Lighting a thousand lamps – the Salma way

Special Correspondent
Daijiworld Media Network

Chennai, Nov 4: It is not uncommon to find writers and poets who are influenced by Lebanese –American mystical poet Kalil Gibran, the central figure in Romantic Movement that transformed the Arabic literature.  Acclaimed Tamil poet and writer Raasathi alias Rokiah   drew her inspiration from Gibran and the result was a series of writings under her pen name “Salma”,   a character that finds mention in many of Gibran’s writings.  Her writings created ripples in the orthodox Tamil society as she questioned the traditionally restrictive patriarchal society, on love, women’s sexuality and also challenged the efforts of the male dominated world to belittle women and keep them confined within the four walls of the house.  

Yes.  Raasathi is no ordinary woman.  She challenged the above taboos and through her profound efforts she was able to make a difference not only to her own life but also to thousands of women in Tamilnadu and elsewhere.  

She was born in a traditional Muslim family in Thuvarankurichi in Tamilnadu  she forced to discontinue her education when she was in 9th standard.   Even when she was confined to the four walls of her house and despite stiff opposition from the family to curb her desire to read and write, Raasathi became a voracious reader and closet writer when she reached 17.   

Unlike other girls of her age she refused to get into marital bliss and found contentment in going to the nearby library and enriching her knowledge.  In the library she was exposed to the literature of writers like Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Kalil Gibran which had profound influence on her.  She began to question the existing prejudices against women, their persecution, gender bias, victimization, forced subordination and limiting their roles to be  mere wives and mothers.  Her views found support in likeminded women who supported her forthright views.  Her literature was a deadly combination of outspokenness and compressed intensity on taboo issues.  In the closeted atmosphere she found a constant companion in her creative words of poetry. 

When she could not go to the library she quenched her unending thirst for reading by going through scraps of newspapers or magazine pages that  came along with wrapped grocery items.  In the confines of her home she discovered her own freedom and challenged the tradition through her writings.  She was forced to write on scraps of paper and managed to get them published and emerged as an acclaimed poet.   Naturally,   men loathed her guts and feared that she might be a bad influence on their women folks.   Threatened by her emergence as an celebrated writer some male Tamil lyricists publicly accused her of obscenity.  She even faced violence and death threats. 

Though Raasathi did not want to marry she could not face the barbs of the society for long and she was married to a local politician.  The situation at her marital home was not at all conducive for her creative outpourings.   But her writings continued without the knowledge of her husband’s family.  She often had to burn midnight oil sitting in the kitchen to give vent to her expressions.  Many times she found a safe sanctuary in the toilet to scribble some new thoughts that came her way.  However, she not gives up even in most trying circumstances which show her determination and the power resilience.    

She went on writing in her pen name “Salma” without giving a clue that she was though readers were eager to know the real Salma.  It was her mother   who helped post her scripts to the concerned publications. People especially the men folk who felt threatened by her writings, held rallies and protest marches condemning her writings not knowing who the real Salma was.    She continued to write despite stiff opposition from her marital home and the pent up angst that found expression in her writings created a lot of tumult in Tamil society during the end of the last millennium.   What makes her achievements extraordinary is that she could achieve all this working within the confines of  a conservative marital home.        

Finally, the truth came out and the real identity of Salma, the writer was revealed.   It was a good it happened because there was an utter dismay and shock when it was revealed that married Muslim woman who was behind such a literature that questioned the existing taboos.    Now Raasathi could face her family boldly, so much so her husband had to even nominate her name for the Taluk Panchayat elections which was a reserved seat for women.  By now Raasathi, the poet-writer, political and social activist had arrived on the scene in Tamilanadu in a big way.  A triumphant Raasathi who won the elections became the President of the taluk Panchayat giving her ample opportunities to showcase her multitudinal capabilities.   As Taluk Panchayat President she left an indelible mark through her hard work, commitment, dedication and leadership capabilities.   . 

Raasitha soon became a celebrity of sort both in the state and national level for her writings and for her ability to enthuse women facing unequal treatment and patriarchal dominance in every facet of their lives.  Her struggle to spread awareness, her writings, work and unwavering attitude created international impact resulting in an English movie on her life and her triumph,  directed by well-known director Kim Longinotto.  The movie aptly titled “Salma” depicted  her struggle to lead a normal life,  her trials and tribulations and  her quest for getting  equal treatment for women. 

Raasathi  has represented India in many international forums with her bold and outspoken views on a variety of issues.  The international exposure has broadened her sensitive soul tremendously.  She now dedicates her life in the service of humanity and is running a NGO to give vent to her dreams.  She also runs a counseling centre to provide succor for women who are still facing harassment, ill-treatment and injustice. 

Raasathi alias Rokia’s life story has transformed the lives of thousands of women who, having inspired by her struggle and subsequent triumph have been able to make a marked difference to their own lives.  Her resilience, determination, courage, self-confidence, the never say die spirit and her subsequent victory,   has been the rallying point for many women in our country especially in Tamilnadu to fight for their due rights.   Her life has been like a candle   which can both defy and define darkness.  She has been the torchbearer of a silent revolution and deserves our salutations for all that she has achieved.  She is the light that has defied the darkness in the lives of many women. 


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Comment on this article

  • Nishal, Mangalore

    Tue, Nov 05 2013

    really inspiring ma'am.Hats off to u,for ur strong determination n courage. May u reach the peak of success. Wish u well. GodBless

    DisAgree Agree [4] Reply Report Abuse

  • k.sivakumar, sendamangalam .namakkal

    Tue, Nov 05 2013

    good work.

    DisAgree Agree [1] Reply Report Abuse

  • vincy pamboor, pamboor

    Tue, Nov 05 2013

    Truely encouraging and enlightening.

    DisAgree Agree [3] Reply Report Abuse

  • Abdul Rafiq, Uchila / Dubai

    Mon, Nov 04 2013

    Waw good work. nice lady.

    DisAgree [4] Agree [7] Reply Report Abuse

  • Sachidanand Shetty, Mundkur/Dubai

    Mon, Nov 04 2013

    I didn’t knew much about you before, but I am glad to see your name flourishing in entire India as well as at International Level. I am proud of you because you too from Southern India famously called by all North Indians as “Madrasee” without even knowing all Southern States in Indian Map. We don’t feel it bad but we feel sorry for their ignorance of Southern Indian States. Keep it up Maam, we are proud of you

    DisAgree [3] Agree [23] Reply Report Abuse

  • Ramesh S, mangalore

    Mon, Nov 04 2013

    Good work & good luck Raasathi..there are hundreds of Raasathi who are struggling to breathe & live their dreams in a ultra conservative family where everything attributed to faith..that is why there are very few writers, poets, singers coming from this section of people..Anyways best of luck & beware of 1st version taliban (courtesy Diggy!!)..who ever disagrees with me, please visit NEW AGE ISLAM website for Chethan Bhagat's article..

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    Mon, Nov 04 2013

    Roshni se bhare bhare, bhare bhare naina tere!!
    Mera dil bhi Salma pe aagaya.

    Congats & good luck Salma.

    DisAgree [4] Agree [16] Reply Report Abuse

  • Sachidanand Shetty, Mundkur/Dubai

    Mon, Nov 04 2013

    Henry Sir, Dil Salma Pe Aagaya Tho, Ghar me Stella Kya Karne Wali Hai Socho!

    DisAgree [4] Agree [8] Reply Report Abuse

  • R.Bhandarkar, M'lore

    Tue, Nov 05 2013

    Stella Nahin Bolegee 'Wallah Wallah'
    Chillayegee Henry Ye Kyaa..'Khullam Kullah'
    Tukaa Kaalen 'Zallan Zallan
    Yahen Kaalen 'Kella Kella'...
    Right (Naughty!) Henry Sir?

    DisAgree Agree [1] Reply Report Abuse

  • Charles, Manipal/Jeddah

    Mon, Nov 04 2013

    Welldone madam. You have lighten up the life of Muslim ladies.

    DisAgree [10] Agree [21] Reply Report Abuse

  • R.Bhandarkar, M'lore

    Mon, Nov 04 2013

    My 2 questions to the Special Correspondent...
    1.She questioned 'on love', *on Women's sexuality*.....Elaborate or explain with reference to context please....
    2.She refused to get *into marital bliss'....Is this your foregone conclusion? or.....
    Here's one for:
    Traditional Balma
    Phir Bi aapka Kaarnaama
    Hai ek Karishmaa......

    DisAgree [14] Agree [14] Reply Report Abuse

  • Fredrick Correa, Pernal/Mumbai

    Mon, Nov 04 2013

    It shows great courage on the part of Raasathi to stand for the truth and fight for truth. Credit should go to her mother, who helped in posting her writings and to the press for publishing them. While male dominated society may not agree with her views, the truth can not be suppressed just because it has come from a woman. Congratulations on your achievemnts and best wishes for your future life and mission.

    DisAgree [3] Agree [15] Reply Report Abuse

  • vincent, vincent/mangalore

    Mon, Nov 04 2013

    Good work by Raasathi. God bless your hardwork and fight against evil in the society. One day you will be rewarded highest by people of India.

    DisAgree [3] Agree [24] Reply Report Abuse

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