On account of International Women’s day, team Urban Tree has meticulously chosen some great women achievers of our country. As we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women on March 8, this is a series of blogs that feature those strong women of India who have made their way up to become successful by breaking stereotypes!
Neerja Bhanot was a Senior Flight Attendant on the Pan Am Flight 73 was hijacked at the Karachi airport on the 5th of September, 1986. The brave woman put her duty first and saved 360 passengers out of 380. She was killed and the brave woman died like a hero two days before her 23rd birthday.
The daughter of a Mumbai based journalist, Neerja Bhanot was born in Chandigarh and then moved to Mumbai, where she finished her schooling and in college and began her career, as a model. She was married only for two months & was separated from her husband due to dowry pressures. She then went to Miami where she was selected to go for her training as a flight attendant from where she returned as a purser.
The ill-fated flight
Neerja’s flight had landed at Karachi from Mumbai and was en route to New York. Four armed terrorists dressed as the Karachi security personnel barged into the flight and threatened to kill all the Americans on board. Neerja who was the senior flight attendant alerted the crew at the cock pit. The pilots managed to escape through the overhead hatch in the cockpit. The flight passengers and attendants were then under the captive of the terrorists for nearly 17 hours on the runway itself.
Neerja and the other flight attendants threw the American passports down a chute to protect the identity of 40 odd Americans on flight. At the end of the gruesome ordeal, the terrorist opened fire. Neerja managed to open the emergency exit and instead of jumping out and save herself, she ensured the passengers on the flight get to safety first. During this process the brave woman was shot while trying to shield three children.
The story of the Pan Am plane hijack was nothing short of an action movie where the hero put his life to save people and is martyred at the end of it. In fact, a movie based on this incident was recently released called Neerja.
Awards And Achievements
What Neerja did on that flight was a selfless act of humanity with extreme courage putting her duty before her own life. For this great act, she was posthumously awarded the Ashok Chakra, India’s highest peacetime military award and Neerja was the youngest recipient of the award. The Pakistan Government awarded her with Tamgha-e-Insaniyat, for showing incredible kindness. She also posthumously received multiple awards for her courage from the United States government.
In honor of her memory, her parents have set up the Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust with the insurance money they received through which they present two awards of Rs. 1,50,000 every year – one to an Indian woman who faces social injustice but overcomes it and helps other women in similar situations, and one to honor an airline crew member who acts beyond the call of duty.
To the brave heart who is truly the #PowerWomanOfIndia who braved all odds and took command of the situation from start till her last breath. To the 360 passengers who survived the tragedy owe their lives to; we salute you to you Neerja! You will continue to live on in our hearts.