By Justice Markandey Katju
An Urdu mushaira ( poetry session ) has never been held in the Pakistan Supreme Court, but after I became a Judge in the Indian Supreme Court I got it held twice in the Indian Supreme Court premises ( and once in the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court ).
I am very fond of the Urdu language, and have been always striving to promote it in various ways. Great injustice has been done to this great language by certain bigoted vested interests who after Independence in 1947 painted it as a foreign language and a language of Muslims alone ( see my articles ‘What is Urdu’ and ‘Great injustice to Urdu in India’ online )
When I was a judge in Allahabad High Court ( 1991-2004 ) the High Court Bar Association used to organise Holi-Eid milans ( get togethers on the occasion of the Holi and Eid festivals ) every year in the High Court premises. This contributed to communal harmony. So when I became a judge of the Supreme Court in April 2006 I decided to get a similar function held in the Supreme Court premises. Since Diwali and Eid festivals were approaching in October 2008 it was decided to call it Diwali-Eid function, and organise it as a mushaira cum kavi sammelan ( joint Urdu and Hindi poetry congregation ).
I spoke about this to the then Chief Justice of India, Justice K.G.Balakrishnan, who readily agreed to it. However, when some senior Supreme Court judges heard of what was being planned they strongly opposed it, saying that the Supreme Court was no place to hold such poetry sessions. I replied that we will not hold it in the courtrooms or during court hours, but in the evening, and in the Supreme Court lawns, and mentioned about similar functions in the Allahabad High Court where I had been a judge. Justice Balakrishnan, the CJI, held firm and supported me, and we went ahead with the idea and its preparations.
I contacted my friend Naushad Ali Syed, who though a Bengali, is very fond of Urdu in which he is fluent. He is an Urdu poet in his own right, and knew most of the top Urdu poets in India like Waeeem Bareilvi, Munawwar Rana, etc whom he contacted and invited to this historic event. Naushad also compered the function
The mushaira cum kavi sammelan was held in the Supreme Court lawns in October 2008 and was a grand success. The Chief Justice of India and several Supreme Court as well as Delhi High Court judges and lawyers and others were present on the occasion, in which several top Urdu and Hindi poets ( including Waseem Barelvi, Munawwar Rana, etc recited their kalaams ( poetry ). Snacks ( including siwain, which is the traditional sweet served in Eid ) and tea were served. At the end the CJI presented a shawl and a purse of Rs 5000 to each of the poets.
Next year another such function was held in the Supreme Court premises, and later a similar function in the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court.
Since Holi ( the colour festival of Hindus ) is on 29th March this year I am trying to have a similar function held this year too in the Supreme Court, and shall be shortly contacting some sitting Supreme Court judges for this purpose. In view of the COVID restrictions, we can hold it online in a webinar.
In the surcharged atmosphere of religious polarisation prevailing in India today such functions can contribute to counteracting the communal trend and restoring inclusiveness in our country of great diversity.
(Justice Markandey Katju is former Chairman, Press Council of India and former Judge, Supreme Court of India.)