India Has Done Injustice To Urdu – Its Very Own Cultural Treasure
I have read the poetry of many languages and countries in the world (English, American, French, German, Russian, Spanish, etc) and also of several Indian languages (Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, etc). And I am of the opinion that Urdu poetry expresses the voice of the human heart in a manner – and with the power and dignity (andaaz-e-bayaan) – which no other poetry in the world does. In that sense, it can be regarded the greatest poetry in the world.
However, after Indian Independence and the Partition of India in 1947, certain bigoted people tried to suppress Urdu by labeling it as a foreign language and a language of Muslims alone, which propaganda was totally false (see my articles here and here)
I have always been very fond of Urdu, and have endeavoured to promote and encourage it in many ways. This has included explaining to people that Urdu is very much an Indian (desi) language. And till 1947 it was the language of the educated class – whether Hindu, Muslim or Sikh – in large parts of India. It was certainly not limited to Muslims alone!
As part of my effort to promote Urdu, I quoted from the poetry of this language in many of my judgments when I was a Judge in the Supreme Court.
Thus, in Aruna Shanbaugh vs Union of India, 2011 (see online), the judgment relating to euthanasia, I began with a sheyr (couplet) of the great Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib:
“Marte hain aarzu mein marne ki
Maut aati hai, magar nahi aati”
In Mehboob Batcha vs State (see online), which related to brutal custodial death, I began my judgment with this sheyr of the famous Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz:
“Bane hain ahal-e-hawas muddai bhi munsif bhi
Kise vakeel karein kisse munsifi chaahen”
I was informed by a friend who went to Pakistan soon after this judgment was delivered that printouts of the judgment were being distributed like hot cakes by lawyers of Lahore, Karachi, etc.
When I made an appeal to the Pakistan Government to release an Indian citizen Gopal Das who had been in Pakistani jails for 27 years, I began my judgment (see online Gopol Dass Thr. Brother Anand Vir vs Union of India) with a sheyr of Faiz:
“Qafas udaas hai yaaron saba se kuch to kaho
Kaheen to beher-e-khuda aaj zikr-e-yaar chale”
In Budhadev Karmakar vs State of West Bengal (see online) which related to a sex worker in Kolkata who had been brutally murdered, I quoted from both Ghalib and Sahir Ludhianvi, as mentioned in my article here.
In Ajitsingh Harnamsingh Gujral vs State of Maharashtra (see online), which was a case of pre-meditated murder by the appellant of his entire family, but based on circumstantial evidence, while upholding the death sentence I quoted the sheyr of the Urdu poet Amir Minai, which I thought was apt for cases based on circumstantial evidence:
“Qareeb hai yaaron roz-e-mahshar, chhupega kushton ka khoon kyonkar
Jo chup rahegi zubaan-e-khanjar lahoo pukaarega aasteen ka”
I wanted to quote a nazm (Urdu poem) of the renowned Urdu poet Akbar Allahabadi in one of my judgments, but retired from the Supreme Court in September 2011 before I could do so. So, thereafter, I wrote an article mentioning it on my blog Satyam Bruyat.
It is high time the great injustice to Urdu, this shining gem in the treasury of Indian culture, be redressed!
Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was also the Chairman of the Press Council of India.