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Kazi Nazrul Islam: Human Rights In Poems, Life, and Lyrics

by Mustofa Munir

In this century what the world needs most is balanced humanity.  One hundred years ago Kazi Nazrul Islam was a young poet in India. The young Nazrul witnessed the exploitative and racist colonial rule of the British Government in India, the worst abuser of Human Rights. He was terribly shocked when the Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place in 1919.  The troops of the British Indian army emptied their magazines on innocent people.

The pain of oppression and sufferings of the ordinary people in India overwhelmed a poet’s soft heart.  Poet Nazrul’s humanistic philosophy is not limited to one continent or country but to the whole world where the people have lost their freedom to speak, freedom to education, freedom to live within their own dwellings, within their own culture, religion and society.

There are many articles in the draft of Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was proclaimed by United Nation General Assembly on Dec. 1948 in Paris and amazingly the concept of human rights has been manifested in Poet Nazrul’s poetic works and thus produced a sublime appeal of humanity to the world—indeed it is an eternal appeal!   

From the essence of all 30 articles in the Declaration I found in the article 29 clause 2 where everyone is subject to the law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedom of others meeting the requirements of morality, public order and general welfare in a democratic society. 

The due recognition, respect  for each other with high morality cover everything in the  Human rights.  The word ‘morality’ is the core word of all human rights.

Nazrul spoke of equality and humanity in his poem ‘Shammyabadi’ (Egalitarianism) where only a universal and equalitarian respect for the basic human right is important. There he wrote:

“The song of equality I sing — where

All obstacles and differences are merged together,

Where all Hindus-Buddhists-Muslims and Christians are

Blended with each other!

The song of equality I sing!”


In his poem MANUSH, The Mankind ,  Nazrul  asserted that humanity is the virtue of mankind. Humanity stands above all castes, races, religions and nation.

“The song of equality I sing—

Nothing’s nobler and greater than mankind;

No difference exists in time, place and person;

Indistinguishable are the religion and nation;”


Centuries ago men and women were not treated equally in Indian society. This unequal treatment of men with women was the norm of the societies all over the world. And it still exists.  Nazrul felt that men and women should be treated equally in the society. It is an unjustified advantage of men over women by depriving them of their rights. In his poem NARI, ‘The woman’:


“The song of equality I sing —

See I not any difference between men and women!

All deeds great and e’er-beneficial were done

In this world, half of them was accomplish’d by woman,

The rest half by the man.”


When the subjugated people of India had lost their freedom of speech

he expressed his pain in the poem “A woman prisoner in an Island”:

“O the worshipper, offerings you give to which

Deity? In India there is no free goddess of speech!

The law is not the ruler there,

If truth I speak ever

I’ll be imprison’d and oppress’d, no right

Have I to oppose oppression! Like incarcerated

Shita the goddess of speech takes the floggings of injustice!”


In many parts of the world now people are engaged in killing each other. Their fanatic beliefs, prejudices and hatred towards each other lead them to commit the crime of humanity.

In the eyes of Nazrul all religious and spiritual purity lie within a heart—

In the poem  ‘Shammyabadi ‘ he wrote:

“This heart is the Nilachal, Kashi, Mathura, Brindaban,

‘Tis Buddha-Gaya, Jerusalem, Medina,

 Mosque, Temple, Church and Ka’aba!”

Nazrul vowed to unite the religiously divided people and reminded them that hatred demeans the value of humanity.

In his chorus poem ‘Beware, O The Helmsman’  [Kandari hooshiar..]

“Are they Hindus or Muslims?’ Who asketh that?

Helmsman!  Say, ‘Human beings are drowning in water,

They’re the progenies of my mother!”

A deep sense of equality and humanity has been emanated from his poem “Kooli-mojur”  :

“Let all human beings of all ages, of all countries stand

At one confluence to hearken

The melody of flute of one union!

With pain if one is inflict’d - equally it

Spreads o’er everybody’s heart!

Showing disrespect to one is the humiliation to all,

Shame to whole mankind !”

Poet Nazrul was always against the class system that exists still in the society. It violates the human rights. It divides the people of the society they live in.

He wrote:

“To serve you they become laborers,

Coolis and porters,

Besmear’d with dust your burdens

They carry, they’re the human beings,

They’re the deities,

I sing their song !” 

Supremacy of one race above another is a great menace to the human society. It is the Racism that jeopardizes the progress of the human race. Poet Nazrul felt it deeply and wrote in his poem ‘Fariad,’ (The complaint to God):

“Yellow, black and white mankind Thou hast

Creat’d –‘Twas Thy wish! Black we’re, Thou knowest,

Fault is not ours!  Thou sayest not –

Only in white’s island the sun

And the moon will shine!

Supremacy the white will show o’er others,

Thy law ‘tis not !”


Poet Nazrul was arrested by the British colonial government in India for writing some poems for the subjugated people in the land. 

In his “The deposition of a political prisoner”, Poet  Nazrul could not defend himself but he read his deposition while he was at the court and sent a  powerful message not only to the British King but to the whole unjust systems of the world, to the whole spectrum of greed for wealth and power that obstructs the human rights.

And it is Nazrul—  a brave, noble person with strong character, free from guilt, could only write this deposition that he was represented by the true God as blazing comet.

A few of those great lines are quoted from his deposition that he wrote:

“I have been charged with treason, convicted for treachery against the king, and sentenced to serve as a prisoner of the king.  I find that there are two sides: on one side is the king’s crown; on the other side is the blazing comet of God. One is the king with a kingly scepter in his hand, and the Other one holds the scepter of justice and truth in His hand..  Nobody appointed my judge…but in His eyes all are equal. His law is for the justice and truth…”

Here, the truth is the God and His Justice. Nazrul represented the truth–the truth was his freedom of speech, the truth was the justice he wanted, the truth was his rights as human being.