Udayan C: A couple of weeks ago, Altamas Kabir was sworn in by President Pranab Mukhopadhyay as the 39th Chief Justice of India. As far as I am aware, this is the highest rank held by a Bengali Muslim in India since 1947

Altamas Kabir


Justice Kabir and his family are by no means typical, and hardly representative of the Indian Bengali Muslim experience, which lacks any kind of strong middle or upper class, and is virtually invisible in West Bengali socio-political elites, let alone those of Indian Muslims or of Delhi. So while this shouldn’t be seen as a breakthrough, there is symbolic value nonetheless.

As a Bengali with a soft spot for pan-Indian nationalism of the Nehruvian-Tagore “ভারতের মহামানবের সাগরতীরে” variety (cue the close up of Advani watching on in the linked video for full dramatic effect), I can’t help noticing the irony and happy coincidence of a Bengali President administering the Oath of Office in English, and then doing chit chat in Hindi afterwards. And as a Bengali with a soft spot for our neighbor to the east, I see some more irony in the fact that both these distinguished gentlemen have extended family and origins just a few miles from each other in what is now another country.

Meanwhile, Facebook commentators seemed affectionately (?) fixated on the new CJ’s Bengaliness being very visible in the close-up of him singing the national anthem at the ceremony – “joyo he, joyo he” he was mouthing, instead of “Juya-hai” as we are all supposed to do in the name of unity in diversity. Wait a minute … that’s a Bengali song he’s singing as well come to think of it …

Justice Altamas Kabir, the senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, has been sworn in as the 39th Chief Justice of India.

His ancestors came from an affluent Bengali Muslim family in Faridpur, now in Bangladesh. Although his father Jehangir Kabir was also influential in Bengal politics, the clan was made famous more by his uncle, Humanyun Kabir, a renowned academic. His branch of the clan chose to migrate to India after the partition in 1947. Times of India