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Mainstream, VOL LV No 1 New Delhi December 24, 2016 - ANNUAL 2016

Pitcher and Stone

Monday 26 December 2016

by Amiya Dev

‘Whether the pitcher hits the stone or the stone the pitcher, it is bad for the pitcher’ is a proverb we come across in DonQuixote, its source being Sancho Panza, that mine of popular wisdom. He justifies it to his master by simply saying that a blind man may see into it. Indeed a blind man may see into the intolerance that is in the air now—the stone hitting the pitcher. The pitcher-stone image has surely many meanings; but one such meaning is that of the minority-majority relationship in a country of many religions, languages, customs, cuisines and attires. We are secular in the sense of not having a state religion but regard for every religion practised in the country, even for an absence of religion. We are secular in the sense of not giving religion an extra hand though not denying it to any community or individual.

Hardcore secularists may not always appreciate this latter, but how can the right to religion be denied? Yet that right has no business to turn into might hurting neighbours of other dispensations. This is where the state has to be particularly vigilant. The state cannot afford to overlook its responsibility in this, for it is as much the minority’s state as the majority’s. If the state behaves as if it were only the majority’s state and not also the minority’s, then there is something wrong with the state.

But the majority too has a task here—a social task. It must not suffer from megalomania. By no means is it the only arbiter in society. In other words, it must not turn into power. Majoritarian dictatorship is a veritable bane to a pluralist society. This does not mean that the majority should feel apologetic for its number, but inculcate the right perspective by treating the minority as an equal. For society consists in the majority plus the minority, not the majority inspiteof the minority. The minority is not an exception; it is as integral to society as the majority, its smaller size being in no way detrimental to its function.

The proverbial pitcher-stone relationship may also prevail if the state cannot rise above the party in rule. We had long rejected the idea of ‘party-less democracy’ as utopian. But that does not justify a party-clad usurpation of democracy. Democracy is everybody’s: to quote from a Tagore song, ‘we are all kings in our king’s kingdom’. 

The author is a former Vice-Chancellor, Vidyasagar University, West Bengal.