Purdah to Piccadilly

Tracing the life of Zarina Bhatty, a Muslim woman born and brought up in pre-Partition India, this memoir narrates the experiences of a woman who strove to break out of the stereotypical roles imposed by the society of her times. It chronicles her life over 80 years, portraying the political and social conditions of undivided and post-Independence India. Zarina's story is a story of grit, perseverance and determination to battle against all odds — a story that was waiting to be told.

I have tried to record in some detail the functioning of the traditional social structure in the Oudh region, which was then the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh and now known as Uttar Pradesh (UP). The Oudh region of the erstwhile province was feudal and dominated by the Muslim landed gentry. Not only economically, but also culturally, that social structure started crumbling under the weight of the newly acquired ideas of social justice and socio-economic equality. I have been a witness to that process of change and my personal experiences and struggles to deal with that societal and familial environment reflect in the given narrative. By narrating my life experiences, I also wish to convey to my readers that it is important to have dreams and aspirations in order to grow, and have self-belief to pursue them.

Zarina Bhatty

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • The Background
  • Introducing the Family
  • Ancestral Homes
  • School and Burka
  • Exposure to the Freedom Movement
  • India to England
  • Ups and Downs
  • Experiencing the Communist Regime
  • Return to India
  • Destiny Plays a Hand
  • Awakening to Feminism
  • Joining USAID
  • Women’s Movement in India
  • And Life Goes On
  • Afterword

About the Author

Paper 1

Zarina Bhatty

Former President of the Indian Association for Women’s Studies (IAWS), New Delhi

Humanist by faith, sociologist by profession, feminist by conviction, Zarina Bhatty was brought up in burka (seclusion) in a traditional Muslim family in Lucknow in pre-Partition India. She is the former President of Indian Association for Women's Studies (IAWS) and of Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), New Delhi. She has researched, published, and lectured extensively in India and abroad on Indian Muslim Women’s issues and on women in the unorganized sector. Her pioneering study on women in the bidi industry, undertaken and published by the International Labour Organization (ILO), received considerable recognition. Zarina Bhatty studied sociology and political science at the London School of Economics and taught at the University of Delhi. She later worked as Gender Specialist with United States Agency for International Development (USAID), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and Islamic Development Bank (IDB). She is also the recipient of the Devi Awards 2015. After retiring from work, she has been living a quiet life in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, India.


The photographs chronicle the journey of Zarina Bhatty. All photos and letters are from author's personal collection, unless specified.

In the News



Eminent Author and Padma Shri, Vikram Seth released 'Purdah to Piccadilly', written by Zarina Bhatty, at the Woodside Cottage in Landour Cantonment Board, Mussoorie

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  • Tribune
    The Tribune - Apr-11-2016
  • Tribune
    Amar Ujala - Apr-10-2016

New Delhi

An event marking the release of "Purdah to Piccadilly" was held in New Delhi in the presence of Dr Zarina Bhatty, Author, Justice Leila Seth, former Hon'ble Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh, Prof Romila Thapar, Emeritus Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Prof Shohini Ghosh, Professor, AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia and Mr Vivek Mehra, MD and CEO, SAGE Publications

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