Who is Maryam Jinnah?
Ruttie remained till the very end a liberal agnostic who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her husband in the many progressive and liberal causes he took up for India in his political career

A few years ago I was amused to read in the newspaper that Nazaria Pakistan Workers Trust in Lahore was holding a meeting to commemorate the life of Maryam Jinnah as a model Muslim woman. I was amused because it was the first I had heard of a Maryam Jinnah. Upon further inquiry, it was revealed that she was married to the Quaid-e-Azam and was once known by her Non-Muslim name Rattanbai Petit. The problem: Rattanbai or Ruttie as she was most commonly known as never used the name Maryam. Her Nikahnama stated the name Rattanbai and she always signed her letters as Ruttie.
 Her conversion to Islam was a legal formality at best. The law at the time required that both parties to an inter-communal marriage must either renounce their faith or one of the two parties should convert to the other party's faith. Jinnah being the elected representative of Bombay's Muslims could not afford to renounce his faith. Nor was a conversion to Zoarastrian faith possible. Indeed Jinnah had been arguing against this law in the legislature for at least a decade. He had most notably asked the government in 1912 to override objections of devout Hindus and Muslims to allow inter-communal marriage without such conditions. Still the law remained unchanged and Ruttie's conversion was the only way the marriage would have been possible. By all accounts Ruttie did not adopt the ways of a pious Muslim wife. She continued to dress in fashionable clothes that were considered scandalous even by the British. Lady Wellingdon's famous snub to her for wearing a low cut dress is well known. Jinnah's refusal to have dinner with the Wellingdons is equally well known, leading to the fantastic feud Lord Wellingdon and Jinnah which culminated in Jinnah's famous triumph at the Bombay Town Hall in 1918. According to Stanley Wolpert, whose famous lines on Jinnah's greatness Pakistanis do not tire quoting, Ruttie continued to bring "lovely ham sandwiches" for her husband to his law chamber. Does that sound like good Muslim behaviour to you? The new book by Sheela Reddy called "Mr and Mrs Jinnah" is almost a daily account of the marriage in the backdrop of Indian politics. It shows that Ruttie remained till the very end a liberal agnostic who stood shoulder to shoulder with her husband in the many progressive and liberal causes he took up for India in his political career. Some also argue that had Ruttie not died, Jinnah would have never taken up the cause of Pakistan.

Pakistani propaganda on Partition is wholly dependent on proving that Pakistan was the culmination of the desire of Muslims to establish a purely Islamic order. Being the secular, anglicised lawyer that Jinnah was — he would stick out like a sore thumb in this narrative

What caused Jinnah's conversion to the Muslim cause 1930s onwards remains a subject of intense debate for historians but what is surprising is this attempt by Pakistanis to Islamize poor old Ruttie who died in 1929. Mr. Shakir Lakhani, a writer from Karachi, alerted me to the Wikipedia page on her. It is now titled "Maryam Jinnah". Wikipedia works through published sources as references. Yet there is not a single source cited for the claim that she changed her name to Maryam Jinnah. Still the Wikipedia editor in charge of the page, a Pakistani who goes by the name "Top Gun", stubbornly refuses to rename the page. The argument is that if Cassius Clay was called Muhammad Ali, Ruttie Jinnah should be called Maryam Jinnah. Of course the fact that Ruttie never used the name is immaterial. That there is no source showing that she was given the name Maryam is also immaterial. There is no arguing against the wall of ignorance those years of Pakistan Studies builds in a Pakistani's head. Not only is she christened as Maryam but the Wikipedia page has this mouthful to describe her: 'Rattanbai "Ruttie" Petit Jinnah, born Rattanbai Petit; 20 February 1900 - 20 February 1929), also known by her married name Maryam Jinnah, was the second wife of Muhammad Ali Jinnah-an important figure in the foundation of Pakistan'. Important figure in the foundation of Pakistan indeed; she would be spinning in her grave (which by the way also has the name Rattanbai and not Maryam on it).
Pakistani propaganda on partition -especially since General Zia's regime started its nefarious reconstruction of the Pakistani narrative- is wholly dependent on proving that Pakistan was the culmination of the desire of Muslims to establish a purely Islamic order. The secular Anglicized lawyer that Jinnah was, he would stick out as a sore thumb in this narrative. Therefore he had to be remade also and in the process made into a caricature that hangs on our walls. In 2000s, when General Musharraf's supposedly enlightened and moderate regime was in power, Jinnah's picture in a suit and tie was also removed from the currency and replaced by one in a Sherwani, a dress he donned on a select few occasions. To a certain extent, therefore, Jinnah himself is responsible for this posthumous Islamization he is subjected to. As a politician in the 1940s he did actively canvass votes by appealing to varying notions of Muslim culture and identity, even if his idea of Muslim culture and identity was completely different from that which now is being forced down our throats. But what is Ruttie's fault that she must be dressed up in a Burqah and have her name changed in this fashion?
This is how cultures are moulded by those in power! Gone are the days of Khuda Hafiz in Pakistan and indeed India. Everyone now says "Allah Hafiz". Ramzan becomes Ramadan. Al-Bakistan license plates have grown like wild fire. In India Bombay has become Mumbai, Calcutta Kolkatta, Benaras Varanasi and so on and so forth. Perhaps it is not surprising then that Ruttie Jinnah has been re-imagined as Maryam Jinnah. After all both Pakistan and India, these two post-colonial behemoths, are in a competition to find the lowest possible depths in a mad rush to distort and even erase history- the Swadeshi movement of our times.


The writer is a practising lawyer. He blogs at hhtp://globallegalforum.blogspot.com and his twitter handle is @therealylh