Little would have Captain Harsh Tiwari imagined while flying Air India aircraft that even almost 10 days after his death due to Covid, his daughter would be waiting for him -- she hasn't been informed yet. The 37-year-old's family wouldn't be devastated, as it is today, if he'd only been treated as a frontline worker and vaccinated against the disease, his wife said today tearfully.
"I'm in Haridwar to perform the last rites of my husband…My in-laws are old. They are retired. I have a five-year-old. We had just started our lives," Mridusmita Das Tiwari told NDTV, recalling his passion for flying.
Captain Tiwari had joined Air India in 2016.
As their daughter, unaware of the catastrophe that has befallen her, cuddled up to a distraught Ms Tiwari, she seemed curious about the goings-on.
"She is waiting for her father to come back. She knows he is in a hospital and keeps asking why he's taking so long. She's not used to being without him," Ms Tiwari said unable to hold back tears.
She isn't the only one in such distress, though.
Up to 17 pandemic-related deaths have been reported among pilots in India over the past year -- 13 of them since February 2021 alone.
"To date, there is no scheme for adequate compensation to pilots in case of their demise. There is no insurance or any other such scheme providing a safety net to pilots. Hence, by this petition filed in public interest, the petitioner seeks to agitate the cause of pilots who have rendered incessant national service for the past more than 14 months," a statement from the Federation of Indian Pilots, a body of over 5,000 members, said today.
The federation, whose members belong to a number of airlines, including Air India, SpiceJet, and IndiGo, has pled before the Bombay High Court for the creation of a separate category, "Air Transportation Workers", under the 'frontline worker' tag.
In Air India alone, up to 1,995 personnel had tested positive with 583 needing hospitalisation till February this year. Over 2.21 million passengers were repatriated through the airline's 16,306 Vande Bharat flights till that month.
"Sandeep was never scared of operating these Vande Bharat flights. He flew to places where no one was ready to go. He was very proud of serving the nation at the current time of crisis," said Shalu Rana, wife of the late Captain Sandeep Rana of Air India.
Captain Rana was 61 years old and among five senior Air India pilots to have passed away in May due to Covid, according to a PTI report.
"This is not the way that our husbands and fathers should have gone. It's not done. They should have been considered frontline workers and given vaccines on time," said Ms Rana.
The people left behind by these pilots are immensely proud of the fact that they laid lives "in the line of duty".
Captain Prasad Karmakar's daughter, Purva Karmakar, for instance, said everyone in her family knew the risks of flying in these pandemic conditions. All the more reason for her to salute him, Ms Karmakar said.
The veteran pilot joined Air India in 1991 and had been part of the Vande Bharat Mission, flying in stranded Indians from various parts of the world.
"I'm only sad that due to a lack of vaccination, he had to lose his life in the line of duty," she said.