Award-winning disability rights activist, international motivational speaker, accessible fashion model, body positivity advocate – Dr Malvika Iyer has several feathers in her cap. “When you accept yourself, you’re invincible,” she says with conviction. Behind that confidence lies years of struggle with finding herself and practising self-love. Dr Iyer was only 13 years old when a gruesome incident left her a bilateral amputee; she lost both her hands, suffered multiple fractures in both legs, and was bedridden for over a year. What she never lost, what no one and nothing could ever take away from her, was her grit and positivity.
Explaining how the grenade explosion in her house in Bikaner in 2002 changed her life, Dr Iyer says, “While it affected me physically and emotionally, it also took a toll on my family. My parents, my sister and I had a normal, simple life; the accident turned everything upside down. Despite it all, there was never any talk within the family about how I was now a person with a disability or a burden on my parents. I had lost 80 per cent blood, my blood pressure was low, and the doctors had said I wouldn’t survive. All my mom wanted was for me to live; she said she didn’t care if I had lost my hands, she would take care of me no matter what.”
Unsurprisingly, Dr Iyer has not found the same attitude from people outside her family. “Travelling to and between hospitals, I used to get stared at, pitied, and be at the receiving end of insensitive remarks such as ‘Bechari ladki’, ‘She’s never going to be able to study’, or ‘Who will marry her?’. Even when I went back to school and later joined college, I was subjected to curious stares, which brought on feelings of self-doubt and insecurity. At times, dealing with these stares, comments and emotions was more painful. Growing up as a disabled woman was sort of a double challenge, because of my disability and gender.”
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