Justice with Urdu

Justice 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 given many judgments in the Supreme Court quoting verses from Urdu poetry. They are in my book ‘Justice with Urdu’ published by Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt Ltd. New Delhi


(1) Amir Minai’s ‘Qareeb hai yaaro roz-e-mahshar, chhupega kushton ka khoon kyonkar, jo chup rahegi zubaan-e-khanjar, lahu pukaarega aasteen ka’ ( quoted in Ajitsingh Harnamsingh Gujral vs State of Maharashtra )

(2) Firaq’s ‘Har zarre par ek kaifiyat-e-neemshabi hai, ai saaqi-e-dauraan ye gunaahon ki ghadi hai’ ( quoted in Arumugam Servai vs State of Tamilnadu )

(3) Firaq’s ‘Sar zameen-e-Hind par aqwaam-e-aalam ke Firaq, kaafile guzarte gae Hindustan banta gaya’ ( quoted in Hinsa Virodhak Sangh vs Mirzapur Moti Kuresh Jamaat )

(4) Ghalib’s ‘Marte hai arzu marne ki, maut aati hai par nahi aati’ ( quoted in Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs Union of India )

(5) Ghalib’s ‘Hai maujazan ek kulzum-e-khoon kaash yahi hi, aata hai abhi dekhiye kya kya mere aage’ ( quoted in Bhagwan Das vs State of Delhi )

(6) Ghalib’s ‘Pinha tha daam-e-sakht qareeb aashiyaan ke, udhne na paaye the ki giraftaar hum hue’ ( quoted in Buddhadev Karmaskar vs State of West Bengal )

(7) Faiz’ ‘Bane hain ahal-e-hawas muddai bhi munsif bhi, kise vakeel karein kisse munsifi chaahen’ quoted in Mehboob Batcha vs State Rep. by Supdt. of Police )

( Faiz’ ‘Qafas udaas hai yaaro saba se kuch to kaho, kaheen to beher-e-khuda aaj zikr-e-yaar chale’ ( quoted in Gopal Das Thru. Brother Anand Vir )

(9) Sahir Ludhianvi’s ‘Zara mulk ke rehbaron ko bulao, ye kooche ye galiyaan ye manzar dikhao, sanaakhwaan-e-taqdees-e-mashriq ko lao, sanaakhwaan-e-taqdees-e-mashriq kahaan hain’ ( quoted in Budhadev Karmaskar vs State of West Bengal ).

(10) Sahir’s ‘Madad chaahti hai ye hawwa ki beti, Yashoda ki hamjins radha ki beti’ ( quoted in Budhadev Karmaskar vs State of West Bengal ), etc

There are tens of thousands of Urdu verses, by hundreds of Urdu poets. A sher ( couplet ) or nazm ( poem ) to be appropriately quoted in a judgment should be ‘mauzu’ ( in Hindi ‘praasangik’ ) i.e. pertinent and befitting to the context. One cannot quote any verse in any judgment at random. If quoted appropriately it gives beauty and depth to the judgment, by highlighting some idea or emotion, to make it touching, and giving it poignancy. I tried to do this in my judgments, which can all be seen online.

In my book, I have explained the meaning of these verses.

Urdu poetry is often written not in direct language but in indirect, allegorical language, by allusions, hints, suggestions, indications and metaphors. So it is not always easy to understand.

The greatest Urdu poet Ghalib had a horror of the commonplace in poetry, and was of the opinion that poetry should not be written in the language of the common man. That is why his poetry is often difficult to understand ( his biographer Hali wrote that about one third of Ghalib’s verses are so obscure that they are almost unintelligible ).

Urdu verses often have an outer, literal, superficial meaning, and an innner real meaning. So one has often to wrack one’s brains to understand what the poet is really trying to convey. I have explained this in my article on Faiz’ poem ‘Gulon mein rang bhare baad-e-naubahaar chale’ published in nayadaur.tv

Also, Urdu poetry has the unique quality that the reader can give a sher ( couplet ) a meaning which the poet could not have even imagined, e.g. my use of Ghalib’s sher ‘Pinha tha daam-e-sakht qareeb aashiyaan ke, udhne na paaye the giraftaar hum hue’ in my judgment in Budhadev Karmaskar vs Union of India.

The word ‘pinha’ means hidden, ‘daam’ means net, ‘qareeb’ means near, and ‘aashiyaan’ means nest.

The literal meaning of this sher is :

” Near the nest ( of a bird ) was the cruel net ( of the hunter ).

The young chick before it could take its first flight was caught

in the net “.

I thought the sher beautifully depicts the plight of young teenage girls who should have a life of happiness before them, but instead are caught in the flesh trade, and their lives are ruined.

Surely when Ghalib wrote the sher he could never have imagined it could be applied to sex workers!


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