Neerja Bhanot was an Indian model and Senior Flight Purser. She is popularly known as the young Indian lady who lost her life while trying to save others. She is also known for her featured appearance on several delightful advertisements such as those for Binaca Fluoride Toothpaste and Royal Diamond.
Her posthumous awards include: Asoka Chakra 1987 (India), Tamgha-e-Pakistan (Pakistan), Flight Safety Foundation Heroism Award 1987 (United States), Justice for Crimes Award 2005, United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia (United States), Special Courage Award 2006, United States Department of Justice (United States), Civil Aviation Ministry Award 2011 (India), the Bharat Gaurav Award 2016 (UK) and more.
Neerja Bhanot’s Bio
Neerja Bhanot was born on September 7th, 1963 in Chandigarh, Punjab, India. She was the only daughter of her parents, Harish Bhanot, a former Journalist with the Hindustan Times based in Mumbai and Rama Bhanot. Her father died on January 1st, 2008 (aged 86) while Rama, her mother died in December 2015.
She was raised alongside her two elder siblings, Akhil Bhanot and Aneesh Bhanot; they hold an Indian nationality. In her childhood years, she schooled at Sacred Heart Senior Secondary school located in Chandigarh, her place of birth. On the family’s relocation to Bombay, she attended Bombay Scottish School. Neerja also attended and graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai.
At age 18, during her college days in Mumbai she was spotted by a Photographer who featured her in the magazine “Bombay” under a section called “The girl next door”. In four years, she moved on to become a top model endorsing various brands like Benzeer Sarees and Vinod Stainless Steel Works.
Neerja was married for two months only before getting a separation on the basis of ill-treatment and starvation. It was in March 1985, that she agreed to an arranged marriage to Naresh Mishra and moved to the Gulf to build a home. She, however, was met with the two cloudiest months of her life. An already agreed dowry-less marriage became the basis for her maltreatment and torture.
In a place where she knew no one, she was forced to stay without food and money until she borrowed money from her husband to make a call to her father. When she returned to Bombay for a modeling contract, she received a very humiliating letter from her husband and that straw broke the camel’s back.
Her family supported her decision and they got separated barely two months after getting married. Almost coincidentally, Pan Am, an airline, reached a decision that year to have an all Indian cabin crew and she applied as an Air Hostess. With a height of 5 feet and 9 inches and a killer smile, she was chosen. She proceeded for training and returned surprisingly as a Senior Flight Purser.
Death of The Indian Model
Ladoo, as she was fondly called by her parents, was an easy going person and she loved her job passionately. So much that she agreed to stand in for her sick colleague and former roommate, Rukhsana Eisa, on September 5th, 1985.
The 365 passenger with 13 crew member flight was heading to the United States from Mumbai. It was hijacked by four hefty members of the Abu Nidal Organization who needed it to rescue Palestinian prisoners in Cyprus. Neerja immediately used a code to alert the three-member cockpit crew of the situation, they, however, fled the plane through the cockpit’s overhead hatch leaving Neerja to take command as the most senior crew member on board.
Neerja Bhanot put on all her pieces of training and helped the passengers stay calm. The hijackers shot an American passenger and when they requested for the passports of other passengers in order to identify and kill more, she joined her colleagues to hide all other American passports.
At the 17th hour of the hostage situation when the hijackers opened fire and set off explosives randomly, she summoned the courage to open one of the airplane’s doors and assist others to escape ahead of her. The terrorists on noticing her actions drew her and shot her straight as she used her body to shield three children in the process. The situation was arrested by the Pakistan Rangers and SSG Division but Neerja, 2 Americans and 18 other passengers lost their lives while about 150 more were injured.
Posthumous, she became the youngest recipient of the Ashok Chakra Award, the Indian highest award for bravery during peacetime. A stamp was also commemorated in her honor by the Indian Postal Service in 2004. In February 2016, Aneesh Bhanot, her brother published a book titled “The Neerja I knew”. A movie starring Sonam Kapoor was also done in her honor.