“The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” –Dr. Malvika Iyer
Dr. Malvika Iyer is not just a survivor; she is a warrior who emerged like a phoenix from a gruesome bomb blast. A story that everyone should know, a story of strength, courage, power and determination. She refused to let an accident dictate the course of her life. She is a disability rights activist and a motivational speaker.
An Indian national and braveheart, Dr. Malvika was born in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu on 18 February 1989 and was brought up in Bikaner, Rajasthan. She was living a peaceful life until she detonated a grenade at her home and lost both her hands at the age of 13 on 26 May 2002. Besides losing both her hands she also sustained severe leg injuries including nerve paralysis, multiple fractures and hypoesthesia. She was hospitalized for 18 months after which she started to walk with the help of crutches and was given prosthetic hands.
Unhindered by the tragedy, she appeared for her Secondary School Leaving exams and scored 97% with only 3 months of preparation. The late President of India, Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam invited Dr. Malvika to Rashtrapati Bhavan to congratulate her on her achievement. She moved to New Delhi to study Economics at St. Stephen’s College and completed her M.Phil. and Ph.D. in Social Work.
HER CAREER AND ACHIEVEMENTS
Dr. Malvika began her career as a motivational speaker when she was invited as a speaker at TEDxYouth at Chennai in 2013. After her first speech, she followed to be a speaker in many other nations such as the United Nations in New York, Norway, USA, Singapore, South Africa and Indonesia where she emphasized the importance of inclusion.
“I am a product of inclusion and it’s my dream to see every individual with a disability to be embraced by their society,” says Dr. Malvika Iyer.
Iyer has tried to raise awareness about the need for universal design, accessible public spaces, and participation of disabled youth in promoting inclusive elections by giving motivational talks and sensitization workshops in schools, colleges, private establishments, non-governmental organisations, and youth forums. Furthermore, she worked to raise awareness about the importance of having a positive body image. In 2013, she hosted the India Inclusion Summit. Iyer, an advocate for accessible fashion, walked the runway for ‘NIFT’ and ‘Ability Foundation’ in Chennai, emphasising the importance of producing outfits with usefulness and style for individuals with disabilities. She was named a Global Shaper to the Chennai Hub of the Global Shapers Community, a World Economic Forum programme in 2014.
Dr. Malvika soon became a member of the Working Group on Youth and Gender Equality of the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development, and in March 2017, she was invited to give a speech at the United Nations in New York. She was also invited to co-chair the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit, which was held at the Hotel Taj Palace in New Delhi in October 2017.
She is now a well-known international motivational speaker who has inspired millions of people to overcome their fears and face the world with confidence and hope.
RECOGNITION AND FAME
On the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2018, Iyer was awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar, India’s highest civilian honour for women, for her remarkable contribution to women’s empowerment by Honorable President of India Ram Nath Kovind. She was chosen by India’s Honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take over his social media accounts on March 8, 2020. After her performance in the SSLC exam, she was lauded by famous Indian leaders. She has received numerous honours, including Wisdom International Magazine’s Outstanding Model Student Award, Young Achiever Award from National Association of Professional Social Workers in India, and the inaugural Women in the World Emerging Leaders Award in New York in 2016.
Deccan Chronicle named her one of the 100 Change Agents and Newsmakers of the Decade in 2015. She has also been honored with the title “Inspiring Young Changemaker” from The CSR Journal Excellence Awards. She starred in the short film ‘The Phoenix,’ which was nominated for ABILITY FEST 2013 (an India-International Disability Film Festival).
“You don’t need a perfect body to succeed in life.”- Dr. Malvika Iyer
The obstacles faced by people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic were not well understood which propelled Dr. Malvika Iyer to step up. She altered this with the help of her sister Kadambari, who made an animated educational video.
“I believe it is my social responsibility as a person with a disability to create this awareness. My challenges are not the same as that of a visually impaired person or a wheelchair user so it is important for me to make sure that people understand that everyone is unique, and we must do our best to include everyone”. – Dr. Malvika Iyer
Iyer believes that to provide inclusive opportunities for those with disabilities, first and foremost, we need acceptance. We require unrestricted communication. Disabled people are not a homogeneous social category. Sensitizing our society about the special needs of people with disabilities is crucial. Once the maya of societal attitude is removed, disabled people are more aware of what they deserve from the society. People with disabilities in India are now aware that they have a say in disability policymaking. At the political level, we require representation. Negative attitudes are the outcome of a lack of understanding and the segregation of people with disabilities. She strongly thinks that education comes into play to bring a mindset shift in this situation.
According to Iyer, educating young people about prejudiced attitudes is very important. Instead of portraying people with disabilities as objects of charity, it is the need of the hour to integrate success stories of people with disabilities into the school curriculum. Instead of portraying persons with disabilities as weak and reliant, the world needs to portray them as role models. Dr. Malvika advocates education as the foremost medium for change. She is unequivocally a role model for many. She is not only the face of change but an image of strength.