As a kid, Malvika Iyer was really active, she says. Climbing trees and flying kites were some of her favourite pastimes. Born into a Tamilian family and growing up at Bikaner in Rajasthan, Malvika’s childhood passed in a happy blur with her wonderful parents and elder sister.
Then, May 26, 2002, events occurred that changed her life forever. A near-fatal bomb blast, caused by an ammunition depot catching fire, resulted in 13-year-old Malvika losing both her hands, sustaining multiple fractures, nerve paralysis in the right leg and hypoesthesia (loss of sensation) on the left.
“I was hospitalised for 18 months. A year later, I started walking with the help of crutches. I was also fitted with a pair of prosthetic hands, which helped me with basic chores and gave me the confidence to mingle in society — but I didn’t know then that camouflaging my disability was the solution to my problems,” recalls Malvika, with a smile.
Today, the youngster is an inspirational speaker and crusader for women and differently-abled people all over the country. Malvika was one of the state toppers in her 10th standard boards, barely two years after her life-shattering accident. She went on to graduate from St Stephen’s College, Delhi and Delhi School of Social Work, and worked extensively at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Well-Being. Currently, she is a PhD scholar at the Madras School of School Work, relentlessly pursuing her goal to spread awareness on disability and an inclusive society, aspiring to change societal attitudes on the cause.
“Personally, inclusion was the one thing that helped give me courage. If I’d been treated differently, maybe I wouldn’t have gone too far, bogged down by my inferiority complex. Non-judgment was what worked, not empathy. For a long time, especially when I went to Delhi, I used to camouflage my difference by wearing full sleeves and not acknowledge it at all, as I wanted to be just one among the other students. But two years earlier was the 10th anniversary of my accident, and I put up a Facebook post that was quite emotional — suddenly, I was getting messages and calls from various people around, telling me they were proud of me! That was when I decided to stop hiding, stop pretending and be vocal about my journey; I fully recovered from my trauma and made peace with it,” Malvika recalls.
From schools, colleges, NGOs, and corporate offices to platforms like TEDx, Malvika conquered them all with her powerful words and story. “Along the way, my family and friends have been incredible — especially my mom, who has been my biggest pillar of strength. I have been lucky enough to even be in a relationship with someone who has seen the person in me, and now I’m engaged to be married soon,” she says.
Looking ahead, Malvika wants to continue inspiring victims like her to learn to accept their situation — which is the first step towards healing. “I have never sat down and cried about what happened to me. We don’t need to go to religious places or pray for life to change, if we can seek solace within ourselves. With my PhD, I also hope to bring about a positive change in the various reservations for disabled people, and give them a better future,” she concludes.