After more than three decades of the terrorist bombing of Air India Kanishka Flight 182, the widow of its first officer killed along with all 329 on board is hurt that the only man convicted of the crime now walks free but the victims never got justice.
Amarjit Kaur Bhinder still chokes as she recalls the moments she learnt that the flight had crashed over the coast of Ireland with her husband, Captain SS Bhinder, in the cockpit. “I am finished… I replied to the phone call from London. Being a pilot’s wife, I knew no one could survive a mid-air crash,” she tells HT. Asked after the release of lone convict Inderjit Singh Reyat if she thinks justice was done, she replies: “No justice was done. It will never be done.”
“It was Sunday on June 23, 1985. I was in Bombay (now Mumbai), as Air India used to have just one base to operate the specific aircraft. I got a call from Punjabi film actor Veerendra, who had got to know about the crash from another Punjabi actor in London. He enquired about my husband. I told him he was landing in London. He asked me whether I was sure he was on that Air India flight. I asked him what had happened... and he told me there had been a crash,” she recalls in a stifled voice.
Reyat served 15 years for the Kanishka bombing and nine more for perjury (lying repeatedly during the course of the trial, which led to the release of two other accused, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri). He was also convicted of the murder of two baggage handlers at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport in an almost synchronised explosion. “If the law of the land permits his release, I do not have any problem. He has hidden the identity of the other culprits,” says Amarjit Kaur.
“When Malik and Bagri were tried in 2004, we went to attend the proceedings on the invitation of the Canadian government. But nothing came out of that,” says Amarjit Kaur. She had also requested former prime minister Manmohan Singh for a memorial in Delhi dedicated to the crash victims. “Nothing happened. After 30 years, I have stopped asking for anything,” she adds.
Amarjit Kaur was in her 30s when the crash took place. She had a son and a daughter to look after. Just a month before the crash, the family had been to Washington on sojourn. Her life changed forever but she went on with the task of bringing up her children. She says the crash did not deter her son from following his dream of becoming a pilot, and though persuaded not to go for it, even her daughter, later, married a pilot.
“Both children loved a pilot’s life. My son (Captain Asham Singh Bhinder) wanted to fly since he was 3. When I couldn’t persuade him to choose some other career, I supported him,” she says. Capt Bhinder had retired from the Indian Air Force as squadron leader and joined Air India in October 1977. After the crash, Amarjit Kaur got a job at the Air India office in Sector 17, Chandigarh, and she moved to Malaysia, later, as the carrier’s country manager.
“A lot of years have passed. Our loss is our alone. Nothing can compensate us,” she says. She has her husband’s image as display picture on WhatsApp, along with the status “Kuchh door aur to chalte saath mere (wish you could go a little further with me on this journey)”.