She was born in on August 21, 1911 in Badayun, Uttar Pradesh and grew up largely in Jodhpur where her father was a civil servant. She was ninth of ten children (six brothers, four sisters), and since her older sisters got married while Ismat was very young, the better part of her childhood was spent in the company of her brothers, a factor which she admits contributed greatly to the frankness in her nature and writing. Her brother, Mirza Azim Beg Chughtai, already an established writer, when Ismat was still in her teens, was her first teacher and mentor. She had her early education in the Women's College of Aligarh Muslim University.
In 1936, still working on her bachelor's degree in Lucknow, she attended the first meeting of the Progressive Writers' Association . After her BA from Isabella Thoburn College, Ismat secured a BEd (a Bachelor's in Education), thus becoming the first Indian Muslim woman to have earned both degrees. In this period she started writing in secret, due to violent opposition to her education from her Muslim relatives.
Chughtai was a liberal Muslim whose daughter, nephew & neice were married to Hindus. In her own words, Chughtai came from a family of "Hindus, Muslims and Christians who all live peacefully". She said she read not only the Qur’an, but also the Gita and the Bible with openness.
Chughtai's short stories reflect the cultural legacy of the region in which she lived. This is especially notable in her story "Sacred Duty", where she deals with social pressures in India, alluding to specific national, religious and cultural traditions.
She has two daughters, Seema Sawhny (1944-2011) was married to Naveen Sawhny (1937-1987) and they have a son Ashish Sawhny (filmmaker), second daughter Sabrina Lateef (1951- ) is unmarried. 1974: Ghalib Award (Urdu Drama): Terhi Lakeer
1975: Filmfare Best Story Award: Garam Hawa (with Kaifi Azmi)
1975: 1975 - Government of India State Award
1976: Padma Shri Award
1976 - Uttar Pradesh Government gave her an award.
1977 - Ghalib Award from the Ghalib Institute for the Urdu play Tahai ka Zahr.
1979 - Makhdoom Literary Awards of Andhra Pradesh Urdu Akademi.
1982: Soviet Land Nehru Award
1990 Iqbal Samman (Iqbal Award) from Rajasthan Urdu Akademi for the year 1989
Ismat Chughtai is considered a path-breaker for women writers in the subcontinent, as the many women writing during Ismat's childhood – including, notably, Muhammadi Begum, Sughra Humayun Mirza, Tyaba Bilgrami (to whose novel Anwari Begum Chughtai refers in Terhi Lakeer) and Khatun Akram – were considered too enmeshed in the ideology of slow, conservative and religiously sanctioned changes for women advocated by such male reformers as Mumtaz Ali, Rashidul Khairi and Shaikh Abdullah. However, in Ismat's formative years, Nazar Sajjad Hyder had established herself an independent feminist voice, and the short stories of two very different women, Hijab Imtiaz Ali and the Progressive Dr Rashid Jehan were also a significant early influence on Ismat.
In her career many of her writings including Angarey and Lihaaf were banned in South Asia because their reformist and feminist content offended conservatives (for example, her view that the Niqab, the mask worn by women in Muslim societies, should be discouraged for Muslim women because it is oppressive and feudal). Many of her books have been banned at various times during their publication history.
Chughtai's most celebrated short story, Lihaaf (The Quilt) published in 1942 in the Urdu literary journal Adab-i-Latif, was leveled with charges of obscenity and she was summoned by the Lahore court in 1944. Lihaaf deals with homosexuality in Aligarh.
Many angry letters were sent to the editor of the journal accusing the short story of blasphemy. Chughtai chose to contest this charge instead of apologizing and won her case in court. Her lawyer argued that there were no explicit references to homoeroticism in the story and hence she could not be accused writing about it.
In 1941, she married screenwriter and film director Shaheed Lateef, who made such films as Ziddi (1948) and Arzoo (1950). They collaborated on many films together, and had two daughters. Lateef died in 1967.
Ismat Chughtai died in Bombay on 24 October 1991. As per her last wishes, she was cremated.Shikayat (1948)- Dialogue
Ziddi – Story Writer
Arzoo – Screenwriter, Dialogue
Fareb(1953) – Co-Director
Sone Ki Chidiya (1958) – Screenwriter, producer
Lala Rukh (1958)- Co-Director, Producer
Baharen Phir Bhi Ayengi (1966-7)
Garam Hawa (1973) – Story Writer
Junoon – Dialogue, Actor
Ismat Chughtai: Shaksiyat aur Fan by Jagdish Chander Wadhawan, Reference submitted by Dr. Priyanka Puri, Assistant Professor, Miranda House, University of Delhi ( Lt. Sh. Wadhawan's grand daughter).
Ismat: Her Life, Her Times. Sukrita Paul Kumar, Katha, New Delhi,2000. ISBN 81-85586-97-7.
Ismat Chughtai, A Fearless Voice. Manjulaa Negi, Rupa and Co, 2003.81-29101-53-X.
Torchbearer of a literary revolution. The Hindu, Sunday, 21 May 2000.
Kashmir Uzma Urdu weekly, Srinagar, 27 December 2004, 2 January 2005.
Ismat Chughtai – Pakistan-India (1915–1991), World People, 5 May 2006.
Ismat Chughtai: An Iconoclast Muslim Dame of Urdu Fiction
Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah have been presenting 'Ismat Aapa Ke Naam' for the past nearly twelve years to critical success. Her story 'Chouthi Ka Joda' is presented frequently by many theatre groupes. Danish Iqbal adapted her story 'Mughal Bachcha'مغل بچہ for stage which was presented at the Theatre Festival organised by Government of Delhi to commemorate her birth centenary. This Play also contained biographical references about her works and early influences. Danish Iqbal also wrote a stage Play عصمت اور منٹو highlighting the love hate relationship between Ismat Chughtai and Saadat Hasan Manto.