From the freedom of the clear, blue sky, Beant Kaur, one of India's first women pilots, found herself confined within the four walls of the room — allegedly by her adopted son. This, in the autumn of her life.
“My adopted son and his wife kept us in captivity, subjecting us to mental and physical torture. Even relatives were not allowed to meet us,” says Beant. She used to stay with her younger sister, the late Satwant Kaur, in their sprawling bungalow in Sector 3, one of Chandigarh’s poshest areas. The sisters decided to move out of the house in 2004. After they sold their portion for Rs 1.5 crore, they donated a large chunk to the tsunami relief fund.
It was the more outspoken Satwant, who died in March last year at the age of 89, who raised an outcry against the torture. After the sisters donated the money, she had told HT, “The money is now in good hands and will be used for a good cause. We went through hell for 25 years because of my nephew. He alleged that our relatives were helping us for the sake of money and property and feared that my sister will give everything away to them.”
Beant went on to file a case against her son, and became an icon of courage under fire to the city’s large silver population. “It was painful to file a case against my own son, whom I had brought up with so much love and care. But there was no option left,” a moist-eyed Beant now says.
With the court currently examining the prosecution witnesses, Beant would rather not talk about the case. When we meet her at her relative’s house, we find a nostalgic Beant eager to talk about the high she got flying with her husband, the late Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh. “My dear husband would gently slap me whenever I would make mistakes while flying,” she reminisces. His words continue to inspire her. “He would always say — ‘Sky is the limit. Keep flying and fight for your rights. If you are right, then no power in the world can stop you from winning…rather, the world will be with you,’” she says.
Beant has turned her ancestral house in Nawanshahr into a stitching centre for poor and needy girls. She now spends her day in prayers and spiritual reading, with Satwant’s portrait in her room urging her to fight on, day after day.
Beant’s dream to “do something different from other women” inspired her to take up flying as a young woman. Years later, her flight’s trajectory is still different from that of most senior citizens, who are often unable to fight abuse. And her fight for justice continues.