Justice Markandey Katju: A tribute to the People’s Poet, Habib Jalib

Justice Markandey Katju

By Justice Markandey Katju–

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

Sitamgaron ke sitam ke aage Na sar jhuka hai na jhuk sakega

Shaar-e-sadiq pe hum hain naazaan Jo keh rahe hain wahi karenge

(Before the tyranny of tyrants
My head has never bent, nor can ever bend
On the high edifice of truth is my pride
Whatever I say I will do)

The Urdu poet Josh Malihabadi is often called ‘Shaayar-e-Inquilab’ (revolutionary poet), but that appellation would more accurately apply to the Pakistani poet Habib Jalib, who was a revolutionary all his life, and spoke for the common man.

Indians protest the Citizenship Amendment Bill in 2019

Habib Jalib was immensely popular in Pakistan, but his verses spilled over the border to lovers of freedom everywhere, particularly in India. When Indian students were protesting against the Citizens Amendment Bill, 2019 they sang Habib Jalib’s poem ‘Dastur‘, although it had been written in 1962 (against Gen Ayub Khan’s tyranny in Pakistan), and Jalib had been long dead.

Habib Jalib hated military rulers who came to power by coups, and he strongly condemned them in his poems, which he would sing publicly and fearlessly. In this song, he condemned Gen Zia-ul-Haq who had come to power by a military coup in 1979. At a time when intellectuals, writers, and poets became silent out of fear of military rule, Jalib spoke against it openly and fearlessly.

Gen Zia had tried to impose sharia law in Pakistan, including getting offenders publicly flogged. Jalib wrote in his poem:

“Hukmaran ho gaye kameene log

Yun na nikaal Islam ka juloos”

In the same poem, he also spoke against Partition of India (takseem). For reciting poetry against military dictators (usually in
tarannum or music), Habib Jalib was arrested and jailed nearly 10 times by various regimes, but nothing could break his spirit.

Against tyrants, he wrote:

“Tum se pehle vo jo shaks yahaan takht-nasheen tha

Usko bhi apne khuda hone pe itna hi yaqeen tha”

(The one who was on the throne before you,

He was also similarly convinced he was God)

Habib Jalib was sometimes criticized for being a poet of the ‘jalsa‘ (public gathering) like Kabir, Rahim or Maxim Gorky. This criticism was misconceived. Jalib wrote for the suffering common people, not the elite. He recited verses on the streets, to inspire the people. He wrote that it is not Islam that is in danger; it is the rich who exploit the poor who are.

Although he is long dead, his indomitable spirit can never die.

Long live Habib Jalib!

Related posts