November 24, 2015

India: Rajasthan govt drops feminist literary giant Ismat Chughtai from textbooks

The Times of India

City literati fume after Raj govt drops Chughtai from textbooks

TNN | Nov 24, 2015, 01.10 AM IST

MUMBAI: Liberal, rebellious and progressive to the core, Ismat Chughtai (1915-1991), enfant terrible of Urdu literature, fought parochialism all her life. She led from the front and lived by her own principles.

One of her daughters was married to a Hindu while the other was married to a Parsi. She didn't consume beef, not because of the Hindutva diktat, but to respect the sentiments of her Hindu grandson. And when she died she was cremated at Chandanwadi because she had willed so. Mumbai where Chughtai spent most of her adult life is understandably outraged at the Rajasthan government's recent decision to drop her stories from school textbooks. That controversy follows Chughtai nearly a quarter of a century after her death, say city-based writers who knew her well, is gross injustice to a writer who epitomized India's composite culture. "Those who have decided to drop Chughtai's stories are not concerned whether she was a liberal and feminist or that she respected all religions. They want to send a message that saffronization of Indian ethos is underway and Ismat doesn't fit into this plan," said poet-lyricist Nida Fazli.

Defending the controversial decision, a textbook committee member said that Chughtai's stories, along with Safdar Hashmi's poems, didn't fit into the local culture of Rajasthan and the students couldn't identify with the Muslim characters in their creations. "Premchand penned several stories, including the landmark Eid Gah, depicting Muslim characters. I ask the textbook committee members, 'did Premchand write for Muslims alone'? This is a stupid argument," added Fazli. Sahitya Akademi awardee writer Salam bin Razzak says the purpose of literature is to break barriers. "Children need to be exposed to different cultures. Why can't a child in Rajasthan know about life in Muslim households of UP and vice versa? ," said Razzak who is also member of Balbharati, the state bureau of textbook production and curriculum research.

Chughtai held an acerbic pen and didn't flinch from puncturing false egos and the hypocrisy around her. And those who plan to banish her from the textbooks are not her first tormentors. They came in the form of those too who dragged her to the Lahore high court in 1944 , accusing her celebrated 'Lihaaf' (The Quilt) of spreading obscenity because it dealt with homosexuality. Chughtai scripted many films, including 'Ziddi', 'Garam Hawa' and 'Sone Ki Chidiya', it helped as her husband Shahid Latif was a filmmaker. Rebellion remained a signature tune in her creative outputs. She must be laughing at the ignorance or plain stupidity or both of the people who want to deprive children from soaking in the stories she penned.