Remembering our Heroes on this Independence Day
[Editor’s Note: Unlike every year, we will not just wish you the Independence day, but bring you story of a woman whose courage and selflessness saved lives of so many people…read on…]
Today is 15th august and needless to say, all of you are very much familiar about this day and the meaning it holds for every Indian. Today we will forward smses and post status updates about today. If you are in school then you will be looking forward to the flag hoisting ceremony, if you are an adult then you will think about the time spent as a child on such days and memories associated with it.
Some people will see news which will announce the names of some great Indians who have changed our lives and then of course is the parade and speech. I have seen the parade a couple of times but I have not heard any speech yet. The most important part of this whole ceremony is the part where the brave are awarded medals for their bravery.
I consider it important because bravery should not go unnoticed. Because not only do they deserve it but it also tells us that there are selfless people on earth and especially in our country, where each day we read about a new crime happening around us.
The youngest one to receive the Ashoka Chakra was Neerja Bhanot (September 7, 1964 to September 5, 1986), a purser with the then leading passenger carrier Pan-Am (Pan America). I had read about her in the newspaper some years back and was shocked to read that there was such a person and we didn’t know about her. This is what happened on 5th September 1986
Her flight made a stop at Karachi and was hijacked when it was there. She was pulled by her pony and before she could be stopped she shouted the ‘hijack code’ and alerted the cabin crew and cockpit. The 2 pilots and the flight engineer fled the aircraft leaving the 400 passengers and the 13 member crew behind. Neerja Bhanot had then got a chance to escape but she didn’t, she had decided that none will be left behind. She smiled all the time and assisted the passengers. She hid the passports of the passengers covertly as the terrorists were looking for American citizens. 17 hours of this ordeal had passed and the lights of the aircraft went dim, the terrorists panicked and randomly fired their guns and threw 2 hand grenades. In this confusion Neerja Bhanot then opened the emergency exit and directed all the passengers towards it, “her uniform was already red from an abdominal wound” one of the survivors recalls. She could have gotten out safely, but she had decided that she will be the last person to alight. The cabin crew ran out and then so did most of the passengers. She was shot by the terrorist then while she shielded three children and they were escaping, but she was still alive. She stumbled from the plane to the tarmac and limped, was helped outside by her cabin crew and 15 minutes later she became a martyr.
Not only was she awarded the Ashoka Chakra but even Pakistan awarded her Tagme-e-Insaniyat. With the money that came from insurance and equal contribution by Pan Am, her parents set up a ‘Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust’. The trust presents two awards every year, one for a flight crew member, worldwide, who acts beyond the call of duty and another to an Indian woman who, when faced with social injustice like dowry, desertion etc. overcomes it with guts and grit AND then helps other women in similar social distress. The award includes a sum of INR 1,50,000, a trophy and a citation. In 2006, she and the other Pan Am Flight 73 flight attendants and Pan Am’s flight director for Pakistan were awarded the Special Courage award by the US Department of Justice.
A square called Neerja Bhanot Chowk is named after her in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar (East) suburb by the Mumbai Municipal Corporation.
The civil aviation ministry of India conferred an honor on Neerja Bhanot posthumously on February 18, 2010 in New Delhi on the occasion of the launch of the celebrations of the centenary of Indian Aviation.
To her and many others like her,
Wishing all trak.in readers a very Happy Independence Day!