A Smaller Version of Neerja Bhanot: A Brave Woman

This article was originally published on May 26, 2020.

Bravery — seven letters that seem impossible to live by is now what the world desperately needs to get rid of COVID-19. Some people have surpassed the world’s expectations: the frontliners. Some meet them by staying strong at home, and it’s time for us to remind the others that haven’t met them why they should.
“Do your duty, come what may. Never tolerate any injustice and never compromise on self-respect.” – The Neerja Bhanot Bravery Award

Just a few days before her birthday, a young woman faced a situation where she would be tested on her loyalty. Most parents would believe that in her situation she should have saved herself, but Neerja went otherwise. This young woman was on board Pan Am Flight 73, the last place she would ever be.

Neerja Bhanot was the head purser of a plane that was hijacked during its stopover in Germany. Four terrorists from the Abu Nidal Organization, also known as the ANO, had forcefully entered the plane when it was ready to board for its next set of passengers. The hijackers wanted to reroute the plane’s flight path to Cyprus where they would release terrorists of the same organization from jail in exchange for the passengers. Unfortunately for them, Neerja had alerted the pilots of the situation, leading the pilots to follow protocol and leave the cockpit with the engine running. Since there were no pilots, the hijackers were in distress. For everyone on the plane, this meant death. However, for Neerja, seeing this injustice, meant action.

After taking care of the passengers for close to a day and convincing and fighting the terrorist’s objections at the same time, Neerja secretly alerted one passenger near the exit seat to open the emergency exit on her cue. When the lights went out in the plane, the hijackers thought it was a plan by the military and started throwing grenades. However, the cue to open the emergency exit was already given, and Neerja assisted the passengers in leaving the plane through the emergency slide. When she was about to exit the plane herself, she noticed three children, unchaperoned, hiding behind a seat. Immediately, she dodged the bullets fired by the hijackers and reached the children. While trying to get the children to the emergency slide safely, Neerja took multiple bullets. The children were saved.

Neerja did her duty. She saved the children because they were passengers, and as an air hostess, it was her job to save every passenger. She could have left the plane, but she didn’t. She stayed back and sacrificed her life for three children.

Today, we are in the midst of a pandemic. Already, many lives have been lost. The number of lives that will continue to be in danger of the virus lies in the hands of each and every one of us. Staying at home away from friends is difficult. We are human, and we need social interaction. But at the end of the day, can’t we sacrifice one conversation for thousands of lives? If we socially interact and ignore policies, then the people we love will be at the risk of death.

It’s time for us to be brave. We will save lives if we meet the world’s expectations. Let’s be a smaller version of Neerja.

Let’s do our duty.