Rashid Jahan

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Rashid Jahan
Born 25 August 1905
Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, India
Died 1952
Moscow, Russia
Resting place Moscow, Russia
Occupation Writer
Language Urdu
Nationality Indian
Alma mater Aligarh Muslim University, Isabella Thoburn College, Lady Hardinge Medical College
Genre Short stories
Literary movement Progressive Writers Movement
Notable works Angaaray (1931)
Spouse Mahmuduz Zafar

Rashid Jahan (1905–1952) was an Indian writer who inaugurated a new era of Urdu literature written by women. She wrote short-stories and plays and is perhaps best remembered for her involvement with the explosive Angaaray (1931), a collection of groundbreaking and unconventional short stories written by young writers in Urdu like Sajjad Zaheer and Ahmed Ali.

Early life[edit]

She was born on 25 August 1905 in Aligarh. She was the eldest of five children born to Sheikh Abdullah and his wife Begum Wahid Jahan. Her father, Sheikh Abdullah (not to be confused with the 'Sher-e-Kashmir'), was a leading pioneer of women's education in India and established the Women's College at the Aligarh Muslim University, where she had her early education. She left Aligarh to join the Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow in 1921.[1]

Three years later she moved to Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi where she trained as a gynecologist. From Delhi, she joined the Provincial Medical Services, and was posted to small towns across north India, from Bahraich to Bulandshahar and Meerut.

She was an active member of the Communist Party of India and a leading voice in the Progressive Writers' Association. She married fellow revolutionary Mahmuduz Zafar in 1934.[2]


In the winter of 1931 Rashid Jahan published Angaaray, a collection of groundbreaking and unconventional short stories written with in Urdu with Sajjad Zaheer, Sahibzada Mahmuduzaffar and Ahmed Ali. The book railed against social inequity, hypocritical maulvis and the exploitation of women in a deeply patriarchal society.

The book was publicly condemned at the central standing committee of the All-India Shia Conference at Lucknow as a "filthy pamphlet" that had "wounded the feelings of the entire Muslim community". The Urdu press called for a ban. Clerics issued fatwas. Demonstrations were held outside book stores and the publisher had to issue a written apology and surrender unsold copies to the government. Within three months of its publication, the British had banned this "immoral" book. Today, apparently just five copies of the original version exist.

Of the two pieces that Jahan contributed to Angaaray, one was a short story barely three pages long Dilli ki Sair is a little narrative about a burqa-clad women watching life on a railway platform waiting for her husband to turn up and take her home. The story is a brief but penetrating meditation on life behind the 'veil' and the blindness of male privilege towards the experience of women behind the purdah. The other piece, Parde Ke Peeche, is a conversation between two women from affluent, sharif (respectable) families.[3]


Some of her writings have appeared in collections like Aurat aur Dusre Afsane wa Drame (1937) and Woh aur Dusre Afsane wa Drame (Maktaba Jamia, 1977).

Rashid Jahan died in Moscow in 1952 where she had gone for treatment for uterine cancer. She is buried in a cemetery there.[4]

Her sister Begum Khurshid Mirza's memoirs recently published in English includes a chapter on Rashid Jahan (pp. 86–104, A Woman of Substance: The Memoirs of Begum Khurshid Mirza, New Delhi: Zubaan, 2005).[5]

Books on Rashid Jahan[edit]

  • Rashid Jahan: A Rebel and Her Cause, Rakshanda Jalil, Women Unlimited. ISBN 978-8188965861

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