“I told her, ‘If people like you go and settle abroad, what will be the future of Pakistan,’ ” said Almas Bano while regretting calling her daughter, Neelam Barkat Ali, back from the United Kingdom. Neelam was among the 98 victims who died a year ago on May 22 (today) in PK-8303 tragedy (PIA plane crash) as they were travelling from Lahore to Karachi.
Neelam, who became an orphan at the age of three, completed her master’s degree from the University of Karachi after which she recieved a scholarship to pursue an MPhil programme at the University of Nottingham, and left for the UK.
In an interview with Dialogue Pakistan, Bano said Neelam didn’t want to come back, but on her mother’s request she did so. After returing back to Pakistan, she was offered a job at Concept Fertility Centre Lahore, away from her hometown in Karachi.
On the day of the incident, Neelam called her mother at around 11 a.m. before leaving for the airport, She then again contacted her family last time at around 1 p.m. when she entered inside the plane.
A night before the ill-fated day, Bano was on a video call with her daughter, telling her what to wear and to follow precautions in the wake of COVID-19 Pandemic, she told Dialogue Pakistan.
Bano said she had recieved the news of the plane crash on Television before rushing to the site.
She continued: “No dead body was identifiable. It took them (authorities) nine days to confirm Neelam’s body, which was totally burnt, through DNA verification.”
According to her mother, Neelam was a scientist, researcher and one of the finest embryologists in Pakistan. “She was excited and wanted to celebrate Eid with us at home,” Bano added.
The bereaved mother wrote letters to the prime minister, the president and the cheif justice. In this regard, she also held meetings with Governor Sindh Imran Ismail and CEO Pakistan International Airlines Arshad Malik but only to be dissappointed at the end.
In August 2020, the PIA announced to increase the amount of compensation to the heirs of the victims of PK-8303 tragedy to Rs 10 million per passenger.
According to Bano, the victims have turned down the compensation because it is being offered on a condition of forgoing their right to question the crash and the circumstances that led to it.
Bano has demanded a formation of commission in order to complete the inquiry of the incident which, she said, killed 97 people. She further requested the higher authorities to include the victims’ families in the comission as third party.
However, Neelam’s sister confirmed that only the amount of Rs1 million (10 lakh) had been given so far.
“In 73 years, our institutions have not improved and there will also be no improvement in next 73 years [….] mothers like me will continue to lose their children,” remarked Bano whose only demand is a better compensation and fair investigation of the incident which took the sole breadwinner of her house.
Watch Dialogue Pakistan’s full conversation with Almas Bano