Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023

Jinnah’s 147th birth anniversary: Meet the two most defiant women in Quaid-e-Azam’s life

Not much has been written about Jinnah's personal life, especially the women in his life. Here's what you should know about his second wife, Rattanbai alias Ruttie, and his daughter, Dina.

Jinnah, dina, rattanbaiMohammad Ali Jinnah with his sister Fatima Jinnah (left), and daughter Dina (right). (Photo: National Archives of Pakistan)

December 25 this year marks the 147th birth anniversary of the Father of Pakistan Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

There is no dearth of text and scholarship on Jinnah’s tumultuous political life. However, not much has been written about his personal life, especially the women in his life. Jinnah married twice and had one daughter, his only child. He was very close to his second wife, Rattanbai alias Ruttie, and his daughter, Dina, according to ‘Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin’ by Akbar S Ahmed, a Pakistani-American academic and former diplomat.

Here is a look at these two women and what kind of a relationship they shared with Jinnah.


Rattanbai Jinnah

Eighteen-year-old Rattanbai, a Parsi woman, married Jinnah in early 1918 against her father’s wishes. Jinnah, 42, was far from an ideal suitor — he was not only her father’s age but also from a different religion.

“Sir Dinshaw Petit (Rattanbai’s father) had understandably been furious when his friend Jinnah proposed to his daughter. The Parsees were a wealthy and sophisticated Westernised community who dominated Bombay life… and Ruttie could have had the pick of the young men from her people,” Ahmed wrote in his book.

Festive offer

Known as ‘the flower of Bombay’, Rattanbai was a headstrong woman, a voracious reader, and a lover of poetry and fine art. She campaigned to abolish the brothels in Bombay and against animal cruelty.

Author Sharif al-Mujahid in his essay, Jinnah: A Portrait, published in The Jinnah Anthology, said: that Rattanbai “opened up a new world of taste for him (Jinnah)”.


Within a year of their marriage, Jinnah became the president of the Muslim League in 1919. This meant that Rattanbai would share the stage with the political leader during public meetings of the Muslim League. Her Westernised attire would often spark controversy in such gatherings.

One such incident happened at the 1924 Muslim League annual session at the Globe Cinema, Bombay. In their book, ‘Ruttie Jinnah: The Woman Who Stood Defiant’, Saad S Khan and Sarah S Khan wrote: “Some people asked the organisers who the woman was. Jinnah’s political secretary, MC Chagla, had to tell the objectors that she was the Muslim League’s president’s wife, so they would be better off keeping their observations to themselves.

The incident is indicative of the fact that Mrs Jinnah was not just a passive companion cheering from the fence, but would share the limelight as well.”


Rattanbai and Jinnah separated a few years after their marriage — they grew apart as Jinnah became remote and got entangled in his political life. However, the couple was reunited when Rattanbai fell sick. While the cause of her death remains unclear, Mrs Jinnah died in 1929 at the age of 29.

Ahmed wrote: “Ruttie’s death ‘devastated’ Jinnah… When Ruttie’s body was lowered into the grave, Jinnah wept like a child, his control collapsing… He would never be the same again; something died in him.”

Dina Wadia

Dina was just nine years old when her mother Rattanbai passed away. To help him raise her, Jinnah called upon his sister Fatima and the three moved to London temporarily. It was during these years that Dina and Jinnah grew close to each other.

According to Hector Bolitho’s Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan (1954), the “stress-free environment, away from the grilling politics of India” helped the father and daughter build a fond relationship.

“She alone could tease her father — a fond treatment he had lacked all his life: she alone could extend her hand — slim and expressive as his — and cajole him into putting a brief aside, with the plea,” wrote Bolitho.


Their relationship, however, became fraught when Dina planned to marry Neville Wadia, a Christian who had once been a Parsi. Jinnah strongly opposed the proposal. In his book, Ahmed wrote that Jinnah ‘told her that there were millions of Muslim boys in India, and

she could have anyone she chose’. Dina replied that there were millions of Muslim girls and he could have married one of them, so why did he marry her mother?


Ultimately, Dina married Neville in 1938, making Jinnah disown her. The father and daughter did keep in touch in the subsequent years and exchanged letters. But then the partition took place.

Jinnah asked Dina to come to Pakistan and leave her life in Bombay. Dina chose to stay back with her husband and children. She would never see her father again as he died of tuberculosis within the next year.


“The partition of father and daughter may have been overshadowed by the larger partition of India but in its tragedy it creates a powerful metaphor,” Ahmed wrote.

In her later years, Dina lived mostly in New York and made an annual trip to Mumbai to meet her family and friends. She also got embroiled in a court case over the legal possession of South Court on Malabar Hill, now usually referred to as Jinnah House. Designed by architect Claude Batley in European style, Jinnah lived there in the late 1930s.

Dina passed away at her home in New York on November 2, 2017, at the age of 98.

First published on: 25-12-2023 at 16:58 IST
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