Salute to Jean Kay, the friend of the distressed | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 21, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 21, 2012

Salute to Jean Kay, the friend of the distressed

Jean Kay was 28 years old in 1971. This Frenchman had fought in Biafra and Yemen. The horror of the war cut a deep impression in his mind. During his tenure of service he developed feeling and affection for the refugees and poor people. After returning from the war zone, he engaged himself in social work. He devoted himself to serve the poor. He became aware of the atrocities being committed by Pakistan army on the people of Bangladesh. He studied in depth the refugee problem and became aware of the lack of medicine and food supplies in the camps. He came to know through the newspapers about the large number of people, especially children dyeing in the camps. He decided to do something on his own for the helpless poor in the camps.
On December 3, 1971, Pakistan air force attacked the air fields of India adjacent to the border and subsequently Indian Government declared war on Pakistan. On that day Jean Kay, a French electronics technician prepared a meticulous plan and decided to execute it all by himself. He took a pistol and a small box containing wires and left for the Orly airport in Paris. He managed to board the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight 720B at Orly airport. Jean Kay selected the time and date of his operation because at that time the German Chancellor Willy Brandt was supposed to arrive at Orly airport for talks with French President Pompidou. He thought that security officials' attention would be diverted more towards the President and the Chancellor.
After the air craft left the boarding area, Jean Kay went into the cockpit with his pistol in his hand and ordered the pilots to cut the engine power. That was at 11:50 hours in the morning. He threatened the pilots with his pistol saying if they did not cooperate with him, they would be shot. He also threatened to destroy the air craft with a bomb which he said was inside the box being carried by him. Jean Kay got an interpreter among the passengers who could translate his French into English. The Pakistani passengers were terrified. However, he appeared to be courteous and did not harm anyone in the air craft. For six hours he kept the air craft under his control and kept on demanding his terms with the control tower. He demanded 20 tons of medical supplies and relief materials to be boarded on the air craft and flown to Bangladesh where refugees were sufferings. He also said that his terms are non-negotiable. Jean Kay threatened the people in the tower that any adventure made by law enforcing agencies would result in the destruction of the air craft and cause loss of human lives.
After long negotiation, the French authorities agreed to cooperate with Jean Kay. They informed him that the French Red Cross would arrange to deliver the medicine to the air craft and requested that no passengers were to be harmed. French Red Cross took the support of a charitable organization namely, Ordre de Malte. Immediately a truck with medicines and baby milk of French Red Cross along with personnel from Ordre de Malte approached the air craft and conducted loading of one ton of medicine in the cargo hold of the air craft. A second truck full of medicine was approaching the air craft but the driver, warehouse men, mechanics and Red Cross workers were disguised policemen. They informed Jean Kay that they would deliver penicillin and other sensitive medicines into the cockpit as storing them in the cargo hold would damage them. The disguised policemen in the Red Cross attire were also requesting Jean Kay for permission for eight passengers and one child to leave the air craft. When the disguised policemen entered the air craft with penicillin boxes, Jean Kay did not suspect them and started receiving the boxes. Immediately after boarding the air craft, the policemen ceased Jean Kay. Four policemen were wearing Red Cross arm bands and two other dressed as mechanic. Some of them entered through the gate of the air craft and others through the trap doors. The four policemen pounced on Jean Kay who fired one round but no injury was caused. The box he showed to be containing explosives was found to be a harmless box filled with only electric wires.
Rest of the policemen quickly guided the passengers out of the air craft. After being fully overpowered and handcuffed, Jean Kay was taken out of the air craft, put into an ambulance with escort and driven to Orly Police Station. He was interrogated by the authorities in the police station where he clearly mentioned that he had undertaken the action to help the suffering humanity as there was no other way he could help them. He was put under arrest and the authorities prepared to prosecute him.
The passengers in the airport were questioned by the police on the episode. They told the police that Jean Kay never pointed the pistol to any of the passengers, did not maltreat anyone and told the passengers he was doing it for sending the medicine for the refugees and poor people in Bangladesh. Soon after completion of checking of the air craft, the PIA flight with passengers left for Karachi.
Later that day, the French Red Cross and the Order of Knights Hospitaliers of Malta declared that 20 tons of medicines for which Jean Kay planned to hijack the air craft will be sent to the refugees of Bangladesh immediately and this promise was implemented. The hijacking had failed but aid was sent to the refugees.
During Liberation War of Bangladesh, many people supported the suffering humanity in different ways. Jean Kay was an adventurous young man who got much of his inspiration for serving humanity by reading books of Andre Malraux. After being taken into the police custody he was produced before the court and Andre Malraux, the Former Minister of France and human rights activist stood in the court as a friend of the accused. Andre Malraux, the great defender of Bangladesh cause testified in favor of Jean Kay. That could not help Jean Kay to remain out of jail. He was sentenced to five-year imprisonment. During the trial French lawyer Jean-Marc Varaut defended him. On release from prison he kept on his mission of serving suffering humanity across the globe in India, West Indies, Australia, etc.

The writer is a Freedom Fighter.

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