“Her loyalties to the passengers of the aircraft in distress will forever be a lasting tribute to the finest qualities of the human spirit.” – cites the Ashok Chakra in honor of Neerja Bhanot.
When you call a woman “the weaker sex”, then it is indeed a libel on a man’s prejudice to a woman. Among us, there are women who have not only brought laurels to the country but also gave up their lives doing so. We bring to you one such story of a brave-heart, the hijack heroine, Neerja Bhanot.
Neerja Bhanot, the name which echoes till date due to the bravery she showed when she saw that hundreds of lives were in danger and took to action to sacrifice her life so that she could save others. No one can tell much about her but we are trying to present some of the requisite facts of her life- both professional and personal.
#1 Neerja Bhanot was born and brought up in Chandigarh.
The family, later on, moved to Mumbai. She did her schooling at Bombay Scottish School and graduated from St. Xavier’s College. She lived with her two brothers, Hindustan Times journalist father and homemaker mom.
#2 She got married at a young age
Neerja had no plans to become an air hostess. She got married and moved to Gulf with her husband. But destiny had some other plans for her. Her marriage was short-lived. Due to continuous dowry pressures, she separated from her husband and returned to her parent’s home in Bombay (now Mumbai).
#3 She decided to pursue a career
Divorce didn’t deter her from pursuing her dreams. She went on to become a model and did several advertisements before becoming an air hostess. She went to USA to become a Pan Am flight attendant with Frankfurt but returned as a purser.
#4 She had no help
The cockpit crew was the first to escape. The hijackers boarded the plane as security personals. When Neerja alerted the pilot, co-pilot, and engineer – they escaped via cockpit hatch. But being the senior most person left on the plane, she decided to take the situation in her own hands and handle hijackers single handedly.
#5 She saved 360 lives aboard the Pan Am flight 73
She realized the lives of American passengers were in danger and decided to hide the passports. After 17 hours, terrorists open fired which led Neerja to open the emergency door. She helped passengers escape and was shot while protecting three children.
#6 Only individual to be honoured by 3 countries
Neerja Bhanot is internationally recognized as ‘The heroine of the hijack’. The Government of India posthumously conferred on her with Ashok Chakra, India’s highest gallantry award. She is the youngest recipient to get this award at the age of 23. Other awards with which she has been felicitated are:
- Flight Safety Foundation Heroism Award, USA,
- Justice for Crimes Award,
- Special Courage award, US Govt. and
- Indian Civil Aviation Ministry’s Award
#7 Other Accolades – The Neerja Bhanot Stamp
In the year 2004, commemorating her, a stamp was released. A square in Ghatkopar is also named after her.
#8 And she continues to help.
Neerja’s parents made use of the insurance money and payment from Pan Am to set up the Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust. Apart from this one award for a flight crew who acts beyond their call of duty and one to an Indian woman who helps other women when they are in social distress.
Feature Image Source: Google Images