As part of our She Inspires series, in which we are featuring and interviewing leading women across industries. Let us meet Vandana Shah – the award winning Divorce Lawyer, Author and Columnist, who has been fighting to get justice to numerous women across the social demographic has now been empanelled by the prestigious National Commission for Women to represent cases filed by women or against them in the state of Maharashtra – which are specifically referred by National Commission for Women.
Renowned lawyer and columnist, Vandana has a thriving law practice, and specializes in Divorce cases. BBC has made a documentary, ‘Invisible Women of India, about her work. She is also the author of ‘Ex-Files-The Story of my divorce’ published by Penguin under the Shobhaa De imprint. Ex-Files is now part of the Judicial College syllabus. Vandana has been involved with the family court since 2001 in varying roles as a litigant then a counsellor in running India’s first support group –“360 degrees back to life”, 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. Her work has been lauded both by the National as well as the International media. She has been a panellist frequently on BBC, NDTV amongst others and at various Literary Festivals.
She is also Divorce Law Consultant for Priyanka Chopra’s new film Firebrand, directed by Arunaraje Patil, currently trending on Netflix.
So let us welcome Vandana. It has truly been my honor to be able to ask these questions and get to know her 🙂
What was the turning point in your life and what ignited the spark in you to be a Divorce Lawyer
With a paltry sum of Rs. 750, I was the Daughter in Law of a respectable family out on the streets at about 2 AM in the night with nothing but tears in my eyes, bewilderment at the cruelty of my new found family of my husbands, yet When I walked out, I had dreams in my heart and the grit and determination to survive.
I said to myself, “I must amount to something in life. No one will ever trample upon me again because I will be a ‘somebody’, and the ‘something’ that this ‘somebody’ eventually did was to not only turn my own life around full 360 degree!) but also helped thousands of other women, in similar predicaments seeking a new identity and meaning to life.
Today my life journey has taken me to being a successful divorce lawyer and I am honoured to have been empanelled as a senior advocate by the NCW (National Commission Women) and I am hopeful to be able to provide legal aid to many more women. Another book of mine “EX-Files” was published by Penguin and now under the also launched India’s first legal app ‘Divorcekart’ – which provides 24/7 lawyers on call/chat. The BBC has made a documentary on me “Invisible Women of India” on my work which was broadcast on 8th March, International Women’s Day.
As I stand, at another crossroad of my life, I look at more horizons to conquer and I’m proud of my life philosophy, “It is better to elevate yourself rather than pulling down another”.
What would you say sets you apart
My own divorce took 10 long years, but instead of sitting and moping around looking for sympathy or being a victim, I decided to be a ‘Victor’. I set up India’s first non-judgmental divorce support group for those going through a divorce, which challenges the mores of a patriarchal middle-class society that obviously has different rules and expectations for women and then, wrote a book ‘360 degrees back to life – a litigant humorous perspective on divorce’ based on the experiences of the support group.
Since I was penniless, I took up various jobs instead of depending on a handout from my in-laws/husband. Instead of sobbing at the lack of funds or support, I decided to study law to help me in my own case/court battle.
Each time, a new obstacle came I just learned to either jump over it or sidestep it.
My father who was a fighter pilot with the Indian Air taught me how to shoot down problems as though they are the enemy and my mum taught me how to be a risk taker.
It was this philosophy that helped me to combat the vitriolic abuse in a marriage, having no support from relatives, highly judgmental society which only looks at women who are divorced as Vamps.
When I restarted my life, I put aside all the negativity and only focused on the positive path to growth.
What do you like most about your work
Rebuilding lives in a positive manner.
What are the Top 2 regular practices that have helped you
Meditation and Writing
What keeps you motivated
Loving what I do and doing what I love.
Who has been your biggest support in this journey
My parents Wing Commander Sawal Shah and Mrs. Charan Shah
What is the biggest misconception you think people have about you
That I have an easy path to success and success can come without hard work.
What is the biggest misconception you think people have about your profession
That a divorce lawyer causes divorces, actually your marriage is already breaking up or is already breaking up or has broken down before you meet a divorce lawyer. The couple’s marriage has broken up because they are incompatible and the divorce lawyer only looks at the legal aspect of divorce
Do you still see there is a stigma around divorce and how it can be addressed
The truth of the matter is that divorce is a common occurrence in an economically evolved India. People 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 you can’t even stand for seven seconds.
Look at the unofficial statistics that are available: there are about 60 divorce matters on board in the Bandar Family court where I practise, and the building has seven floors, so that’s about 420 matters in a day, though a number of them are ongoing. Still, those are staggering numbers compared to a decade ago where there were only 25 matters on board daily. But hey, who’s counting?
Surely not us Indians, because we are so busy denying the existence of divorce, the voices ranging from ‘No! it doesn’t exists in India, actually we are all very adjusting, look at my dad and mom they have been married for over 40 years,’ and so on and on go the reasons for pretending that divorce is not like the emperor’s new clothes.
Wake Up India and smell the petition–divorce exists in India and is here to stay and it is not an evil Western conspiracy defiling Indian values and the so-called pure supremacist Indian culture.
The reasons for divorce surfacing its hydra head in India may be many but we’ll talk about that another time. What’s important is that it’s here to stay and we better learn how to deal with it and believe me, being an ostrich is not the efficient way.
What women should watch out or get prepared for when going through a Divorce
Divorce in India is not only a legal conundrum. While filing for divorce in India one has to look at the socio-legal implications of divorce since India reflects both the traditional values of marriage but is also greatly impacted by the change in economics of a fast-emerging superpower.
Check your finances, because believe me, whatever anyone might say, divorce is an expensive proposition even if you aren’t getting the hotshot law firm. An ideal amount to put away for a half-decent lawyer would be about Rs 35,000-50,000 a month in a city like Mumbai.
You will also need to plan for:
i) Personal financial upkeep
ii) Financial upkeep of children if any
iii) In case you are moving to a new city you will have to pay to buy for buying or renting a new place to stay
In case you are a working woman and moving to another place do ask for a transfer so that neither your career or your financial well-being is impacted negatively.
Next up on your checklist should be friends who will support you unconditionally and unquestioningly. The battle for divorce in India is long and emotionally strenuous, and you need all the emotional armour that you can gather and I’ve found friends to be better than relatives who have an agenda.
Then get your job sorted, whether for money, or emotional sanity, or a bit of both, as you can’t just be sitting and plotting your days around the next divorce date, so go ahead use your brain cells more effectively and forget all about the next court date while you immerse yourself in work.
How to handle when someone in the family or someone we know is getting divorced
We tend to forget that the divorce case is a minuscule part of our life and that the court is a subset of our life and not vice versa.
Before we filed for divorce, we had a life, which included friends, family, work, leisure activities, spirituality, but all this gets relegated to the bin marked ‘after my case is over’.
How long the case takes to get over is almost anybody’s guess.
Friends and family play and extremely important role in helping a person go through a divorce. The foremost role they play is acting an emotional rock during the turbulent times of a divorce.
As a divorce sadly results in so much stigma in India for anybody going through it is important to give the person emotional support, financial support and non-judgemental support.
What do you see as impact on kids
My client, let’s call her Lady X, is currently going through a divorce from her husband due to extreme domestic abuse. This has had a horrific impact on her daughter Tania.
Psychological – Tania has PTSD and nightmares from seeing all that her mother has to go through. She is barely able to sleep has seen her school performance has suffered.
Physical – Tania was a bright and active girl. Now due to the above-mentioned PTSD she can barely move out of the house which combined with a steady diet of junk food has left her obese. This has led to her withdrawing from most sports and extra-circular activities in school.
Economical – Lady X has had a considerable drop in income from spending 3 lacs a month to subsisting on 30,000-40,000 a month while fighting the divorce. This has led to Taina not only loosing out on a school year but moving to a new significantly more downmarket area. This has been deeply traumatising for the child.
Emotional – Taina has been severely scarred by the divorce. When asked by the family court judge who she would like to stay with she said me, her divorce lawyer!
How can we reduce or minimize the impact on kids
By being Honest with kids. It is best if parents sit down with kids and explain the situation and tell them we both love you in our own separate ways.
Fathers need to continue paying for the child and Mothers need to continue to give access to kids. The kids should not feel that they are not wanted.
When you are not working, what are you doing
I am a big fan of Rafael Nadal. In fact, I’ve dedicated my book “Ex-Files” to him. So, I go and watch him play at the French Open and other tennis tournaments.
I read a lot-authors like Ayn Rand, Jefferey Archer, Shobhaa De. I also write for Savvy, Huffington Post occasional for the BBC all of which I find destressing. In fact recently I have been the “Divorce Law Consultant” for Priyanka Chopra’s new film, directed by Arunaraje Patil Firebrand on Netflix, so that too has been an exhilarating experience.
What would you have been if not what you are doing currently
Full-time author and tennis player
What would you say are the top skills needed to be a successful Divorce Lawyer
- A good lawyer needs to be well-read. As a lawyer it is not enough to be read on all the laws you need to have good working knowledge of all the latest citations and judgements by your side.
- Writing has helped me in my chosen professions of both an author and a lawyer. It is important in any profession to have the ability to express your thoughts clearly and precisely. This will allow any observer to understand exactly what path of action you wish to pursue for what intentions.
- Integrity is at the core of a well lived and successful life. It has allowed my clients and others to take a stand and put their trust that I will stand by them. It allows people to see that you do have the moral truth behind you.
- Another vital skill is the empathy I developed. Since divorce is a highly personal matter that involves a lot of emotional upheaval a good divorce lawyer is one who emphasizes with their client’s emotional state during turbulent times.
Any regrets as of now? And if yes would you like to share
I miss my parents-Wing Commander Sawal Shah who was a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force and fought 3 wars for India and my mom Charan who was such a brave lady and my biggest regret is them not being alive to see me follow my dreams.
If you had to give a advice to your younger self when you were starting out, what would it be
Say no to the naysayers and trust your own heart. Block out negativity and love yourself because you are unique.
Anything that you would like to say to our readers
- Keep smiling and conquer the world
- It’s better to elevate yourself than bring down another
- Embrace ourselves and be the best version of ourselves
- Be positive and conquer the world Empower ourselves financially, emotionally
- Break the chains that keep us in mediocrity
- Be the Empress of the World
Thank you so much Vandana for taking time out of your schedule and doing this interview with us. I am truly honored to have been chosen for this opportunity.
You are truly an inspiration for me and many others and I wish you luck and success in all your future endeavors and I am sure many women will benefit from the good work that you have been doing.
To all our readers, hope you enjoyed this interview article as much as I did. If you have any other questions or have something to say please do so via comments below. And do check out her book on Amazon.
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