While most injuries leave behind a mark, a few leave behind a legacy. The story of Malvika Iyer, a 30-year-old amputee is one such. A social worker, a PhD scholar, an international motivational speaker, a disability rights activist, a Global Shaper and so much more, giving up was never an option for Malvika. At the age of thirteen, she lost both her arms and greatly injured her legs in a bomb blast. She was bedridden for eighteen months, but that didn’t stop her from advancing in life. She emerged as a state topper in her tenth grade which was a shock to many considering she was in the hospital the entire time of preparation. This was not the only time that she would be surprising people; it was just the beginning of a long successful and inspiring journey of Malvika Iyer. Travelling across the globe to give motivational speeches today, she is a spark to a million flames.
“I feel very strongly that this accident was just meant to happen. I personally suffered a lot of loss, the accident in terms of physical disability, heavily set me back at first. I think I would have grown up to be a dancer. I was a trained Kathak dancer and I loved to dance. I still can’t stop my body from moving when there is good music,” Malvika looks back at times.
But not all her hobbies were lost. “I used to love watching my mum cook when I was young. I love cooking and I’m proud to say that today I have started cooking. It is a new found independence for me, to be able to cook for myself and others. I don’t take help either, everything from cutting the vegetables to serving I can do it all myself,” says Malvika. “My food pictures went viral and I also got a personal letter from Michelin star Chef Vikas Khanna on how he was so impressed.
Malvika is currently working on an inclusive curriculum that speaks about equality and that can be incorporated into schools and colleges. “My PhD research paper was on studying the attitude of young people towards disability. Even today, what hurts more than my physical disability is sympathetic glances. This unequal attitude towards the differently-abled is a barrier and that continues to affect me.”
Being asked if she thinks India is disabled-friendly, she believes that our country is progressing but at a very slow rate. “In terms of accessibility, I really wish our country progressed better. Commute through public transport should be made possible; it’s expensive to catch a taxi every time. A universal design in recreational spots like the beach, or even at schools, offices, public spaces and so on to ensure accessibility is very important and has to be done,” she insists.
Constantly thinking of her next endeavour, Malvika has several accreditations in her bag. She received Nari Shakti Puraskar award 2018 from our Prime Minister, and she has spoken at various global platforms like the UN. Malvika was also featured in “50 inspiring women of India” a book of collective stories. A graphic novel called Mia by Sriram Jaganathan narrates her story. “Mia was my nick name when I was a young girl. The book talks about my life before the accident, during and after. I get a lot of love from young teens who could relate to the book – how I couldn’t join schools, how I was studying despite it.”
Malvika does not only campaign on inclusive society for disability but also works on many causes giving it all she has, to make a difference. “I’m currently promoting women entrepreneurship and small local businesses. I use social media and also carry bags, shoes that are made by local artisans to big events.”
“I want my society to value women for all their strengths and knowledge they hold, whether those fit into the stereotypical gender roles we hold or not.”
Feminism to Malvika is about choice. “Whatever you choose, it is you and you only that makes that choice and we need to work as a society to not pressure women into pre-defined roles.”
“Feminism is intersectional which means that people experience oppression in different ways and to different degrees. For example, if a woman is also a person with disability, like me, they face additional kinds of discrimination. One, because of their gender and two because of their disability. We need to target the different kinds of discrimination and dismantle each one of them,” says Malvika.
“First, it was whether I’d survive or not, then if they’d be able to save my leg or not, then it was whether I’d be able to walk or not. I’ve been in situations where it was almost life or death. Ever since I’ve healed and started getting back on my feet, every achievement big or small is precious to me. When I look back I always feel proud that I took the right path in life. Every experience in my life is special to me and I take joy out of smallest of things,” ends Malvika on an inspiring note.