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Kerala Social Worker Sifiya Haneef to Get Neerja Bhanot Award for Helping Widows, Distressed Families

24 Jun 2019 08:06 PM, IST

Kerala Social Worker Sifiya Haneef to Get Neerja Bhanot Award for Helping Widows, Distressed Families
Kerala social worker Sifiya Haneef chosen for Neerja Bhanot Award-2018

India Tomorrow

Palakkad, Kerala, June 24—Kerala-based social worker Sifiya Haneef will soon be conferred the Neerja Bhanot Award-2018 for her exemplary contribution towards helping widows in distress and more than 300 families by providing them homes, constructing toilets in colonies, distributing medicine and providing pensions.


The Neerja Bhanot Pan Am Trust had instituted the award in 1990 to honour brave senior flight purser Neerja Bhanot. In the event of the infamous hijack of a Pan Am plane at Karachi Airport in September 1986, Neerja had saved hundreds of lives at the cost of her own.


Sifiya Haneef will be conferred the award on the coming September 7 on the occasion of Neerja’s birthday this year. The award carries a cash prize of Rs. 1.5 lakh, a citation and a trophy. It is conferred to an Indian woman who, braves social injustice with courage and steely resolve and also helps other woman in social distress along with helping herself.


“Sifiya got married when she was 16 and was forced to quit her education. Unfortunately, her husband died when she was 20. She had two children by then. Sifiya wished to continue her studies but did not get any support. Not willing to give up, she took on a part-time job and resumed her studies. After a lot of struggle and realizing that life was very tough not only for her but for other widows as well, she started spending her salary on helping widows. She started a Facebook page called 'Chithal' (Malyalam word for termite) where she wrote about the issues facing widows,” a report in The New Indian Express quoted Akhil Bhanot, the Managing Trustee of Neerja Bhanot Trust as saying.

According to Akhil, in her journey as a social worker, Sifiya met a lot of sick mothers, kids, elderly people, cancer patients and more. Sifiya had started receiving public support to help her solve the issues of common people after she began update her social media on the problems those people she later helped were facing.


Speaking to India Tomorrow over phone about her extraordinary achievement Sifiya said, “In my place, widows are not very educated hence they face all kinds of problems. When I went to their colonies, I found that many such women were not aware of their hygiene, basic rights or importance of education. They plainly depend on their parents, who are indulged in daily wages jobs. Besides, many widows have children who are mentally challenged and need to be taken care of. Many families don’t have access to proper nutrition and so I gathered such families. These days I am distributing rice and other staple items to them.”


Sifiya belongs to Mangalampalam area in Palakkad district.


“I was married off at 16 and four years later, I became a widow. I have two little kids. That time, I was not educated and hence struggled a lot to pursue my education, while taking care of the kids. I faced a lot of challenges as a widow and that made me to realize the actual condition of a widow. While working with them I got to know that lots of widows were suffering with kidney diseases and cancer. Initially, I had selected five families with my salary, now it is around 300,” said Sifiya.


Sifiya’s family wanted to confine her within the four walls of her home but she stepped out and mingled with people, learned how to drive and left for Bengaluru after she got fed up with the social stigma for being a widow. There she landed a job in a call centre where she learned first-hand what it felt to be independent, claimed a report published in the Deccan Herald titled ‘Palakkad’s very own Chithal’.

“The trust got to know about me through my Facebook page where I keep updating my work. I’m happy because I’m getting a space to share my experience with the people, this will inspire other people like me,” she told India Tomorrow when asked as to how she got noticed by Neerja Bhanot Pan Am trust.


Former Pan Am trainer and author Wendy Sue Knecht, who will fly down from Los Angeles to preside over the award ceremony in Chandigarh, Punjab, will be conferring the award on Sifiya. Wendy was working at Pan Am airline and had trained Neerja in the 1980s. The book Wendy penned on the incident is titled, ‘Love, Life and a Hijacking’.

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