Ismat Chughtai

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Ismat Chughtai
عصمت چغتائی
Ismat Chughtai
Born (1915-08-15)15 August 1915
Badayun, British India
(now in Uttar Pradesh, India)
Died Mumbai, India
24 October 1991(1991-10-24) (aged 76)
Occupation Writer
Language Urdu
Nationality Indian
Citizenship Indian
Alma mater Aligarh Muslim University
Genre Short stories
Literary movement Progressive Writers Movement
Notable awards Ghalib Award (1984)
Filmfare Best Story Award (1975)
Children Two daughters, Seema Sawhny married to a Hindu and Subrina to a Parsi


Ismat Chughtai (Urdu: عصمت چغتائی‎) (August 1915 – 24 October 1991)1 was an eminent Indian writer in Urdu, known for her indomitable spirit and a fierce feminist ideology. Considered the grand dame of Urdu fiction, Chughtai was one of the Muslim writers who stayed in India after the subcontinent was partitioned. Along with Rashid Jahan, Wajeda Tabassum and Qurratulain Hyder, Ismat's work stands for the birth of a revolutionary feminist politics and aesthetics in twentieth century Urdu literature. She explored feminine sexuality, middle-class gentility, and other evolving conflicts in modern India.[1] Her outspoken and controversial style of writing made her the passionate voice for the unheard, and she has become an inspiration for the younger generation of writers, readers and intellectuals.


She was born in Badayun, Uttar Pradesh and grew up largely in Jodhpur where her father was a civil servant. She was ninth of ten children (six brothers, four sisters), and since her older sisters got married while Ismat was very young, the better part of her childhood was spent in the company of her brothers, a factor which she admits contributed greatly to the frankness in her nature and writing. Her brother, Mirza Azim Beg Chughtai, already an established writer, when Ismat was still in her teens, was her first teacher and mentor. She had her early education in the Women's College of Aligarh Muslim University.[2]

In 1936, still working on her bachelor's degree in Lucknow, she attended the first meeting of the Progressive Writers' Association . After her BA from Isabella Thoburn College, Ismat secured a BEd (a Bachelor's in Education), thus becoming the first Indian Muslim woman to have earned both degrees.[3] In this period she started writing in secret, due to violent opposition to her education from her Muslim relatives.

Chughtai's short stories reflect the cultural legacy of the region in which she lived. This is especially notable in her story "Sacred Duty", where she deals with social pressures in India, alluding to specific national, religious and cultural traditions.

Chughtai was a liberal Muslim whose daughter and nephew were married to Hindus. In her own words, Chughtai came from a family of "Hindus, Muslims and Christians who all live peacefully".[4] She said she read not only the Qur’an, but also the Gita and the Bible with openness.[4]

She has two daughters, Seema Sawhny (died 2011) practiced Arya Samaj was married to Naveen Sawhny and they had a son Ashish Sawhny (filmmaker),[5] second daughter Subrina Lateef is married to a Parsi and has two sons. Ismat and her Hindu daughter did not consume beef.[6]



Ismat Chughtai is considered a path-breaker for women writers in the subcontinent, as the many women writing during Ismat's childhood – including, notably, Muhammadi Begum, Sughra Humayun Mirza, Tyaba Bilgrami (to whose novel Anwari Begum Chughtai refers in Terhi Lakeer) and Khatun Akram – were considered too enmeshed in the ideology of slow, conservative and religiously sanctioned changes for women advocated by such male reformers as Mumtaz Ali, Rashidul Khairi and Shaikh Abdullah. However, in Ismat's formative years, Nazar Sajjad Hyder had established herself an independent feminist voice, and the short stories of two very different women, Hijab Imtiaz Ali and the Progressive Dr Rashid Jehan were also a significant early influence on Ismat.[9]

In her career many of her writings including Angarey and Lihaaf were banned in South Asia because their reformist and feminist content offended conservatives (for example, her view that the Niqab, the mask worn by women in Muslim societies, should be discouraged for Muslim women because it is oppressive and feudal[10]). Many of her books have been banned at various times during their publication history.

Lihaaf controversy[edit]

Chughtai's most celebrated short story, Lihaaf (The Quilt) published in 1942 in the Urdu literary journal Adab-i-Latif, was leveled with charges of obscenity and she was summoned by the Lahore court in 1944.[11] Lihaaf deals with homosexuality in Aligarh.[12]

Many angry letters were sent to the editor of the journal accusing the short story of blasphemy. Chughtai chose to contest this charge instead of apologizing and won her case in court. Her lawyer argued that there were no explicit references to homoeroticism in the story and hence she could not be accused writing about it.[13][14]


In 1941, she married screenwriter and film director Shaheed Latif, who made such films as Ziddi (1948) and Arzoo (1950). They collaborated on many films together, and had two daughters. Latif died in 1967.

Ismat Chughtai died in Bombay on 24 October 1991. She studied Geeta for two years and she was afraid of gave, as per her will she was cremated in Chandanwadi crematorium according to her wish.[6]

Select bibliography[edit]

  • Yahan Se Wahan Tak, Society Publishers, 1981 - autobiography
  • Ismat Chughtai: Shaksiyat aur Fan by Jagdish Chander Wadhawan, 1996, Delhi.
  • A Chughtai Collection, Sama Publishing, 2005. ISBN 969-8784-16-0.
  • Lifting the Veil, Penguin, 2001.
  • The Heart Breaks Free/The Wild One, South Asia Books, 1993.
  • My Friend My Enemy: Essays, Reminiscences, Portraits, New Delhi, Kali for Women, 2001.
  • Quilt and Other Stories, New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1996
  • Terhi Lakhir (The Crooked Line), New Delhi, Kali for Women, 1995.
  • Kaghji Hai Pairahan (Memoir), Rajkamal Prakashan, 2004. ISBN 8171789676.
  • Ismat Chughtai; Tr. by M. Asaduddin (2012). A Life in Words: Memoirs. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-670-08618-4. 


End note and references[edit]

The Crooked Line was published, with a new afterword by the translator Tahira Naqvi, in the United States by the Feminist Press (2006). Naseeruddin Shah's theater company Motley Productions has staged three short stories by Ismat Chughtai in its production 'Ismat Aapa ke Naam'.

  1. ^ Urdu Studies
  2. ^ "The fine print of the AMU Library row". 
  3. ^ "Ismat Chughtai- a tribute" (PDF). Retrieved 11 January 2012. 
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ Where's the biopic on Ismat Chughtai?, by Manish Gaekwad,, Published Oct 07, 2015.
  6. ^ a b Ismat Chughtai — her life and ideals, By Noor Shah, Milligazette, 1-15 Feb 2005 print version
  7. ^ List of winners of Ghalib Award in Urdu, 1976 onwards Archived 20 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. ^ a b Khan, Hafiza Nilofar (2008). Treatment of a Wife's Body in the Fiction of Indian Sub-Continental Muslim Women Writers. (The University of Southern Mississippi, PhD dissertation). p. 11. OCLC 420600128. 
  9. ^ "Ismat Chughtai". Retrieved 11 January 2012. 
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ "The same-sex appeal in Literature". The Times of India. 6 January 2012. Retrieved 11 January 2012. 
  12. ^ "Root Cause of AMU's Sexism problem". 
  13. ^ Gopal, Priyamvada (2005). Literary radicalism in India: gender, nation and transition to independence. Routledge. p. 177. ISBN 9780415329040. 
  14. ^ "Women's transition in Literature". Deccan Herald. 11 January 2012. Retrieved 11 January 2012. 

Books on Ismat Chughtai[edit]

  • Ismat Chughtai: Shaksiyat aur Fan by Jagdish Chander Wadhawan, Reference submitted by Dr. Priyanka Puri, Assistant Professor, Miranda House, University of Delhi ( Lt. Sh. Wadhawan's grand daughter).
  • Ismat: Her Life, Her Times. Sukrita Paul Kumar, Katha, New Delhi,2000. ISBN 81-85586-97-7.
  • Ismat Chughtai, A Fearless Voice. Manjulaa Negi, Rupa and Co, 2003.81-29101-53-X.

Articles on Ismat Chughtai[edit]

Plays and Dramatic Performances on Ismat Chughtai[edit]

Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah have been presenting 'Ismat Aapa Ke Naam' for the past nearly twelve years to critical success. Her story 'Chouthi Ka Joda' is presented frequently by many theatre groupes. Danish Iqbal adapted her story 'Mughal Bachcha'مغل بچہ for stage which was presented at the Theatre Festival organised by Government of Delhi to commemorate her birth centenary. This Play also contained biographical references about her works and early influences. Danish Iqbal also wrote a stage Play عصمت اور منٹو highlighting the love hate relationship between Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto.

External links[edit]