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Restoring Connection

L'aura Joy  ○  Thu, December 1, 2016

In October, there was a film festival in Cinema Paradiso and dialogue sessions on the theme of 'Restoring Connection' as related to the restorative justice movement.

Published in “Auroville Today.”

In October, there was a film festival in Cinema Paradiso and dialogue sessions on the theme of 'Restoring Connection' as related to the restorative justice movement. The organizing team talk about the response, as well as their ongoing plans to raise awareness about restorative justice in the community.

Auroville Today: Why a film festival on the theme of restoring connection?

Kati: It is part of the work we have been doing the past year, raising awareness in the community about restorative justice and restorative circles.

Did you think that people might come to films on the topic who would not sign up for workshops?

L’aura: Absolutely. We are trying to use as many strategies as possible for raising aware- ness. We’ve been experimenting with restorative circles for about five or six years, and often we wondered how to inform the larger collective. A few years ago, Jason and I did a presentation in the Town Hall and later I hosted a meeting in Unity Pavilion, but a project such as this needs more consistent engagement. Then last September, I had a renewed spark of energy and wrote a one-year applied research project to explore how to bring restorative circles to Auroville as part of a larger community-wide justice system. The film festival was the latest strategy in raising awareness.

What was the response?

Kati: We got very positive feedback, not only regarding the quality of the films but also on the post-film dialogue spaces. People were very happy to have that safe space after a screen- ing to express their feelings. What was also nice about this film festival was that the audience was very mixed and included young people.

Hélène: Some people said it was too intense to have twelve strong films in six days: they did- n’t feel they had time to digest them. Sometimes a film touches your life so deeply you need time to process it.

The films were certainly very powerful. However, if people came to these films without a background in restorative justice, would they make the connection? And did anybody wonder about their relevance to Auroville?

L’aura: Most of the people who came didn’t have a background in restorative circles. However, everybody said we need more films like this and they really saw a connection with Auroville. Of course, our Auroville situations are very small compared to the extreme situa- tions focussed upon in the films, yet there was a feeling that if we don’t do something, this could be where Auroville is heading.

Hélène: One thing you could see in the movies was the need to connect, to hear and accept each other. It made people very aware of how much we lack this connection with each other in Auroville.

Janet: In this context, our relationship, or lack of relationship, with the local villagers came up a lot during the dialogues.

‘Restoring’ connection implies a former connection that has been broken. Yet in some of the films, the individuals involved in conflict situations seemed to have no prior connection or relationship.

Kati: A conflict or a crime ruins or disturbs the connection and trust either between individ- uals or within a community. The South Africans have this principle of ‘ubuntu’, which can be roughly translated as “I am what I am because you are”. This implies we are all connected at some level.

L’aura: For me, the need for connection is innate in human beings: we feel good when we feel connected. When we have conflict, it is clear that to move forward we have to restore some- thing, because in our humanness we are connect- ed and something has happened that shows we have become disconnected.

What are the common threads, learnings, in these movies?

Kati: The humanity, the love, and learning to listen to each other are the crucial threads that run through all these films. For example, in the French movie the woman who had killed her son was brought back to normal life through the unconditional love of her family.

Is one of the fundamental principles of restorative justice that when you’re in a conflict you learn to see yourself in the other person? This seems to be one of the turning points in the film ‘On the Path of Forgiveness’.

L’aura: It is a possible outcome but it is not a fundamental principle: restorative circles are not solely designed to get you to that point. They are based on hearing each other and reflecting back the meaning of what we are hearing. What happens from there, happens, but it’s not a failed process if you don’t put yourself in the other per- son’s shoes.

Janet: But when I see a film or read a book about somebody’s life, I am only touched if I can see myself in that person.

Is the key realisation then of our essential oneness?

L’aura: Yes, and for me it can’t remain only at this philosophical level. It’s more than that. I’m most concerned about the practicalities of how we learn to live together, because Auroville is not going to survive unless we figure out how to live together, how to dialogue with each other and our village neighbours. That’s why it is so important to raise awareness. From that, a spiritual understanding of oneness may emerge, but for me it is not the other way round.

One of the motives of the festival was to get ideas about how to develop a justice system in Auroville. You asked this question at the back of the film programme. Did you get many responses and any clarity?

Hélène: We didn’t get a lot of feedback to questions like this. I don’t think we got any clarity about the nature of an Auroville justice system because, while the films were about restorative justice, the process followed in the films was not one we can use in Auroville. Restorative justice in Auroville should involve the whole community, whereas in the films it generally involved only individuals.

L’aura: If designing a justice system was a mental exercise, we could do it. But it wouldn’t work here because restorative justice is based upon the community holding it, not upon a small group imposing it. There needs to be a collective realization that we don’t have a real justice system in Auroville, and we need one. For example, when there is an arbitration and the outcome is not respected we are quite limited in our choices of how to respond. But such a system needs to be designed collectively, and this requires a lot of dialogue, perhaps for as long as five or ten years. It’s not a quick fix or top-down process.

Janet: I think many people think of punishment when they hear the word “justice”. But I think that’s a misunderstanding. I think justice means restoring balance: even those who have designed punitive justice systems were attempt- ing to restore balance. It’s just that their attempts were often not successful as some victims are more harmed by the punitive justice system than by the actual offence.

L’aura: In Auroville at present, we don’t yet have a formalized alternative to the existing law system. Our community goodwill and the ser- vices offered by Koodam are obviously a great support, but I think we have a lot more work to do on the larger systemic scale. And, unlike mediation, restorative circles ideally need a restorative justice system to be in place: you can’t really have restorative circles as a stand- alone. And setting up such a system requires a collective cultural shift.

Your present approach is bottom-up, but presumably at some point you hope this will result in the whole system changing?

Janet: Yes. Recently the Housing Service closed temporarily because the people working there felt criticized by some people using the service. If there was a culture in this community to call a restorative circle in situations like this, it could have been worked out in a different way. This is the culture that has to develop.

From comments made to an article written by L’aura on Auronet some time ago, it is obvious that some people interpret restorative justice as being too “loose”; that in restorative circles everything becomes somehow acceptable as long as you can talk it through. They believe it is not a real deterrent.

L’aura: Restorative justice doesn’t say that you can’t have a very strong outcome. In conventional society, the outcome of a restorative justice process might be you would go to jail, but maybe in jail you would get therapy and the victim might also get therapy. The difference is the outcome would come out of dialogue, not because you broke a specific law and must suffer specified consequences for that crime.

Hélène: We need to offer people choice. If they don’t connect with restorative justice, they can choose the existing method of police, lawyers and courts etc.

Janet: We try to dissuade people from using this option in Auroville. But if someone commits a crime in Indian law, they will clearly be subject to that law.

What is the next step in raising awareness about restorative justice?

L’aura: We will continue to use all kinds of strategies to raise awareness; not just workshops but also more cross-cultural dialogues, movies and World Cafes. One of the best ways to raise awareness is through ‘live’ circles – restorative circles that deal with real issues – because these involve more people and they tell their friends about them. In the past year, we have had quite a number of these.

Also, we have a survey coming out soon in which we ask the community to give us their thoughts about justice.

In other words, we are committed to a long- term project.

From an interview by Alan