NEELAM KRISHNAMOORTHY was content being a housewife, a mother and a partner in her husband Shekhar’s business, until the Uphaar inferno consumed her two children — Ujjwal and Unnati.
Krishnamoorthy was a totally different person the day after the fire as she took it upon herself to take on the theatre’s management and ensure that the guilty were brought to book. Thus was born the Association of the Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT).
The woman, who has now become a role model for many today, said: “I had two choices. I could either sit at home and cry or go out and fight for justice. I chose the latter as I knew that my children died because of the negligence of the theatre management. This was despite all my relatives advising me not to take on a powerful lobby like the Ansals.”
With her husband Shekhar’s help Krishnamoorthy began the difficult task of contacting the relatives of other victims by scanning obituary columns. After what was a painful effort, she brought together 29 grief-stricken families and launched AVUT on June 30 1997, within a couple of weeks of the tragedy.
“It was not merely an attempt to share our grief but also to ensure that such a tragedy never happened again. When the forum was born, I made a promise to my dead children that I would avenge them by seeing the guilty punished,” Krishnamoorthy told the Hindustan Times.
The main objective of the AVUT was to “initiate appropriate court proceedings to address the grievances of victims of the Uphaar tragedy, a vow to fight for justice and to take the proceedings to their logical conclusion,” she added.
Though despair and frustration have been her constant companions, Krishnamoorthy was all grit and determination as she sat through prolonged trial court hearings, making copious notes, briefing the press. She also did not hesitate to knock on the doors of the high court and the Supreme Court whenever the situation arose.
With senior lawyer K.T.S. Tulsi by her side in court ready to intervene whenever they felt the prosecution was going wayward, they won their first victory on April 24, 2003. The high court asked the Ansals, Delhi Vidyut Board, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi and the DCP (licensing) to together pay Rs 25 crore as compensation.
On Tuesday, reacting to the court’s verdict, Neelam said: “We are very unhappy that the Ansals have been let off lightly. We will move the high court seeking a stiffer punishment.”