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5 Things To Know About Ismat Chugtai, India’s OG Feminist

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The 1930s ought to have been turbulent times for India. The sentiment of nationalism was high, the first ripples of mutiny had already been felt and the country was on the brink of a new era. All this while, silently but powerfully, one lady was leading the cause for women in India and around the world. Ismat Chugtai was India’s original feminist, talking about female sexuality in her writing long before it was even something people discussed in the public sphere. As the Google Doodle remembers this epic woman, we give you the 5 times that she proved to be India’s most powerful voice for female empowerment. 

She was born into a Muslim family, the ninth child in the 10 there were in total. She found her mentor in an older sibling, Azim Beg Chughtai, who penned short stories. It was here that she found her inspiration. Her first fight was getting an education, one that she fought fiercely for. She completed her Bachelor of Education degree from the Aligarh Muslim University despite strong opposition from her family. 

She wrote for many publications, the Progressive Writers Association proving to be a great platform for this, but often faced stiff criticism for her subjects being taboo or too ‘progressive’. One of her key pieces, Lihaaf, featured a lesbian relationship, a subject that she was told went ‘too far’.

In 1943, her book Terhi Lakeer (The Crooked Line) was released. This was perhaps one of the first works to offer a peek into the lives of women and their changing roles during the British Raj. She ruffled a few feathers with this as well. 

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In 1944, Ismat was summoned by a Lahore court for obscenity in her writing along with fellow writer Sadat Hassan Manto. They were both exonerated, but this brought a lot of attention to her works, and she wasn’t entirely comfortable with the attention. However, that didn’t stop her from writing.

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She also made her mark in Bollywood, adapting Lihaaf into a screenplay. The feature film was called Ziddi, which went on to become a commercial hit, further catapulting Ismat as a writing force to reckon with. 

We love Ismat Chugtai; tell us in the comments why she inspires you. 

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Mansi Shah is the resident humour writer and random conversation starter. Tends to laugh manically at puns. Deeply enjoys the blunt force of sarcasm. Preys on chauvinists and people with incorrect grammar. Hoards makeup and beauty products. Attacks Nutella with vigour.

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