Despite having bullets mercilessly shot into her body, Neerja continued to perform her duty of protecting the passengers of the plane. Even though she fell eventually, her soul reached heights from where she can never fall again. This is the story of a girl who at the mere age of 23 years saved nearly 360 lives, by showing impeccable amount of bravery and courage. Neerja Bhanot was a simple girl born to Harish and Rama Bhanot in Chandigarh on 7th September 1963. She did most of her schooling and college from Bombay, where her parents moved when she was quite young. She got married at a very young age in March 1985 and moved to the Gulf where her husband lived. But under dowry pressure she returned back to her parents in Bombay within two months of her marriage and soon applied for a flight attendant’s job with Pan Am. Upon selection, she undertook training in Miami. She took up modelling assignments also from time to time. On the morning of September 5, 1986, Pan Am flight 73 landed in Karachi and got hijacked while it was parked at the Jinnah International Airport in Karachi. Neerja was the senior most flight attendant on this particular Pan Am flight. Neerja alerted the cockpit crew as soon as the terrorists boarded the plane. The entire cockpit crew, including the pilot, co-pilot and chief engineer fled as soon as they heard the news of the hijack. Neerja, who was now the senior-most crew member, was left in charge. She very well understood that the terrorists were targeting the Americans and that is why, with great bravery, hid the passports of the American passengers. She managed to save 39 American passengers out of a total 41 on board. After holding passengers and crew members hostage for 17 hours on the runway, the terrorists openly fired in the plane. Then also Neerja helped the other people in the plane to escape, without having any care for her own life. She was shot while shielding three children from open fire. We will of course never be able to realise what all Neerja felt right before she died, but we do know that her exceptional courage helped save nearly 360 lives. 20 people were killed out of all the passengers and crew members on the flight. She was awarded with bravery awards by three countries – India, Pakistan and USA. Her parents also set up a trust in her name with an initial amount of Rs. 36.5 lakh. Without people like Neerja, this world of war and struggle would have given way to the weight of immoralities. We certainly need more and more Neerjas in this world to fight widespread injustices and to make it a better place to live in. ———— ABOUT THE AUTHOR: This article is written by Sayesha Bhattacharya.