Meet Malvika Iyer, the PhD scholar and Disability Rights Activist whose photo everyone's sharing

Malvika, who is an alumna of St Stephen's College, is a Disability Rights Activist, a research scholar and motivational speaker.

Unless you’ve been lost in transit, you’ve probably seen the viral photo of Malvika Iyer, the PhD scholar who lost her hands in a bomb blast on May 26, 2002, when she was just 13. After an ammunition depot in Bikaner apparently caught fire, a lot of shells were found littered around the city. Malvika found a hand-grenade in the neighbourhood where her family then resided. The subsequent explosion left her bed-ridden for two years, with nerve paralysis and hypoesthesia.

A bilateral amputee, who is an alumna of St Stephen’s College, Delhi, she hasn’t let her past affect her future as she works as a Disability Rights Activist, a research scholar and motivational speaker.

“I was bed ridden with rods in my legs at one point and if i could come out of that, there’s nothing I can’t overcome now! I’m living a second life now and I owe it to mom,” reveals Malvika.

With 2,801 shares on the post she shared after completing her PhD, Malvika is a legit internet sensation right now.

InUth spoke to Malvika Iyer about her journey so far and this is what she had to say-

Q. Tell us about the incident that led to the bilateral amputation?

I have very hazy memory of the incident. I remember seeing smoke all around me and the smell of my burnt flesh. I still recollect the explosion sound and those loud crackers on Diwali as they remind me of the noise. I still remember everything that happened after the blast: I was rushed to the hospital and my mom was screaming that I’ve lost my hands. It was an innocent life before that, I was a little kid with no care in the world and suddenly it all changed to a life of recovery, understanding and acceptance.

Q. Tell us about your journey from that, to becoming a PhD holder?

It was challenging. There were times when I felt happy that I could do things without my hands. I had such mixed emotions! I was sad that I couldn’t dance as gracefully as I used to. I was trained in Kathak and was really good at it. It was hard initially but I eventually accepted it as my reality. I wanted to be independent in college and when I couldn’t, I’d come home and cry because I couldn’t keep up with the other things. It was my mom’s support that helped me focus on what I could do. The little victories, like the first time I held a spoon and the first time I typed my entire thesis with my stump. It’s just one pointy bone. It wasn’t easy but it moulded me into a stronger person. I hold my PhD today, all thanks to this courage!

Malvika’s speeches are a source of inspiration for many..

Q. What is your PhD on?

I’ve done a qualitative and quantitative study on everything pertaining to disable people. I’ve studied attitudes of young under-grads in the age bracket of 18-20. I wanted to understand how they perceive disabled people. I wanted to know the biases they face in daily life, relationships etc. I want to remove this barrier of negative attitude and sensitize people towards disabled people.

Q. You’re a well known motivational speaker – what is the one tip you’d like to give to our readers many of whom are between the age of 18-30?

I want all of you to know that I do get tired but I don’t let it get me down. You need to understand, life is uncertain. Here’s a funny thing, before my accident, I wanted to be a dancer but my life is completely different now… and I’m loving it! Life is not all roses and butterflies, you need to push yourself, tell yourself to be prepared for every challenge that comes your way.

I’m out of the hospital now but I still face a new challenge everyday. Also, be appreciative of what u have and count your blessings! You never know when it might get taken away.

Q. Is our society adapted to suit the needs of those with disability? What changes would you like in infrastructure, and otherwise?

Talking about society, I remember when I was a 13-year-old disabled kid, everyone said my life is finished. Everyone! Strangers, people in the hospital, random people on the road, everyone said I wouldn’t get married and pitied me all the time! Being a woman with disability is a double disadvantage because we’re considered a burden. Society needs to understand that we’re unique. They should help us harness our skills and not put us into a shell. Infrastructure needs reform too, we  need accessible public places, schools, more access to leisure activities. I can cook without hands because i created an accessible environment. We need an equal platform.

Malvika at the World Economic Forum


Looking for motivation in life? Well, Malvika’s solved that bit for you.