we weaken our position,” he says. “But making a complaint is the only way to counter aggression. If we show that we are not afraid and will bring issues to the police, this kind of pressurising will stop. Auroville as a community must send the message that it looks after its security and that criminals, and trouble-makers will be brought to the police.”