Sabahat Afreen curated a women's world sans fear and restrictions in her stories

Story by  ATV | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 03-01-2024
Author Sabahat Afreen
Author Sabahat Afreen


Onika Maheshwari/New Delhi

Sabahat Afreen’s life will make you believe in the adage: where there is a will there is a way. Being born into an educated and prosperous family, Sabahat realized early in her life that her family was not open to women coming out of the four walls of the house, bracing against all odds to create their identity. She was raised seeing all women in her family in purdah.

However, somewhere in her heart, Sabahat Afreen was like a Secret Superstar of the Hindi movie by that name. Afreen was raised in a small village in Siddharthnagar district of Uttar Pradesh by her advocate father and a homemaker mother.

Sabahat Afreen started living in purdah in 10th class and after passing her 12th standard, She was not supposed to move out of the house alone. This resulted in her not attending college and opting for home study and writing examinations as a private student for her graduation years.

She was completing her master’s degree when she got married. Her husband’s family was politically connected and prosperous. She could have easily lived in comfort; Sabahat did not like to dress up like a doll wearing jewelery and expensive sarees and lounging around all day.

She said, “My mother was fond of reading and writing. She had an impact on me too. I used to write poems and stories in my childhood. Mom and Dad always encouraged me. It is a different matter that my works were never sent for publication as they didn’t believe in getting a picture of their daughter printed in the newspaper.”

Sabahat Afreen with her book

She also realized the environment in her in-laws' house was less conservative. “My father-in-law knew that I write, so he used to gift me a diary and pen; my husband also supported me.” She told Awaz-the Voice.

After marriage, she opened a secret account on Facebook and did not use her pictures for the DP. “I started writing stories on Facebook, my posts went viral. Someone suggested that I should send my stories to Neelesh Misra, (Editor, Gaon Connection, lyricist, and storyteller). His storytelling was popular. I emailed my story to him and he liked it. From that point, I was in his circle.”

Like Insia Malik (Played by Zaira Wasim) of Aamir Khan's 2017 film Secret Superstar, she revealed her talent to the world by hiding her identity. Soon Sabahat Afrin was writing audio series, stories, and books for magazines and many apps across the country. She moved her two little daughters out of the closed environs of the village to Lucknow.

As it happens in such cases, most of the people who had opposed her once now praise and respect her. Her family is proud of her.

Recently her first story collection Mujhe Jugnuon Ke Desh Jaana Hai (I Want to Go to the Land of Fireflies)(Rujhan Publications, Rajasthan) was released. In it, Sabahat imagines in this country of fireflies women are also enjoying the same freedom as men, the doors of their hearts cannot be guarded, they too have the freedom to remarry after divorce, and they have the right to decide if they want to return to their husband’s house after feeling unwanted there.

Sabahat Afreen with friends

Her stories are set in the backdrop of Muslim culture, but she manages to show that when it comes to the status and rights of women, it’s the same every year. Sabahat wants to free the fireflies from the clenched fists of Afreen women.

Her first remuneration of Rs 30,000 as a writer was encouraging for Sabahat. She felt that being financially strong should be the priority of a woman. Now she shares her pictures on social media and with her stories.

Sabahat has written amazing stories that she must have picked up from around her and kept in the secret chamber of her heart to let them metamorphose into another form. Her stories look familiar to readers; after reading each one of her stories, the reader feels that he has seen these incidents.

Sabahat has adapted one such incident into a captivating story. The story Khoobsurat auratein (Beautiful Women) starts with this sentence – “even good looks are like a punishment, wherever she went people's eyes were fixed on her.' The heroine of the story, Alia, is very beautiful.”

Sabahat Afreen with her daughters

Women are at the center of all Sabahat's stories. The joys and sorrows of a woman, her dreams, her desire to fulfill them and social restrictions are the key elements in her stories. Sabahat is seen breaking these restrictions and traditions. Women in her stories are silent protesters except for Alia from her story Beautiful Women. However, they encounter opposition and in some cases, it’s also effective.

Sabahat becomes emotional while narrating her stories. She wishes to create a world for women where they have the freedom to fulfill their wishes and make their dreams come true. Her stories reflect her progressive thoughts.

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Sabahat says that she never went to the market alone and yet when people knew about her through her stories, she felt confident to move to a big city with her daughters. “I reached Lucknow and rented out an apartment and enrolled my daughters in a good school. Today my daughters are studying, and life has become a bit easier for all three of us.”