Dina Wadia and the Partition

by on November 3, 2017 at 4:42 am in Current Affairs, History | Permalink

Muhammad Ali Jinnah was nothing if not complicated. Jinnah, an alcohol-drinking, pork-eating, English-loving barrister, was the founder of  the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Yesterday, his only child Dina Wadia died and that too is complicated.

Dina Wadia was the daughter of Jinnah and his Parsi wife Rattanbai Petit whom he proposed to at 16 and married at 18 when he was 42. Rattanbai was the daughter of one of Jinnah’s friends, who never forgave him. Jinnah and Petit’s daughter, Dina, was born in 1919 shortly after their marriage. Rattanbai died only ten years later.

Dina herself married young, to the Parsi Neville Wadia whose successful family-business went back to the days of the East India Company. But Jinnah was furious that she had married outside the faith telling her “There are millions of Muslim boys in India,” and she could marry any one of them she chose. Dina promptly replied, “Father, there were millions of Muslim girls in India. Why did you not marry one of them?” Jinnah did not attend the wedding.

When India’s partition came, Jinnah’s family was partitioned as well. Jinnah went to Pakistan and his daughter stayed in India, never to see him again. Her son, Nusli Wadia, became one of India’s richest men. Thus the descendants of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan are successful Indian Parsis. The last twist perhaps in Jinnah’s complicated tale.

In her later years, Dina Wadia moved to New York where she died yesterday.

1 Asher November 3, 2017 at 5:36 am

The post is confusing since the term Parsi often refers just to “Persians” (Iranians) and the vast majority are Muslims.

I think that here the word Parsi refers to Zoroastrians.

2 Anon November 3, 2017 at 7:17 am

That’s correct.


One of the more famous corporate Battles in India was between Nusli Wadia of Bombay Dyeing and Ambani of Reliance Industries.

Ironically Indira Gandhi also married a Parsee , Feroze Gandhi , which possibly her father Jawahar Lal Nehru, first Prime minister of independent India was not very happy about ( but may not be on account of his religion).
( Many unfamilar with India don’t reaiize that thats how she got that surname and is not related to Mahatma Gandhi)

So the two most politically prominent families of the partitioned countries India and Pakistan had ties to what may be the smallest religious sect in India ( excluding the Jews , who are fewer).

3 Kris November 3, 2017 at 1:29 pm

the term Parsi often refers just to “Persians” (Iranians)

When, where? The Iranians don’t call themselves “Parsi”, nor does anyone else refer to them by that name. The term “Parsi” has been unambiguously used to refer to old-time Zoroastrian migrants to India for many centuries now.

4 msgkings November 3, 2017 at 2:04 pm

I hope Asher wasn’t conflating ‘Parsi’ with ‘Farsi’

5 So Much For Subtlety November 3, 2017 at 7:25 pm

As it pretty self-evident, Parsi is actually the Person word for Persians. India’s Parsees being refugees from the Arab conquest.

Farsi, ironically enough, is the same word but pronounced with an Arabic accent.

It is not that confusing because Parsi has been used for India’s hugely successful and soon-to-be-extinct Parsi community for a long time in the English-speaking world. But it is a little confusing. Made worse when the Ayatollah Khomeini came from a family that had been resident in India.

6 Kris November 4, 2017 at 1:56 am

It is not that confusing because Parsi has been used for India’s hugely successful and soon-to-be-extinct Parsi community for a long time in the English-speaking world.

Not just the English-speaking world, but also (and mainly) in India, but yeah, that’s what I was referring to. I wasn’t aware the Persians have called themselves Parsis in recent centuries; I thought “Irani” was more in vogue. I know “Farsi” is what the language continues to be called, but I didn’t think that they applied that name to the people too.

7 So Much For Subtlety November 3, 2017 at 6:03 am

At Partition a lot of people who remained where they were quietly changed religion. There were Sikh families who remained in Pakistan who chose, under various pressures one assumes, to become Muslim.

To maintain a clear divide between the communities you need a lot of hate and there probably wasn’t that much of it among ordinary people. Sikhs, Hindu and Muslim are supposed to believe very different things in the same way they are supposed to speak very different languages. And perhaps among the educated that is true. But among the peasants, they speak the same language (Urdu and Hindi being a lot closer among the uneducated) and to be honest their religion probably isn’t that different in day to day practice.

So it is not a surprise that the highly assimilated also have not been taught whom they are supposed to hate.

8 clockwork_prior November 3, 2017 at 7:47 am

‘and to be honest their religion probably isn’t that different in day to day practice’

Well, Islam does have this teeny tiny problem with anyone worshipping gods, being a strictly monotheistic religion, and tolerates no idols of false gods. Of course, that whole part about idols shouldn’t be a big deal. Why, just look at how Christians handled the issue of worshipping idols to see how that issue may not lead to peaceful co-existence among people who putatively follow the same religious tradition as expressed by Jesus.

9 dearieme November 3, 2017 at 8:47 am

“this teeny tiny problem with anyone worshipping gods, being a strictly monotheistic religion, and tolerates no idols of false gods.” So people like to say, but I read a piece once by a Syrian moslem pointing out that the proles make a great fuss about moslem saints, relics, pilgrimages to same, and whatnot. In other words they practise some of the sort of stuff that inclines Protestants to view Roman Catholics as polytheists/pagans.

Someone on the internet recently taught me that the shout issued by moslem terrorists is best translated as “our God is the greatest God” . That seems to me to be virtually identical to “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me”. Equally polytheist, for instance.

10 Larry Siegel November 3, 2017 at 2:08 pm

The Islamic cry is, roughly, “My God can beat up your god.” The Jews *were being told by God* that he would punish them if they worshiped other gods. Slight difference, both primitive crap.

11 So Much For Subtlety November 3, 2017 at 9:53 am

Islam does have this problem with worshiping other gods, but that does not stop Indian Muslims doing it. It does not stop even more South Asian Muslims doing things that the Salafis and the people more extreme than them call polytheism like building tombs for pirs. There are any number of religious sites – virtually confined to India now – where Muslims Hindus and Sikhs worship side by side.

To know what you are not supposed to do you need to be able to read.

12 blah November 3, 2017 at 10:18 am

Doing stuff that Salafis consider polytheism doesn’t automatically imply tolerance; sufism in India has, for instance, a very bloody and violent history.

And well, most places where Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs worship side by side are places dedicated to Muslim pirs where Hindus and Sikhs too worship out of faith in the magical powers of the pir. Not many Hindu/Sikh places where Muslims visit regularly. Let us not introduce false symmetries.

13 So Much For Subtlety November 3, 2017 at 11:53 am

I am hardly an apologist for Islam – and I pretty much agree with all of that. But India does have odd groups of Muslims who worship snakes in places like Orissa. Indonesia has even more Muslims who happily worship pre-Islamic gods like the Goddess of Rice. Fewer than it used to unfortunately.

But yes, it is usually tombs of pirs. However if left to themselves, without fresh blood and ideas from the central Islamic lands, the Hindus probably would have absorbed the Muslims in the end. Worshiping at the same tombs leading to the gradual adoption of Sanskrit culture and eventual incorporation as a few hundred more caste groups.

14 blah November 3, 2017 at 9:48 pm

@So Much For Subtlety: I am not claiming that you were an apologist for Islam, but just putting some observations into context. That said, I am not sure that Hindus would have absorbed Muslims in the end: Muslims worshipping snakes is most likely continuation by habit from their pre-Islamic ancestors, rather than people who were Muslim integrating with Hindu practices.

Pagan religions of course used to routinely exchange Gods as Taleb observes, but I doubt many Muslims do that.

15 Edsel November 3, 2017 at 10:38 am

Afghanistan too. Sikhs and Muslims live side by side. Many Sikhs sell medicine for some reason. There is alot of mutual respect and friendship. Obviously this refers to the general population and not the Taliban fanatics.

16 blah November 3, 2017 at 11:01 am

I see so many men and women cooperating and having deep relationships, so there is no sexism.

17 Kris November 3, 2017 at 1:40 pm

At Partition a lot of people who remained where they were quietly changed religion. There were Sikh families who remained in Pakistan who chose, under various pressures one assumes, to become Muslim.

Do you have credible evidence/numbers for this? Every account of Partition I’ve read suggests that there was mass migration of the adherents of the various faiths. No doubt some people switched religions, but I doubt it was anything like “a lot”.

Sikhs, Hindu and Muslim are supposed to believe very different things in the same way they are supposed to speak very different languages.

Yes to the first part and no the second. In Punjab, they all spoke Punjabi; urban people often spoke Urdu as well. And everyone in Hindustan and Pakistan knows that spoken Hindi and spoken Urdu are identical; no one thinks they are supposed to be different languages. The literary forms are quite different though; often mutually unintelligible.

But among the peasants, they speak the same language (Urdu and Hindi being a lot closer among the uneducated)

It’s not just close, but almost identical among the educated and the urban people. Rural folk still don’t speak “pure” Hindi or Urdu as a first language, unless they happen to be in a small region of UP, which is where both those languages were created. Most of them speak various dialects even while being bilingual with Hindi/Urdu.

(Where do you get all your information from? It’s a bizarre mix of fact and fantasy.)

18 msgkings November 3, 2017 at 2:06 pm

What’s the Hindi translation of ‘his rectum’?

19 So Much For Subtlety November 3, 2017 at 7:35 pm

So that is a request for numbers and a bizarre attempt to claim I am wrong by disagreeing with me. Great.

Yes, Punjabis tend to speak the same language. And, as I said, everyone knows that spoken vernacular Urdu and Hindi are actually the same language more or less. And yes, everyone knows that the literary forms are quite different. Although I would question how mutually unintelligible. So far so much agreeing with me completely.

However educated people are supposed to speak something closer to the literary form. That is the official versions of Urdu and Hindi are a lot less mutually comprehensible than the ordinary spoken languages used by peasants. Which was my point. Hindi authors have been removing Persian, Turkic and Arabic words and replacing them with Sanskrit alternatives. Urdu authors have been adding to the Muslim legacy. The result is that the official standard on both sides has diverged. While ordinary people continue to speak what they have spoken for a long time.

Because of linguistic purism and its orientation towards the pre-Islamic past, Hindi and especially its standard literary form has removed many Persian, Arabic and Turkic loanwords and replaced them with borrowings from Sanskrit (that is, from its own ancestral form). Conversely, Urdu retains the Perso-Arabic words that were introduced into the Khariboli dialect during Muslim rule and in formal settings employs far more Perso-Arabic words than in vernacular Khariboli.

Apart from agreeing with me what is it you think you are doing? Something has clearly annoyed you but it can’t be what I said. Because, as you admit, I am right,

20 Kris November 4, 2017 at 1:51 am

I marked the portions I disagreed with in my earlier comment. I think your comment at the top of the thread was somewhat imprecise. The above comment looks good to me, and I agree with it.

Anyway, it’s not a big deal. Take it easy, and thanks for playing.

21 shrikanthk November 4, 2017 at 9:05 am

” Which was my point. Hindi authors have been removing Persian, Turkic and Arabic words and replacing them with Sanskrit alternatives. ”

Actually the language of the Hindu in the villages has always been very sanskritic. The people who speak the so-called “Hindustani” (or persianlzed Hindi) are the well-to-do Hindus of the large cities (like Delhi and Lucknow).

In small towns and villages, sanskritic alternatives are always preferred. So it’s never a question of imposing sanskritic alternatives. It’s basically a reversion of the elite language to the language that people are comfortable with. Go to any Haryana village – “Byah (sanskritic) is preferred over Shaadi (persian)” “Samapt (sanskrit) is preferred over Khatam”.

The people who use Shaadi and Khatam more often than Byah and Samapt are your educated islamized Hindus of the large cities (whose families have engaged with the muslim administrations closely over the past 500 years).

22 Ray Lopez November 3, 2017 at 7:38 am

Interesting bit of trivia. Bombay Dyeing is an unusual quaint name. I like the Wadia coat of arms, it almost looks fake, with what looks to be a ball peen hammer on top of their insignia, until you realize they’ve been around since the East India company and the ship featured is the HMS Minden.

23 rayward November 3, 2017 at 7:46 am

The ongoing battle between Muslims and Hindus is almost, but not quite, as inexplicable as the ongoing battle between Catholics and Protestants. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/01/opinion/protestant-reformation.html

24 Trump Fan November 3, 2017 at 10:12 am

“The Western world has not known quite what to do with the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The powerful Protestant establishments that would have once celebrated the quincentenary wholeheartedly are mostly weak or impotent or gone, and while the disreputable sort of Calvinist and the disreputable sort of Catholic still brawl online, in official ecclesiastical circles the rule is to speak of the Reformation in regretful tones, like children following a bad divorce who hope that now that many years have passed the divided family can come together for a holiday, or at least an ecumenical communion service.”

Then I presume “disreputable sort of Calvinist” must refer to the large majority of Protestants today, including their ministers. I left the faith about a decade ago, having attended a Lutheran and a Baptist church: there was never mourning of the reformation. It’s a Catholic/Anglican thing.(Douthat, coincidentally, happens to be Catholic.)

25 chuck martel November 3, 2017 at 10:55 am

In the US, at least, the difference has become irrelevant in that Catholics have enthusiastically absorbed the most significant aspects of Protestant culture, the reverence for work being most apparent. At the same time both general religious divisions have been made secondary to a the worship of the secular state. The apostles and saints of early Christianity have been replaced by revolutionary figures like Washington and Jefferson. The Supreme Court has the role of defining theology. Morality and the rules of behavior are determined not by traditional Christian teachings but interpretations by the graduates of law schools. The concept of an eternal hereafter, paradisical or hellish, has been relegated to mythology in favor of the maximum reward in the here and now.

26 Art Deco November 3, 2017 at 11:24 am

the difference has become irrelevant in that Catholics have enthusiastically absorbed the most significant aspects of Protestant culture, the reverence for work being most apparent.

You’re never going to be able to substantiate the proposition that Catholic affiliation is correlated with a retreat from the labor force.

27 AnonFrogger November 3, 2017 at 11:48 am

A few years ago I won a 10$ bet with my friend, a lifelong Catholic, who was sure that justification by faith alone was Catholic as well as Protestant doctrine.

28 Art Deco November 3, 2017 at 6:15 pm

There is a distinction between justification and sanctification.

29 mulp November 3, 2017 at 5:10 pm

“the most significant aspects of Protestant culture, the reverence for work being most apparent”

Protestants work for no personal gain but Catholics only work when they get paid for their efforts, as in the Irish Catholics refusing to work hard to enrich their English overlords?

Catholics were the workers who did the hard work Protestants wouldn’t, like build rail roads and labor in dirty factories.

Even today, it’s Catholics who dominate in jobs protestants refuse to do, like working on farms doing stoop labor and in food factories dismember ingredients animals that end up on your plate. Or doing the dirty jobs cleaning up from disasters.

The worshipers of the Confederate legacy are worshipers of Protestants who refused to work, but instead buying slaves to do all the work for them. Those slaves ended up being Catholics for the most part, the biggest exception being the US where they became Protestant, likely so they would not need to work, to be like their Protestant masters who didn’t work.

But the irony is the anti-Catholic conservatives have become overwhelmingly Catholic. From attacking JFK as a puppet of the Pope, we now have the GOP SCOTUS appointees all Catholic puppets of the Pope, until God betrayed them and gave Catholics Pope Francis who calls on for the church (the people) to work instead of being served by others.

Of course, Protestantism is a liberal movement, the rejection of conservative dictates and baseless undeserved authority over others.

On the other hand, Catholics taught that one labored in service of others in authority granted by God with rewards coming in heaven based on how hard you labored for no reward.

Clearly the latter idea appealed to GOP leaders who dictate others labor for the new God, corporations, with rewards coming in heaven when your capital gains wealth goes to your children tax free, net of paying off your debts.

30 shrikanthk November 4, 2017 at 9:44 am

The Protestant movement can be regarded as both liberal and conservative.

It is liberal in its rejection of tradition and custom.
It is conservative in its strong emphasis on personal virtue, and responsibility unlike Catholicism which has a laxer moral code

31 rayward November 3, 2017 at 11:37 am

I think Little Marco has this figured out: he was baptized a Mormon, claims to be Roman Catholic, and attends an evangelical Protestant church.

32 charlie November 3, 2017 at 9:17 am

Is this complex? Pakistan ended up being a Bengali, Punjabi and Sindi state, with some pathan and baluchs tacked on. Bengalis left.

I’m sure the current PM would have been happier if the Guju muslims left as well, but they mostly stayed. In fact most of the rich muslims left, which is why the “Communal” problem is also an economic one.

33 blah November 3, 2017 at 9:28 am

Very similarly, the opposition leader of Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, himself married a Hindu (or was it a Sikh) and she probably converted to Islam (or so it appears from photos), but he and his father boycotted his sister’s marriage to a Hindu (who actually belongs to the Muslim-appeasing Congress party).

Indian liberals, who go about looking for Hindu hypocrisy with a magnifying glass, are mostly silent with Muslim hypocrisy.

34 shrikanthk November 3, 2017 at 5:51 pm

Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s grandfather by the way was a Hindu from the Lohana (merchant) caste, who converted to Islam.

A conversion that proved very costly to South Asian civilization. Another illustration of why conversions are terrible. They inevitably lead to an “effacement” of the past in the mind of the convert, deracination from his own culture, and engender fanaticism and iconoclasm.

35 Ali Choudhury November 3, 2017 at 6:04 pm

No, his grandfather remained a Hindu. Jinnah’s father converted to Islam as he was angry at how his father had been ostracised for dealing in fish by the elders of the vegetarian Lohana caste.

36 Art Deco November 3, 2017 at 6:13 pm

A conversion that proved very costly to South Asian civilization.

The implications of confessional rivalries do not turn on the history of one man’s family.

37 Kris November 4, 2017 at 2:05 am

The Muslim League was struggling to remain relevant when Jinnah took over, and the results are there for everyone to see. The combination of his personality, background, and psychological makeup were rather unique, and it is impossible to imagine the Pakistan movement gaining traction without someone like him at the helm. Until the very end, Pakistan remained a somewhat improbable goal. It required continued and dogged effort, complete intransigence and an unwillingness to compromise, and an amoral disregard for the consequences, to make that happen. It is easy to imagine most other leaders (including Iqbal) unwilling to go that far.

So at least in this case, one man’s family history did affect the course of Indian civilization.

38 Ali Choudhury November 4, 2017 at 6:33 am

Jinnah was aiming for politically autonomous Muslim governed states in a federal Indian union. Vaĺabhai Patel and V P Menon were disillusioned by the collapse of the 1946 government and communal tensions and were the ones who convinced Nehru to go ahead with Partition and independent Pakistani states,

39 Kris November 4, 2017 at 3:58 pm

The Congress leaders convinced each other to accept Partition only because Jinnah was adamant about it and did not shirk from inciting his followers to commit violence. That’s a far cry from advocating or preferring Partition, which none of them wanted, and even after Independence hoped would eventually be reversed.

Jinnah was aiming for politically autonomous Muslim governed states in a federal Indian union.

I see no evidence for this post-Lahore Resolution. If that’s what he wanted, he played his cards really badly.

40 Ali Choudhury November 6, 2017 at 8:49 am


Ayesha Jalal has done a fair amount of research on this.

Qasmi. But why would majority provinces where Muslims were already ruling, especially Punjab and Bengal, agree to a plan?

Jalal If you argue that Punjab and Bengal wanted to become a separate country, then Islam as the basis for Pakistan does not make sense. [Their reason to opt out of India] would be provincialism or regianalism, not religion. Any Islamic explanation for the new country would have to explain how Muslims cohere across India. Why should Punjab and Bengal bother about that? That is exactly what politicians in Punjab and Bengal said.

There were two steps in Jinnah’s strategy. The first was the consolidation of Muslim majority areas behind the All-India Muslim League and then to use undivided Punjab and Bengal as a weight to negotiate an arrangement for all the Muslims at an all– India level. But the Congress had Punjab and Bengal partitioned [to frustrate the first element of his strategy].

Jinnah did not want Partition, in case people have forgotten that, Similarly, when the United Bengal plan was floated, Jinnah said it was better that Bengal remained united. He said what was Bengal without Calcutta? It was like asking a man to live without his heart So, we ended up with a mutilated Pakistan that Jinnah had rejected out of hand.

41 Ali Choudhury November 3, 2017 at 5:57 pm

Pakistan became an Islamic Republic in 1956, six years after the Quaid died. It was founded as the Dominion of Pakistan. He was a great man, his speeches and writings continue to inspire those working to make Pakistan a better, more decent country. I recommend the Christopher Lee movie Jinnah which had what he regarded as his best performance.

42 blah November 3, 2017 at 9:55 pm

Perhaps somewhat like how one of Akbar’s successors (great grandson) became one of the mass murderers in history? There is perhaps an important historical lesson that we continue to refuse to learn, about how naive syncretism/naive liberalism can birth the terriblest forms of sectarianism and persecution.

43 Ali Choudhury November 4, 2017 at 5:47 am

If you mean the emperor Aurangzeb, the painting of him as some sort of bloodthirsty fanatic does not hold water. A third of his bureaucracy was made up of Hindus, he was in love with a Hindu woman and some of his most trusted generals were Hindus.


44 blah November 4, 2017 at 6:59 am

You are pathetically wrong; here is a take-down of that book (reviewed in your article) by a usually Muslim-friendly anti-Hindu left-liberal writer in a very leftist magazine:


His bureaucracy and generals were “legacy issues” he couldn’t undo being caught up in persistent wars, and being in love with a Hindu woman means nothing.

Really sorry to see you justifying a mass-murderer who according to some estimates is credited with the 27th highest decrease in human population percentage of all time (I am not able to dig out that nytimes article).

Many other Mughal atrocities on Hindus can perhaps be contextualized as “the standards of those times”, but doing that to Aurangazeb is beyond the pale. Be ashamed.

45 Ali Choudhury November 6, 2017 at 8:46 am

Thanks for bringing that article to my attention but I can’t see how it supports your contentions. Aurangzeb’s longest military campaigns were against Muslim states in the Deccan namely Golconda and Bijapur. I am not aware of any particular large scale atrocities he committed that would put him up there with Tamerlane etc as a conquering mass murderer. The author of the article devotes much of it at being overwrought at the notion advanced that Hindu rulers also destroyed temples.

46 blah November 4, 2017 at 7:05 am

Let me quote a sample from the scroll article I linked to, to illustrate how prejudiced the American historian whose book was reviewed in your link:

“He also issued many orders protecting Hindu temples and granted stipends and land to Brahmins.” In the author’s view, “A historically legitimate view of Aurangzeb must explain why he protected Hindu temples more often than he demolished them.”

This seems like a very low bar indeed. Should we not criticise sportspersons who take money to fix matches unless they do so in most games they play? Should we defend sexual predators on the grounds that the vast majority of their interactions with women are respectful? Should we object to a serial killer being called a psychopath because we can’t be sure why he targeted particular victims but not hundreds of other people he met? It is important to push back against the Hindutvavadi idea of Muslim rulers as genocidal maniacs who destroyed shrines indiscriminately. But it is imperative we do it without explaining away Muslim religious prejudice where it exists.”

47 shrikanthk November 4, 2017 at 9:16 am

Well said.

Another aspect of Muslim rule (both mughal and non mughal) in north India is the Jaziya tax – a special tax levied on Hindus but not on Muslims.

This tax was levied for much of north indian history from 1300 to 1800. It was revoked only for very brief periods in between. It’s one of those very explicit forms of religious discrimination carried out by the government in Delhi in what was a majority Hindu country. Strangely, even the Hindutva-vaadis don’t talk about the Jaziya as much as they should.

I am willing to bet that all those high cultural-capital Kayasthas of North India would have remained Hindu and not converted to Islam, but for the Jaziya.

48 Barkley Rosser November 3, 2017 at 11:29 pm

Getting back to the original issue of this thread, indeed the very successful Parsis are shrinking in number in South Asia. Their main base is Mumbai/Bombay where the super successful Parsi Tata family is based. They were the group in the Raj that the British were most willing to let assimilate and they were willing to do so, or many of them anyway. It is too bad that it looks like they are disappearing given what a creative and innovative group they seem to be and have been.

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