Friday the 13th memories haunt Uphaar victims’ kin

June 13th, 2008 - 7:05 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 13 (IANS) The painful memories came flooding back again - of the smiling, cheerful visages now just dusty photographs with a name - as families of the 59 people who lost their lives in the Uphaar fire tragedy gathered Friday to remember their loved ones. Uncannily, it was also a Friday that day eleven years ago when the billowing smoke in the movie theatre swamped the premises, asphyxiating to death most of the 59 who had come to enjoy an afternoon outing to watch Bollywood blockuster “Border”.

The families gathered for a memorial service at the site of the tragedy on the 11th death anniversary of their loved ones and lit 59 lamps in memory of their kin at a black-marbled plaque.

They conducted a small puja and one by one placed flowers at the memorial, called Smriti Upvan, opposite the now-shut cinema hall. They also observed a two-minute silence.

Tears misted the eyes of most of the families gathered there. But they were held together by the determination not to lose hope and to continue with their battle for justice.

Neelam Krishnamoorthy, who lost her teenaged daughter and son in the fire, told IANS: “The accused are running around freely. They didn’t stay in jail even for two days.”

Krishnamoorthy, who is also president of the Association of the Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), said it was Friday the 13th that day too - “the most unlucky day of our lives. And today is the same day. We know how we are living each day. The only hope is that we will get justice one day.”

Although, the Delhi High Court held guilty the owners of the building, brothers Sushil and Gopal Ansal, and also the city fire department and the civic body for not adhering to safety norms at the cinema hall and slapped penalties, the victims’ families say it is too little.

A city court convicted all the 12 accused, including the Ansals. They were sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. Both the Ansals are out on bail.

Their appeals challenging their convictions are pending in the Delhi High Court.

Harish Dang, who lost five members of his family, including wife and son, said he has been fighting the case in the court for a decade. “Only hope of getting justice is keeping me alive,” said Dang, wiping away his tears.

Naveen Sawhaney, who lost his daughter, said they would fight till their last breath.

“Fifty nine people died and yet there is no imprisonment to anybody, whereas if a single person is murdered the culprits are given life imprisonment,” he said.

“We would like to appeal to people to come and join us in our fight for justice,” Sawhaney said.

“If rules are made, then they should be implemented rather than just be written on paper,” said Neelam Krishnamoorthy’s husband Shekhar.

“All evidence is there, but no action has been taken,” he added.

In the 1997 tragedy, 103 cine-goers were also injured. The fire was caused due to a fault in the electric generator, investigators said.

By the time the audience realised there was a fire, it was too late. Many died of asphyxiation while others lost their lives in the stampede that followed.

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