7 September 2018
In a solemn and impressive ceremony held today at the PHD Chambers, Chandigarh , the prestigious Neerja Bhanot Award was conferred to Pune based Sister Luci Kurien.
The annual Neerja Bhanot Award was instituted in 1990 in the memory of the brave Senior Flight Purser, Neerja Bhanot, who saved hundreds of lives while sacrificing her own, during a Pan Am plane hijack at Karachi Airport in September 1986. The Award consists of Rs. 1.50 lakh, a Citation and a Trophy. It is conferred on an Indian woman who, when faced with social injustice overcomes it with guts and grit and then helps other persons in similar social distress.
Accepting the Award, Sister Luci Kurien said, “I am proud to receive this Award as it represents the spirit of Neerja Bhanot’s determination and grit in the face of overwhelming circumstances. A person must always face all adversities. She must stand up for her rights as well as the rights of other people, especially children , come what may.”
During the occasion, blind students band ‘The Musical Eyes’ presented the series of ,melodious songs in the praise and valour of Neerja
Congratulating the Awardee, Akhil Bhanot, Managing Trustee, Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust exhorted her to continue with her Mission, “We are proud of you,” he said, “and we look forward to you spreading compassion, love and affection to even more girls in the coming years as you are a true Neerja heroine.”
Aneesh Bhanot, Hon. General Secretary of the Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust talked about how the Trust was formed and the way it has been promoting the two core values of Neerja: ‘Do your duty, come what may’ and ‘never tolerate injustice or compromise on your self-respect’. He spoke about the care and attention to detail with which Mr. Harish Bhanot and the Trustees had structured the Trust in living up to the high ideals of Neerja.
The complete citation::
Born in Kerala in 1956, Sister Lucy Kurein migrated to Mumbai in 1969 and started working as a Catholic nun. Her fate was shaped by an incident in 1991, when a pregnant woman from a nearby slum knocked on her convent doors, asking for shelter because her husband was threatening to kill her as he wanted to bring another woman.
She asked the woman to come back the next day when her superior would return. That very night her prayers were suddenly interrupted by horrific shouting outside. She saw a woman totally engulfed in flames-screaming for help. Sister Lucy recognized with horror that she was the very woman who had come to her earlier that afternoon. Her husband had set her on fire. She then took her to the hospital, but it was too late; she was 90 per cent burned. Unfortunately, both mother and child could not be saved.
Sister Lucy was absolutely devastated. For six years she struggled to come to terms with this heinous incident. She realized that she had to do something for such women, and the result was the founding of Maher in 1997 in Pune, Maharashtra. She had to single-handedly start Maher as she did not receive the backing of the convent to start a non-Christian organization
Being a woman in a completely male dominated society was a huge challenge for her, being an unmarried woman and working as the director was a bigger one. She used to get anonymous phone calls asking to stop the work or they would kill her.
Undeterred, Sister Lucy continued her efforts and today Maher has 43 homes for the needy. Maher has homes in Maharashtra, Kerala and Jharkhand. It is home to 300 women, 860 children and 72 men, all over India. Maher till date has had more than 7,000 women and children at its ‘Karunalaya’ home.
Maher has started 13 kindergartens, 11 tuition classes and 552 self-help groups, all of which it uses as a medium to spread awareness in villages regarding pertinent issues facing the country like female infanticide, AIDS awareness, gender bias etc.
Sister Lucy has received many national and international awards and Maher was also featured on the television show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by noted actor Aamir Khan. ln March 2016, Sister Lucy received the “Nari Shakti Puraskar” at the hands of the then President of lndia, Shri Pranab Mukherjee. She received a personal congratulatory note from the former US President, Bill Clinton. ln May this year, Maher was granted a “special consultative status” at the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UN-ECOSOC). Sr.
Sister Lucy’s journey from being a helpless bystander to this point has been very tough and it is difficult not to notice her courage in life.