Women Writers You Should Know About #16 Ismat Chughtai
Growing up as a Muslim in post-partition India, Ismat Chughtai not only faced censure and subjugation as a female writer but actively sought controversy with her writing. Celebrated as one of the Urdu language greatest champions, she was a progressive feminist at a time (circa 1930-1945) when 19th-century sensibilities still regulated how women behaved.
She was born in Badayun, Utter Pradesh on the 15th August 1915, the ninth of ten children. Her four older sisters were married while Ismat was young and so she spent most of her childhood with her brothers, a time which played an integral part in shaping who she was as a woman and as a writer. Her Muslim relatives were greatly opposed her education but, showing her fierce independence even then, she became the first Indian Muslim woman to have gained two degrees.
She began writing short stories, combining the cultural, religious and social issues affecting her region. As a liberal Muslim, she embraced all cultures and ideologies without necessarily subscribing to them and fought endlessly against her own religion’s subjugation of women. Because of this, many of her books and stories were banned, and when she published her best-known work, Lihaaf (The Quilt), in 1942, the story which combined elements of homosexuality and female oppression in a feudal society, and featured depictions of sex (still taboo in Indian literature today), Chughtai was subject to an obscenity trial and asked to apologise. She refused.