A Woman of Steel, Stance, and Substance
In the journey of life, many individuals experience hardships, which shatter them to the core but also become a large part of their existence in the longer run. So, what is it that keeps one going when everything falls apart, is its strength, confidence, or resistance? Well, it might vary from one to many, but above all, it’s the seed of Courage, which once planted inside blooms into a flourishing tree for long decades. One such powerful and inspirational story that exemplifies courage is of Vandana Shah, a woman of steel, who fought against all odds to reach the top of the pyramid.
A Sneak Peek of the Journey
As Vandana grew up, she started making her way through this world. She was a young cheerful and positive person having an applauding sense of humor, which retained her even in adverse situations. Her motivated and fun self was indeed inherited from her family, as she belonged from an Armed Forces background. Her father, an Indian Air office Force Pilot fought three wars and used to assuage his wife’s fears about going into battle by saying, “Don’t worry, only two things can happen to me – either I’ll live or die. Nothing more.”
Vandana’s first blow came in her early twenties when she lost her parents to cancer. Being orphaned at an early age did bring its share of grief, but she continued with her education, exploring her talent, and discovering life. After a few years, the familiar pressure started of getting married and settling down in a ‘good’ family. Over time, she tied the knot, it was an arranged marriage and she thought she had it all when she finally met her Prince Charming, – a scion of a rich, renowned family. However, it didn’t take long to see all her hopes reduce to pieces and finding herself in an emotionally abusive relationship. The abuse, assault, heartbreak, and betrayal added new layers of trauma and began to close off her own-self.
The new family wanted a certain image of an ideal daughter-in-law, which Vandana did put up with for a long while. As the taboo about divorce had her making a go at her marriage at any cost, right from agreeing to see a counselor to even agreeing to sign apology letters on stamp papers. And then came the night that changed it all. After a particularly bad bout of vitriolic abuse, she was thrown out of her marital home with a mere Rs. 750. The bahu of a respected family was out on the streets with nothing. But even as she stood with tears streaking her cheeks, she thought, “I may have lost everything, but my dreams are alive and look at me – I AM ALIVE. That alone makes me a billionaire”.
To New Beginnings
“You can forget your pain if you help others overcome theirs.”
Vandana joined a law college to become a fully trained lawyer, the basic idea was to understand the nuances of law better and not let women be taken for a ride by lawyers. That single event led her to take the first step by forming a support group for divorced, abused and separated women called 360 Degrees Back To Life. The idea behind starting the group was to provide non-judgmental support to those going through a divorce. It turned out to be India’s first such group that provided a positive perspective to rebuilding lives even while going through a relationship breakdown.
Simultaneously, Vandana decided to fight for justice – her own divorce battle. It turned out to be a long, tumultuous, frustrating battle that was to end only after nearly a decade. Her friends, well-wishers, and the group members had always got her back in this race of her exceptional freedom. The decade had taken a toll but it had also enriched her in many ways. She fought this battle alone since she lost her parents before she got married and rose to victory.
The next milestone in her life was a book based on her own experiences as well as of the support group members. The book was titled 360 Degrees Back To Life – A litigant’s humorous perspective on divorce. Unlike other write-ups on this topic, Vandana decided to take a lighter look at the entire issue, offering advice and even handy tips on handling the drama that follows a divorce in a middle middle-class society.
The book fetched her lot of recognition. Not only was it covered extensively by the local and international media, it even impacted others' lives. Even today, she gets urgent emails asking for the book and her advice.
The book was launched in India by none other than lyricist Javed Akhtar, who lauded Vandana’s efforts and said, “It is only the courageous that can look with humor at the black areas of their life.” There have been knowledge sessions around the book at the US Consulate and the UK High Commission along with interactive panel discussions. It was even launched in Oman in the international market.
The Woman of the Hour
Today, Vandana is an award-winning Divorce Lawyer, Author, Columnist, and Social Entrepreneur. The documentary 'Invisible Women of India’ was made by BBC, which was broadcasted worldwide on International Women’s Day. She is also the author of the bestseller 'Ex Files’, the story of her divorce-published by Penguin which has been launched by the Hon’ble Attorney General of India Mr. Mukul Rohatgi and the Hon'ble Chief Justice of Mumbai High Court, Mr. Mohit Shah. It has been endorsed by Padma Vibhushan Sonal Mansingh, Member of Parliament, Lord Meghnad Desai, and it looks at divorce through a humorous lens. Ex-Files is now a part of the Judicial College syllabus.
She is the Divorce Law Consultant for Priyanka Chopra’s new film Firebrand, directed by Aruna Raje Patil, currently trending on Netflix. She is also the founder of Divorcekart –India’s first legal app to provide 24/7 lawyer on call- has been covered extensively by the BBC, Times of India, Mumbai Mirror to name a few.
Her work as a social entrepreneur has been lauded by Gloria Steinem, the world’s foremost feminist who has endorsed her previous book. She has also translated a book written by the Jain Saints. Vandana has also been empaneled as a senior attorney with the National Commission for Women (NCW).
Her work has been lauded both by the national as well as international media. She has been a panelist frequently on BBC, NDTV amongst others, and at various Literary Festivals. Currently, she is contributing as a regular columnist on Law/Women Empowerment for Huffington Post India, Huffington Post America, and Savvy and contributes about 20 articles a month for them under her by-line. She is also an occasional contributor for BBC. Her work and inspirational life story are featured in the bestseller KARMA KURRY written by Jeronimo Almeida, BBC, Humans of Bombay, Your Story, and The Hindu amongst others.
She was one of the finalists, selected among 3,00,000 people for the Lead India campaign, initiated by The Times of India group to select leaders for the future. She also got involved in an NGO that promoted a United Nations endorsed technique of environmental management.
To top it all, she has been awarded ‘The ‘Best Lawyer in India’ and her work in the social forefront got recognition with The KarmaVeer Puraskaar.
Serving the Society
Vandana’s life philosophy of ‘It is better to elevate ourselves than bring down another’ has helped her to rebuild her life and become an Iconic Role Model. She is committed to women's empowerment and strives to bring a change in the world through law and writing. She has transformed the lives of over thousands and the chain of change keeps spreading through the healed members themselves and though the problems are immense, the ‘can do’ spirit that defines Vandana is being shared by her group members as well.
She states her plan of action for COVID-19, “I am already online and have been answering the queries online. We were doing about 100 queries a day. You have to be online and we are the first in the game to do so. See my Facebook page-40,000 likes and more. We are ahead of the curve”.
A Take on the Future
Sticking to her roots of Integrity, Vandana has marked her territory by conquering the moon and becoming a prominent face worldwide. This lively, benevolent, and affirmative woman quotes “it’s better to look at life half glass full”.
Her goals for the future are clear in her mind – to increase the activities of the group by increasing its presence in more areas of India, to have alliances with production houses for documentaries and talk shows based on the problem of divorce in India. It looks like there will be yet another twist to the 360-degree turn and let's see where that thrilling adventure goes.