Remembering Neerja: The hijack that became a brutal reality for India, the woman who refused to succumb

If Neerja stood for not giving up in a pressured situation in 1986, Masood Azhar's release in 1999 was a tale of succumbing to pressure. Both were contrasting stories of Indians put in terrible situations, consistently by forces from across the border.

 |  2-minute read |   28-02-2019
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Neerja, a film based on the life of Senior Flight Purser on Pan Am Flight 73, Neerja Bhanot, was released in February, 2016, and put Sonam Kapoor on the map. The film retold the dreadful hijacking of the plane by four armed men of the Abu Nidal Organization, a Palestinian terrorist organisation supported by Libya, on 5 September, 1986, at Karachi airport.

Though Sonam seemed happier sticking to her fashionista tag even after all the accolades she received for her role in Neerja, what the film did for most of us was to bring back memories of another dreadful hijack — the hijack of the Indian Airlines flight IC-814 from Kathmandu to New Delhi. A hijack that led to the release of Maulana Masood Azhar of Jaish-e-Mohammed.

No, the two hijacks are not related. In fact, one is the antithesis of the other.

If one stood for grit, valour and wisdom even in a terribly pressured situation, the other stood for succumbing to pressure, in that case, public pressure to bring back the innocent hostages. But it was all for the greater good.

neerja-bhanot-e_022819060717.jpgNeerja inspires even today. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Neerja Bhanot, all of 22 at the time, saved the lives of close to 380 passengers on the Pan Am flight.

But she did much more — she did not let the hijack become a metaphorical arm, as it were, which could be twisted for ulterior gains. She lost her life in the process. In the other instance, Maulana Masood Azhar, along with Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Sheikh Ahmed Omar Saeed were presented to Jaish-e-Mohammed pretty much on a platter — the very example of what arm-twisting can lead to.

Today, the question on most of our minds is, why was Masood Azhar released by the then BJP-led NDA government? Were there even attempts to think up a Plan B? Why was the flight allowed to take off from Amritsar? And what should we call this — a gross mistake, a callous overlooking, or a complete and utter breakdown of our Intelligence?

download-1_022819060825.jpgExactly where we went wrong in 1999. (Source:

No one will ever let you forget the time when our Intelligence slipped. But then, no one will ever tell you about the number of times they didn’t — the attacks that were stopped, the lives that were saved, the innocents that were protected, the hijacks that thankfully didn't happen.

With Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman set to return home tomorrow, perhaps it is imperative to not let our faith in our Intelligence waiver. And on our intelligence, too.

Read more: Pulwama and 2019 General Elections: Wait for the surprise


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