Featured Profiles

An Icon Of Bravado

Dr Malvika Iyer is a bomb blast survivor, not a victim, but a survivor! She lost both her hands and severely damaged both her legs – causing nerve paralysis and loss of sensation, yet she triumphed. Today, Dr Iyer is an award-winning disability rights activist with a doctorate in social work. She is an international motivational speaker, a corporate trainer, a TEDx speaker, a model for accessible fashion, an emcee, and a Global Shaper (an initiative of the World Economic Forum). She serves on the advisory board of India Inclusion Foundation. Her powerful and uplifting speeches and her pioneering work have bought her numerous accolades and acclaim across the globe.


Born in Kumbakonam, Dr Iyer grew up in Bikaner surrounded by an affectionate family. However, her life soon took a drastic turn for the worse; on May 26, 2002, Dr Iyer found a hand-grenade in her neighborhood. This happened shortly after an ammunition depot had caught fire, and many shells were scattered in the area. Dr Iyer wanted a hard surface to stick something on her jeans, and, assuming that the grenade was defused, she decided to use it as a hammer to mend her jeans. She took the grenade to her room and used it to flatten her pocket. After a while, she tried to flatten it even further when the live grenade exploded in her hands and changed her entire life forever.


She distinctly remembers the events that unfolded that day; her mother screaming in horror, “My daughter’s hands! They’re gone!” Dr Iyer continued, “I mostly remember a lot of blood splashed around, my flesh being burnt, and blacking out for a few seconds. I remember my mom and dad’s voices, and my dad and his friends rushing me to the hospital. All of them were looking at my hands, and obviously it was too shocking for everyone to react rationally.”


The appalling incident left the entire family petrified and shaken, she says, “I could see my leg dangling out like it didn’t belong to my body, and I had to tell one of the uncles who was carrying me to just keep it together. Like a movie, I had flashbacks remembering my childhood until that point, and I was profusely apologizing to my mom, who was weeping bitterly, for having put her through this.”


Her hands had to be cut off, and fortunately, there was no need to amputate them completely. Dr Iyer has been using prosthetic hands to help her lead a normal life. But she revealed that she previously suffered from an inferiority complex due to her injuries. Doctors considered amputating her leg but eventually decided against it.


Initially, the agonizing pain in her leg was a big concern for her, but after several months of dealing with it, she decided that it was time to accept her situation and move through it. “Pain had to be part of my life, and I had to figure out what I would do next. So now, I keep reminding myself that it’s fine, and I can rest when I go back to bed at night,” said Dr Iyer.


She recalled, “My mom later told me that during that time I would stand in front of the mirror for a long time and smile, and this never failed to make her happy. My legs were disfigured, and it did take a long time to get over my body image. I lost sensation in my left leg. However, after many therapies and surgeries, I was finally able to walk.”


After two years of being completely bedridden, Dr Iyer, with great determination and perseverance using her myoelectric prosthetic hands sourced from a German company, would rigorously practice writing for hours on end. Initially, it was a daunting challenge with huge letters, but she finally began writing again after long hours of practice. Having succeeded in writing, Dr Iyer then appeared for her 10th grade Board Exams and scored 97% with just three months of preparations. With her unrelenting spirit, she studied economics at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, followed by a Master’s degree in Social Work at the Delhi School of Social Work. She then completed her M.Phil. and PhD in Social Work at the Madras School of Social Work to further her cause.


Despite being a symbol of bravado and resistance, Dr Iyer never imagined that she would be hailed an icon, receiving numerous awards, or motivating others by sharing her story on the global stage. She credits her mom in transforming her into the woman she has become today; she kept her grounded during the most trying times in her life. Her pioneering work in the industry has won her many accolades, including being the recipient of the National Award’ Nari Shakti Puraskar’, the highest civilian honor for outstanding contribution to women’s empowerment from the President of India, Recipient of the Women in the World Emerging Leaders Award in association with The New York Times, Recipient of Young Achiever Award from National Association of Professional Social Workers in India amongst others.


While Dr Iyer has had a phenomenal journey of ups and downs and always managed to come out victorious, it has been an arduous task paved with multiple challenges. “I had to be taken to places, I had to get a writer to assist me in my exams, and even being unable to socialize or move around like others‚ÄĒeverything had to be addressed and dealt with. But we were very accepting of our emotions. So, we would have our bouts of tiredness, failures, rejection, sorrows, happiness, and achievements, and all of that helped me,” says Dr Iyer.


Talking about her eventful journey, she says, “I have seen many people who complain about their life, saying, ‘Why did this have to happen to me?’ I think this talk builds a negative wall around you which needs to change into positive thinking. I stayed patient, and determined through it all. Today, I’m volunteering with the United Nations, and undertaking so many wonderful initiatives. I am extremely happy with my journey; touching so many lives has been an absolute privilege and an honor.”