Great Injustice to Urdu in India

Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

I have read the poetry of many countries in the world ( English, American, French, German, Russian, Spanish, etc ) as well of several Indian languages (Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, etc) and 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 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).

I have always been very fond of Urdu, and have endeavored to promote and encourage it in many ways, explaining to people that Urdu is very much an Indian ( desi ) language, and till 1947 was the language of the educated class, whether Hindu, Muslim or Sikh, in large parts of India, and not limited to Muslims alone.

As part of my effort to promote Urdu, I quoted from Urdu poetry 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 sher ( 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 sher 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 hotcakes by lawyers of Lahore, Karachi, etc.

When I made an appeal to the Pakistan Government to release an Indian 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 sher 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 ‘Sex workers in India’ published in

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 sher 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 kyonksr

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.