Sunday, November 8, 2015

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Neerja Bhanot

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For the film, see Neerja Bhanot (film).
Neerja Bhanot
Neerja Bhanot (1963 – 1986).jpg
Born7 September 1963
Died5 September 1986 (aged 22)
Other namesLado
Occupationflight attendant
Ashoka Chakra Award
Justice for Crime Award
Neerja Bhanot AC (7 September 1963 – 5 September 1986[1]) was a flight attendant for Pan Am, based in MumbaiIndia, who was murdered while saving passengers from terrorists on board the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 on 5 September 1986. Posthumously, she became the youngest recipient of India's highest peacetime military award for bravery, the Ashok Chakra.[2]

Early life, education and marriage[edit]

Neerja Bhanot was born in Chandigarh, the daughter of Rama Bhanot and Harish Bhanot, a Mumbai-based journalist. She was an alumna of Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School, Chandigarh, Bombay Scottish Schooland St. Xavier's College, Mumbai.[1]
Bhanot had an arranged marriage in March 1985 and joined her husband in the Gulf. However, the marriage turned sour following dowry pressure and she returned to her parents' home in Mumbai within two months. She then applied for a flight attendant job with Pan Am, and upon selection, went to Miami for training as a flight attendant but returned as purser.[1]


Bhanot was the senior flight purser on the ill-fated Pan Am Flight 73, which was hijacked by four heavily armed terrorists after it landed at Karachi at 5 am from Mumbai. PA 73 was en route to Frankfurt and onward to New York City. Bhanot alerted the cockpit crew about the hijack and, as the plane was on the tarmac, the three-member American cockpit crew of pilot, co-pilot and the flight engineer fled from the aircraft. Bhanot, being the senior-most cabin crew member on board, took charge.
The hijackers were part of the terrorist Abu Nidal Organization and were backed by Libya. The terrorists then instructed Bhanot to collect the passports of all the passengers so that they could identify the Americans. Bhanot and the other attendants under her charge hid the passports of the 41 Americans on board – some under a seat and the rest down a rubbish chute.
After 17 hours, the hijackers opened fire and set off explosives. Bhanot opened the emergency door and helped a number of passengers escape. She could have been the first to jump out when she opened the door but she decided not to and was shot while shielding three children from a hail of bullets. Bhanot was recognised internationally as "the heroine of the hijack" and is the youngest recipient of the Ashok Chakra Award, India's most prestigious gallantry award for bravery during peace time.[3]

Her killers[edit]

The hijackers, said to be from the Abu Nidal Organisation, were captured by Pakistan, tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 1988. Their sentences were later commuted to life in prison.
In 2001, Zayd Hassan Abd Al-Latif Masud Al Safarini, one of the hijackers who shot the passengers, was captured by the FBI in Bangkok after being released by Pakistan. He is currently serving 160-year prison term in Colorado. Four others were freed from Pakistan's Adyala Jail in January 2008. The FBI announced a $5 million bounty on their heads. In January 2010, Pakistani intelligence officials announced that a drone attack in the North Waziristan tribal region had killed one of the released hijackers, Jamal Saeed Abdul Rahim. His death was never confirmed and he remains on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists and Rewards for Justice lists.[4][5]

After death[edit]

"Her loyalties to the passengers of the aircraft in distress will forever be a lasting tribute to the finest qualities of the human spirit".
Ashok Chakra citation[1]
For her bravery, the Government of India posthumously awarded her the Ashoka Chakra Award (India's highest gallantry award for bravery in the face of the enemy during peace time), and Bhanot became its youngest recipient. In 2004 the Indian Postal Service released a stamp commemorating her.[6][7]
With the insurance money and an equal contribution from Pan Am for using the brand Pan Am in the title, Bhanot's parents set up the 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 such as dowry or desertion perseveres and then helps other women in similar social distress. The award includes a sum of INR 1,50,000, a trophy and a citation.[8][9]
Bhanot's brother Aneesh went to Washington DC in 2005 to receive the 'Justice for Crimes Award' awarded posthumously to her as part of the 'Annual Crime Rights Week' at a ceremony held at the United States Attorney's office for the District of Columbia.[10] 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.[11]
A square called Neerja Bhanot Chowk is named after her in Mumbai's Ghatkopar (East) suburb by the Mumbai Municipal Corporation, which was inaugurated by Amitabh Bachchan in the early 1990s.
The civil aviation ministry of India conferred an honour on Neerja Bhanot posthumously on 18 February 2010 in New Delhi on the occasion of the launch of the celebrations of the centenary of Indian aviation.
forthcoming movie is to be made about Bhanot, with Sonam Kapoor playing role of Neerja.[12][13]


Bhanot is survived by two brothers, Akhil and Aneesh. Her father, Harish Bhanot, worked as a journalist with The Hindustan Times for over 30 years and died on 1 January 2008 in Chandigarh at the age of 86.[14]


Brave in life, brave in deathBy Illa Vij
AS bullets mercilessly riddled into her body, Neerja’s body swayed, but she continued her duty of protecting the airline passengers. Finally her mortal body fell, but her soul rose to heights from where there can never be any fall ever again — the arms of God, the very Almighty who sent her to earth as a guardian angel of 400 passengers of the fateful flight of Pan Am. The citation by the Pan Am rightfully says:
Neerja Bhanot"Neerja was called upon under the most difficult conditions, at the most difficult time, to step forward in a position of leadership. And her heroic actions were, clearly responsible for the saving of hundreds of lives".
Neerja is the first and only woman recipient of the "Ashok Chakra" (India’s highest civilian award for bravery). She was also awarded the "Tagme-e-Insaniyat" (Pakistan), the flight Safety Foundation Award and the Medal of Heroism of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (U.S.A.). The Ashok Chakra citation states:-
"Her loyalties to the passengers of the aircraft in distress will forever be a lasting tribute to the finest qualities of the human spirit".
Neerja Bhanot was born to Harish and Rama Bhanot on September 7, 1963, in Chandigarh. She did her early schooling at the local Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School. When the family moved to Bombay, she continued her studies at Bombay Scottish and then graduated from St. Xavier’s College.
Neerja grew into a sensitive, caring and compassionate being. Over and above, her inner beauty reflected on her serene, beautiful face. Following an advertisement-based, arranged marriage in March 1985, she joined her husband in the Gulf. Under the strain of dowry pressure, Neerja returned home to her parents, at Bombay, within two months. On return, Neerja signed modelling contract. Her husband dictated humiliating terms for her return to him. Neerja and her family did not comply and the marriage turned sour.
Very soon, she applied for a flight attendant’s job with Pan Am. Upon selection, she went to Miami for training as a flight attendant but returned as purser.
Immensely dedicated, Neerja made a wonderful model as well as an air hostess. Never did she compromise on any of her commitments. The night prior to the fateful Pan Am flight on September 5, 1986, she had returned from a day-long shooting assignment. She was the "Senior Flight Purser" on the flight on which her intense compassion and undaunted courage was to be tested — that test which made her so very special to our country, to the world, to humanity.
At Karachi, the plane was hijacked by four heavily armed terrorists. Immediately, Neerja rushed towards the cockpit to inform the captain. A terrorist caught her by her ponytail but she managed to shout the ‘hijack code’. Another flight attendant who caught the code conveyed it ahead. Unfortunately, the three-member cockpit crew of pilot, co-pilot and the flight engineer abandoned the aircraft, leaving 400 passengers and a 13-member cabin crew in the hands of brutal, thoughtless terrorists. Since Neerja was the cabin crew leader, she took over command. What followed was amazing. Neerja kept the passengers calm. Comforting them, she served coffee and sandwiches and her charming smile eased the tide of fear that had swept across their faces.
She realised that the Americans were the main target of the terrorists and in a brilliant move she discreetly collected all the American passports and hid them. There couldn’t have been a better way to confuse the terrorists.
The real-life, high-tension drama continued for 17 hours! Suddenly as power began failing and the lights became very dim, terrorists began to fire blindly. Instantly, Neerja dashed to the emergency door and flung it open, letting out a cry "Get out, run!" — the words that will continue to ring in the ears of the survivors. She used all her strength to guide and push people down the chute and while shielding three children, she absorbed the onslaught of bullets into her own body. Weekend Review remarked:
"She was brave in life, brave in death. The only stewardess, to have commanded an aircraft and held the hijackers at bay, was an Indian,".
Words are not enough to describe the heroic deed performed by Neerja. In her memory, a trust has been set up by her parents with an initial corpus of Rs 36.50 lakh. The trust honours and awards those who reflect the basic features of Neerja’s character:
* Do your duty, come what may.
* Never tolerate any injustice and never compromise on self-respect. For this, the trust has instituted two annual awards of Rs 1.5 lakh each.
The trust honours an airline crew member, on a worldwide basis, who acts beyond the call of duty in a difficult situation.
The other award goes to an Indian woman who has been subjected to social injustices, like dowry and desertion, which she overcomes with grit and determination and makes a success of life by helping other women in similar situations.
If it hadn’t been for people like Neerja, absolutely selfless and morally strong, this world of war, strife and struggle would have given way under the weight of vices. At present we need more Neerjas to fight injustice and act courageously to make this world a better place to live in.

America honours Neerja Bhanot

CHANDIGARH: City girl Neerja Bhanot's fame continues to grow even 19 years after terrorist bullets snuffed out her brave life. In a simple and solemn ceremony held at the United States Attorney's office for the District of Columbia, the United States presented the 'Justice for Crimes Award' posthumously to Neerja as part of its 'Annual Crime Rights Week'.

Ashok Chakra (posthumous) awardee Neerja had fallen to terrorists' bullets while performing her duty as senior flight purser with Pan Am on Flight 73 that was hijacked at Karachi Airport on September 5, 1986. The Award was presented by Kenneth L Wainstein and Gregg Maissel of the US Attorney's office in Washington DC to Neerja's brother Aneesh Bhanot who had come to Washington DC specially for the occasion. This was one of the rare occasions when Indian nationals have been bestowed the prestigious award by the US Government.

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