The Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust today announced that the Neerja Bhanot Award 2008 would be conferred on 41 year old Ms. Chanda Asani of Mumbai. A specially constituted Jury comprising Mr. Vivek Atray, Director-Tourism, Chandigarh, Ms. Vijaya Pushkarna, noted journalist and Mr. R K Thaman, eminent educationist took this decision. The Award comprises Rs. 1,50,000, a Citation and a Trophy.
The Neerja Bhanot Award is given in the memory of Neerja Bhanot, the brave 23 year old Senior Purser of Pan Am World Airways, who gave up her own life while saving hundreds of others during a Pan Am plane hijack at Karachi Airport on September 5, 1986. Neerja is the youngest recipient of the Ashoka Chakra, India's highest civilian award for bravery.
Ms. Chanda Asani's life is a story of tremendous courage, compassion and commitment. She was married off at the young age of 15 and entered her husbands home looking forward to a happy and blissful married life. However, her dreams were shattered when she found out that the man she was married to was having a series of love affairs with other women. Totally lacking a sense of responsibility, her husband refused to provide for Chanda and the two kids she had soon after marriage.
Chanda had just done her Higher Secondary and was forced to take on odd jobs to sustain the family. Life was a living hell for her, as her husband openly wooed other women. Chanda did not want to go back to her father as she had 3 unmarried sisters and was afraid that the social stigma of her broken marriage would reflect on them too. However, when she was only 23, she took a bold decision and left her husband's house in Mumbai.
Chanda moved to her father-in-law's place in Adipur, Kutch with her two sons but she was not able to live in peace there also. As soon as she left her husbands house, he quickly got married to another woman. Chanda's sons became the butt of jokes of the school children on account of their fathers remarriage. Fearing that her sons would go through an emotional upheaval and lose their self-respect and confidence, Chanda moved back to Mumbai, where she lived in her mother-in-law's house
Determined to change her destiny and not cow down to fate, Chanda went back to studying, passed MA in English Literature and did a Programme on Women Development Studies.
Problems, it seemed, followed Chanda wherever she went. This time round, her health failed her. She underwent a glaucoma operation and was bedridden with arthritis. Yet, her spirit stayed alive. More the troubles rained on her, the brighter was her smile and her outlook to life. Ready to face all odds, Chanda even worked as a nanny in the US for a while, but came back to work among women in India.
Since then, the SNDT Women's University Rural Development Centre in Mumbai has been a part of her life. Her devotion is towards Kalyani, a rural women's co-operative in Kulak village near Udwada in Gujarat, where she co-ordinated with workers at the grassroot level, arranged non-formal education and training programmes and explored employment opportunities under a sustainable livelihood programme.
When told that she had won the Neerja Bhanot Award, Chanda had only one thing on her mind – Kalyani. "The roof of the Centre is in a bad shape and I was not able to get funds for the work. But now I will ask them to find out details of the repairs so that we can start work immediately," she said.
The Neerja Bhanot Award will be conferred on Ms. Asani on October 5, 2008 at a ceremony to be held at the Auditorium of St. Stephens School, Sector 45 B, Chandigarh. On the same day, a Debate for college students and a Painting Competition for school children will be held.