Ismat Chughtai, an iconoclast feminist women writer

Ismat Chughtai, a renowed Urdu women writer who’s celebrated for her honest and progressive feminist writings.

Exploring the lives of women depicted in the 20th century. Her path-breaking work on homosexuality, femininity, class structures and conflict. Ismat, a fierce feminist Muslim women writer; who’s writings were celebrated yet censored, thanks to their honesty. She was one of the most celebrated Urdu women writers of the 20th century, who’s writings are contemporary even today.

Her writings explored path-breaking topics of homosexuality, femininity, class structures and conflict. They went on to being award winning as well, Ismat was awared Padmashri by Government of India in 1976.


Family & Education

Born in UttarPradesh in 1915, she was the 9th of the 10 children in her family. Born to a Muslim family, her dad was a civil servant. She completed her primary education from Aligarh Muslim University, a Women’s College and graduated from Isabella Thoburn College with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Despite facing immense resistance from her family, she completed her education. She later studied teaching at Aligarh Muslim University, becoming the first Indian Muslim woman to obtain both a bachelor of arts and a bachelor’s in education degree. It was during her formative years of education that she met Rashid Jahan who is credited to inspire Ismat’s honest depictions of women lives in her writings.

Her Writings

Some of her early works includes Fasadi (The Troublemaker), Bachpan, an autobiographical piece, Kafir, her first short-story, and Dheet (Stubborn), her only soliloquy, among others. She received criticism for her feminist progressive writings for her times. Relentlessly wrote without bending about women, their desires and the oppression they faced. Chungtai’s most famous story, “Lihaaf” (“The Quilt”), was published in a Lahore-based literary journal in 1942. The story revolves around female homosexuality and describes a romantic relationship between a wealthy landlord’s wife and her female servant. Her work garnered much criticism and got her to the court of law for obscenity in Lihaaf. She refused to apologise for her writings on same-sex female relationships.


Her Work in Indian Cinema

In 1940s Ismat choose to marry Shahid Lateef, a Hindi film director, writer and producer of movies like Ziddi starring Dev Anand and Aarzoo starring Dilip Kumar & Kamini Kaushal. Ismat went on to being a film-maker, co-producer, screen-play writer along with Lateef. Her debut as a filmmaker was ”Sone Ki Chidiya” who’s central character was a child artist being abused during her career revealing the gloom behind the glory. Along with her career in films, she continued her passion for writing stories and one of the most path-breaking was her collection of short stories Chui Mui (Touch-me-not). They spoke about importance of motherhood and its relation to womanhood and the duality of Indian Society which gathered an enthusiastic response.

Impact of Ismat’s Work In completeness, Ismat was a liberal Muslim whose daughter, nephew & niece were married to Hindus. In her own words, Ismat came from a family of “Hindus, Muslims and Christians who all live peacefully”. She said she read not only the Qur’an, but also the Gita and the Bible with openness. Ismat”s short stories reflect the cultural legacy of the region in which she lived. Many of her writings, including Angarey and Lihaaf, were banned in South Asia because their reformist and feminist content offended conservatives. She was of the view that the Niqab, the veil worn by women in Muslim societies, should be discouraged for Muslim women because it is oppressive.  Ismat laid one of the strongest pillars for women writers, feminism and living a life on her own terms. She choose her education, marriage and career too. She is an icon, an inspiration who did what she felt right un-apologetically and acclaimed for it. Her work inspired the Theatre, Writers and Indian Cinema continually.

Her Books are available at: https://www.amazon.in/Books-Ismat-Chughtai

Credits – Google Doodle, Wikipedia, www.independent.co.ukindianexpress.com

Written by O Womania Team

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