Hari Singh Hijacked a Plane to Protest Babri Mosque and Communal Violence
Protesters, with time, have devised novel forms of protests, which at times can be weird as well as funny.
On 27 March, 1993 an Indian Airlines Airbus flight – IC439 took off at 6:25 hours from Delhi to Chennai with a stopover at Hyderabad. At 7:00 hours, Hari Singh who was occupying seat no. 9A handed over a letter to air hostess and demanded that it should be given to the pilot. This 31 pages long letter demanded that the flight should be diverted to Islamabad, Pakistan as Hari Singh claimed to be a human bomb.
In the letter Hari Singh claimed that he was an LTTE trained human bomb and if his demands were not met the flight with all the 192 passengers and 11 crew members would meet the same fate as former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan Defence Minister Ranjan Wijeratne (both were assassinated by human bombs). He further gave reference to 12th March Bombay bomb blasts and 14th March Calcutta blasts in the letter to threaten the pilot.
Interesting was the reason of hijacking. He stated, “I hijacked the plane to protest the growing communalism and the violation of the Constitution of India by the Indian Government. I am a true Indian citizen and peace loving … the hijacking of the plane will highlight corrupt politics.” Singh further said that he was distressed at the demolition of Babri Mosque as it was a blot on India’s secular character. The communal violence which claimed the lives of thousands, mostly Muslims, aggravated his anger.
The letter further went on to say that since he had no quarrel with the pilot or the passengers, it would be in the fitness that the pilot obeys the command and divert the aircraft from its scheduled flight path, and land instead at Islamabad, Pakistan. The letter warned that if the demands – to divert the aircraft were not heeded, the aircraft would meet the same fate which was the result of tragic events in Bombay and Calcutta. The captain was asked to intimate about the hijacking of the aircraft to the Indian Government, as also the Pakistani envoy in India. The letter went on to express the hope that it would be in the interests of all if the news of hijacking were not publicized to avoid alarm and panic to passengers, particularly to women and children on board. The letter stated that as a truly secular citizen, as long as the author’s demands were complied with, no obstruction would be forthcoming, and he would act like a true citizen. At the end of the letter, the author voiced the following demands:
- 40 days’ political asylum in Pakistan;
- A press conference in Islamabad, prior to surrender (of the hijacker);
- Entrusting investigation of the hijacking, of IC 439, to Interpol.
The pilot, as instructed, diverted the flight towards Pakistan. Since, fuel was not enough to reach Islamabad Hari Singh agreed upon landing the aircraft at Lahore airport. But, Pakistan authorities on instruction of PM Nawaz Sharif denied the landing to the aircraft. The aircraft, after hovering over Lahore for 40 minutes, landed at the Amritsar airport.
Hari Singh demanded that the aircraft be refueled and taken to New Delhi where a press conference should be summoned. KPS Gill, who talked to him in the guise of a reporter, (DG Punjab Police) convinced Hari Singh that his message is being conveyed to the world through radio. Hari Singh surrendered after that. He was a school teacher from Jhajjar, Haryana and had sold jewellery of his wife to purchase an air ticket.
Though he was awarded a life imprisonment for the misadventure but Delhi High Court (in 2011) noted, “ Perhaps he genuinely did not mean to harm anyone. Further, the issues and concerns he voiced in his long letter, are a matter of public concern, which should engage robust and meaningful debate in our society, if we are to overcome the multifarious challenges faced by the country. The issues are such as would worry every citizen, and lead him to think for solutions. Yet, the court is also equally mindful of the fact that even if the end- i.e highlighting the pressing need to address such public issues – is noble and unexceptionable, it is vital that the means to achieve it are also equally blameless.”
(Author is a well known Historian)