Urdu poetry in Indian Judgments: Courting Pragmatism in Adjudication


“tere mathe pe ye anchal to bahuthi khuub hai lekin tu is anchal se ik parcham bana leti to achchha tha.”

(Meaning: While the raiment covering your head is good, it would be better if you made a banner of it.)

– Annie Nagaraja and Ors. vs. Union of India and Ors. [1]

A Division Bench presided by Justice Kailash Gambhirand Justice Najmi Waziri, quoted the abovementioned couplet of the celebrated Urdu poet Asrar ul Haq ‘Majaz’ [Majaz Lakhnavi – (1911-1955)]. This was cited while the Hon’ble High Court of Delhi was adjudicating on the service conditions of women serving the Armed Forces of the Union. The judgment is one amongst many embodying the Indian judiciary’s fascination with literature. It comes as no surprise, then, that Indian judges have occasionally espoused inter-textuality in their judgments. While sifting through the lines of Urdu couplets or the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Arthur Schopenhauer and Shakespeare [2], lyrics of songs, George Eliot[3] and even lyrics by Bob Dylan[4], the judges have affirmed the value of literature to a robust and progressive legal practice.

Pertinently, a multitude of forces extrinsic to law channel its development and continually test the confines of judicial ingenuity. An illustration can be seen in the judicial citation of Urdu poetry to develop the legal discourse. In the most perplexing of matters (be it euthanasia[5] or the plight of sex workers[6] or the juveniles[7] or the issue of honour killing[8])our judges have been quoting Urdu poetry of prominent poets like Mirza Ghalib, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, etc.

While it does not offer any normative guidance or affects the gravitas of rulings, the couplets do offer support to the conventional legal edifices and act as vehicles of compassion.

The legal fraternity has been jousting with Urdu poetry and expressions in diverse ways. Not only are Urdu expressions used in daily dealings but have also pervaded the legislative enactments and even the courtroom proceedings. Urdu expressions like Vakalatnama, Roz Namcha, Dafa, Halafnama, Banam, are still widely employed in the alleys of law.  

In this regard, to exemplify the recurrent usage of Urdu poetry by the Courts, the following section lists out excerpts from some recent judgments. These are:

I. Babu Lal vs. State (24.02.2012 – DELHC)[9]

“Lagta Hai Shaher Me Naye Aaye Ho,

Ruk Gaye HoRaah, Haadsa Dekhkar.

2. The above couplet reflects the general insensitivity in the Metropolitan city whenever a heinous crime is committed in full public view in broad day light. Most of such cases remain “untraced” as the eye witnesses prefer not to come forward leaving the police with no clue about the occurrence or the offender.”

II. Kanak Singh and another vs. State of U.P. and Others (09.08.2012 – ALLHC)[10]

“The Court would therefore end with a note, both for the aged petitioner and the young respondent by acknowledging the low ebb of morality resulting in moral turpitude by quoting the famous lines of an Urdu poet.

III. Munavvar-ul-Islam vs. Rishu Arora (09.05.2014 – DELHC)[11]

“43. …. The 18th century renowned Urdu poet Meer Taqi Meer describes it, some may say sardonically, as:

Meer ke deen-o-mazhab ko poochhtey kya ho ab, Un-ney toh kashqa khaincha, dair mein baitha, kab ka tark Islam kiya.

(It’s been a while since he applied a tilak, ensconced himself in an idol-house, abandoned Islam, You ask about Meer’s religion now)”

IV. Shahnawaz Zaheer vs. Government of NCT of Delhi (29.04.2015 – DELHC)[12]

“Upon the demise of the parents of the children, the plaintiff Mr. Mohd. Shahnawaz Zaheer took the children into his family-fold and for the past two years has been raising, nurturing and caring for them as his own. The goodness in caring for children – any children – can never be overemphasized. This value has been elegantly articulated by the noted Urdu poet Nida Fazli:

Ghar se masjid hai bahut duur, chaloy uun kar lein Kisee rotey hue bachche ko hansaya jaye.

(The place of worship is far, so let us then make a crying child happy.)

The plaintiff has arranged for the children’s religious instruction according to the community to which their deceased father belonged viz. Punjabi Hindu. The children’s grades in school have improved.

“17. The essence of human endeavour in caring for innocent lives has been aptly and beautifully expressed by renowned Urdu poet Javed Akhtar in the following words:

“Jo mazhab ho jo zaat ho

Jo bhi naam ho uska,

Insaan wohi hai jisko

Mohabbat karna aaye.

Kaho jo agar masoom

Miley usko rahon mein,

Usey gair nahin samjhe

Badhke usey apna-ey.”

(Whatever be the religion or creed, only the one who can love is human; like the one who embraces as one’s own, an orphaned child in life’s way.)”

V. Ashok Kumar Aggarwal vs. CBI and Ors.(13.01.2016 – DELHC)[13]

“A couplet by Daag Dehlvi is apropos to the conduct of the CBI:

“Khoob parda hai ki chilman se lage baithe hain Saaf chupte bhi nahin, samne aate bhi nahi. “

-Daag Dehlvi

92. A couplet by Kaif Bhopali is apposite:

“Janab-e-‘kaif yeh Dilli hai ‘Mir’ o ‘Ghalib’ ki, Yahan Kisi Ki Taraf-dariyan Nahin Chaltin.”

-Kaif Bhopali”

However, despite being widely hailed to connect the dots between “law and pragmatism”, the literary texts, including Urdu couplets,should be used diligently.  Interpretive intricacies might surface due to unknown contexts. Apart from this, care must be taken not to parochially allude to the relevant literature and not to thrust it beyond what it can justifiably achieve.


This article has been authored by Ms. Surbhi Kapur from Team LawSkills.

WE will be there at Jashn-e-Rekhta from 14 to 16 December, 2018 at Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, Delhi. Visit us at JeR. For more details, visit the JeR website by clicking here.


[1] MANU/DE/2573/2015; 04.09.2015 – DELHC

[2] Navtej Singh Johar and Ors. vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. (06.09.2018 – SC) : MANU/SC/0947/2018

[3] Hitesh Bhatnagar vs. Deepa Bhatnagar (18.04.2011 – SC) : MANU/SC/0428/2011

[4] M.C. Mehta vs. Union of India (UOI) and Others- (13.04.2017 – SC) : MANU/SC/0422/2017

[5] Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug vs. Union of India (UOI) and Ors. (07.03.2011 – SC)- MANU/SC/0176/2011

[6] Budhadev Karmaskar vs. State of West Bengal (02.08.2011 – SC)- MANU/SC/0881/2011

[7] Sanat Kumar Sinha vs. The State of Bihar through Chief Secretary and Ors. (05.04.1990 – PATNAHC)- MANU/BH/0424/1989

[8] Bhagwan Dass vs. State (NCT) of Delhi (09.05.2011 – SC)- MANU/SC/0568/2011

[9] MANU/DE/0926/2012

[10] MANU/UP/1750/2012

[11] MANU/DE/1126/2014

[12] MANU/DE/1457/2015

[13] MANU/DE/0058/2016

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