About 18 years back, Vandana Shah left the house of her in-laws at 2 AM in the morning, with just Rs 750 in her pocket, to walk away from abuse and to live a life of dignity.
She fought her way through all the challenges and obstacles, today she is a respected divorce lawyer, helping women going through the same ordeal, she once went through. The Logical Indian spoke to Vandana Shah. This is her story.
“I come from an armed forces background. I grew up in Ambala and soon moved to Mumbai as a teenager. Armed with a degree in Psychology, I decided to study law.
It was in my early twenties that I lost both my parents to cancer. However, despite all the difficulties, I chose to continue my education. I go back to the life lessons that my parents taught me, every time I am caught in a tricky situation, and am always able to find a solution.
My father always insisted that I read newspapers daily to be aware of my surroundings, this helped me significantly. He is also the one who guided me to become financially independent.
My mother taught me that life is what one makes out of one’s choices. She always believed in me, told me that I could achieve all that I wanted, as long as I worked hard for it.
However, the turning point in my life was when I walked out of my husband’s house with only Rs 750 in my pocket, determined to fight the abuse. I decided that I would not be subjected to abuse for the rest of my life.
I was the daughter-in-law of a respectable family. That night, with Rs 750 in my pocket, I was out on the streets at about 2 am. I remember weeping out of bewilderment at the cruelty of the family I considered my own, but at the same time, I was determined to survive.
My husband filed for a divorce in the year 2000. It took almost 10 years for the verdict to come through. I decided to study law more extensively in a bid to understand what was happening with my own case.
Soon, I began running a support group. Many a time, I considered making it a paid-for service. But every time I heard the sadness and helplessness in the voices of some of the women going through the same ordeal as me, I decided not to.
I would not be exaggerating if I say that I have fought my battle completely on my own. Today, I am a lawyer, and I am loved and wanted. What sort of lawyer am I? I will let my clients decide that. All I can say is, money has never been my motivator.
What kept me going was my will power. I believe that no matter what obstacles come one’s way, one has to learn to either jump over them or step aside.
Unfortunately, when a woman goes through a divorce or a troubled marriage, there are several people to give you advice on how to make it work, but in reality, they do not realise that emotional and moral support is all that a woman needs at that time.
My relatives were no different. I got no support from any relative, but this actually became a blessing in disguise because it led me to believe that many other women too may be going through the same ordeal.
This prompted me to set up India’s first non-judgmental divorce support group for those going through a divorce, which challenges the morals of a patriarchal middle-class society.
The group is open to men as well because men really have no recourse to any emotional support. Over 8,000 people have been assisted through group counselling.
My journey has made me a successful divorce lawyer in Mumbai. I am honoured to have been empanelled as a senior advocate by the NCW (National Commission Women)
My support group has given hope to women who feel that divorce is the end of life. The main aim of the group is to help women to cope with challenges of separation. Cutting across socio-economic barriers, women have identified what their needs are and shared legal, moral and sometimes economic support.
Counselling people also made me realize that problems like loneliness, facing sexual innuendos at work and unstable finances in the journey of divorce are universal. This prompted me to write a book, titled ‘360 Degrees Back To Life’, based on my own experiences as well as the members of my support group members.
I also launched India’s first legal app, ‘Divorcekart’, which assists people by providing them with lawyers who are there to talk to them 24 hours, all the seven days. So far, we have had over 15,000 downloads.
I would want people to accept divorce a common occurrence. People today are not willing to put up with all the unhappiness and sorrow that bad marriages entail. They are learning to look beyond the concept of being chained down for seven lifetimes to a spouse who does not value you.
As I stand, at another crossroad of my life, I look at more horizons to conquer. Trust me, it is better to elevate yourself rather than pull down another.”