My letter it today’s NT
THE name Neerja Bhanot may not mean anything to most of us. She was killed 24 years ago in Karachi in gunfire that ensued after hijackers took control of a Pan Am flight. Now after 24 years her killer has been reported dead in a drone attack carried out by US forces in Pakistan. Neerja was a flight attendant on a Pan Am flight that was going to Frankfurt via Karachi. Four armed men dressed as security guards stormed the plane and opened fire. Neerja refused to identify the Americans and the Indians; she collected the passports of the passengers and hid them away so that the terrorists would be unable to isolate them either. As bloody massacre erupted on the plane, Neerja died shielding three children by her body. Neerja was awarded the Ashok Chakra by India, the Tamgha-e-Insaniyat by Pakistan and the Justice for Crimes Award by the US. It all happened in those days when there were no 24-hour news channels. The hijackers were captured and tried in Pakistan, but given the state support for terrorism and the public pressure there, they were only given a life sentence. They were released in 2008. I have no idea what the Indian government did to give justice to our brave daughter, but the United States government ensured that their days were counted by offering a bounty of $5 million for their capture. Zayd Hassan Abd Al-Latif Masud Al Safarini, the hijacker who shot Rajesh Kumar among others, was captured by the FBI in Bangkok in 2001 and is serving a 160 year sentence in Colorado. Neerja remains the youngest and only female to receive the Ashok Chakra Award. The government had also released a stamp in her honour in 2004. Examples like her should not be forgotten.