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RASHEED JAHAN (1905–1952)

Rasheed Jahan was an Urdu writer and a member of the Progressive Writers’ Group. Her work with its earthy realism and uncompromising vision inspired Ismat Chugtai (q.v.). Trained as a doctor, Rasheed saw many instances in the course of her practice of man’s cruelty to woman. She was born and brought up in Aligarh, and her father Sheikh Abdullah edited a women’s magazine in Urdu, Khatun. The family was highly educated and often debated women’s concerns. Rasheed’s three sisters were all professionals, two working in education and the third an actress.

Rasheed studied in Lucknow, then went to the Lady Hardinge Medical College. There she ran literacy classes and free clinics for women. In 1931 she made her name in Urdu literature with a play and a story in the anthology Angare. The other writers in this collection were all progressive, but public opinion concentrated on Rasheed’s contribution. The play, titled Parde ke Pichhe (Behind the Curtain) and dealing with abortion and other health issues, angered traditional Muslim society. Fatwas were issued against her, and she was warned not to go out on her rounds, usually in the poorest and most dangerous parts of town, without a bodyguard. This suggestion she brushed aside, maintaining that as a doctor it was her duty to be available for private consultation to those who relied on her. She was well known for never refusing a call from a patient who needed her. She also edited the magazine Chingari, kept open house for her progressive friends, acted in and directed many plays and worked for the Communist Party, taking over the duties of comrades underground and helping their families during World War II. She died in Moscow of uterine cancer. Today she is largely remembered for her short fiction.
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