Prayer meet for Uphaar victims

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New Delhi, June 13:  On the sixteenth anniversary of Uphaar fire tragedy, the families of the victims held a prayer meeting in memory of 59 persons who died in a theatre in New Delhi and vowed to resolutely continue their fight for justice.

Association of Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT), which has been spearheading the legal battle, said families of the victims have waited too long for justice and government must ensure that the guilty are punished.

“Today is my birthday. I had given the money to my son to go see the film that day. Nobody in the family, not my wife, nor my son wishes me now. Today I only got a message from the bank wishing me. We used to celebrate my birthday every year,” said Amrit Sehgal who lost his 31-year-old son in the tragedy.

The prayer meet was held in Smriti Upavan at Green Park Extension, opposite the site of Uphaar hall.

“My grandmother is 65 years plus. She has to live alone. That is the plight of losing a young son,” said Surabhi Parashar who had lost her maternal uncle in the fire.

“It’s been 16 years and my mom hasn’t seen a film. She is apprehensive even when I ask her to go out for a film,” said Parashar.

Kanwal Bhalla, who lost her husband in the fire, recounted the difficulty of raising her two small kids and how they suffer “the pain everyday”.

“I was in the hall with him (husband) and my daughter was with us. I was holding his hand when it happened. I saw everything. Everyday we live the same pain.”

Neelam Krishnamoorthy, President of AVUT, who lost her two children in the fire, expressed her “frustration” for delay in justice to the victims of the families and wondered whether the guilty will be punished in her lifetime.

A number of family members of the victims said no changes have taken place in terms of fire safety in public buildings all these years despite the tragedy.

59 people had died of asphyxia on June 13, 1997 during the screening of Hindi blockbuster movie Border.

“There are no changes. People are still dying in fire incidents,” said Mr. Sehgal said.

Echoing his views, Ms. Krishnamoorthy said, “In India there is no value for human life. Everything in the country has gone up except the value of human life.”

The Delhi High Court had on December 19, 2009, sentenced the owners of Uphaar Cinema – Sushil and Gopal Ansal – and former Delhi Fire Service staff H S Panwar to one year jail term.

Three others – gate keeper Manmohan Unniyal, Delhi Vidyut Board employees Brij Mohan Satija and Bir Singh – were awarded two-year jail term.

The appeal against the high court’s judgement is pending in the Supreme Court.

On June 13, 1997, during the screening of blockbuster Hindi film “Border”, a fire had engulfed the theatre, killing 59 people and injuring many in the subsequent stampede.

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