Zulfiqar Khan. A name that echoed in the ears of hundreds of children for reasons aplenty. At one time, they looked up to him as a mentor, a confidante, a friend. The name echoes in their ears today too, but it brings with it horrid set of memories. He was someone who was admired widely for helping children from slum colonies of Chandigarh.
But seven-year sentence by the additional and sessions judge JS Sidhu, for unnatural offence and sale, distribution of obscene objects to young person, on Friday, has come as a surprise to many.The judgment states that, ‘…the mitigating circumstances are that there has not been any case against the convict earlier. He is the earning hand member of his family and he has to support his family. His NGO has done a lot for the upliftment of the children. Due to these reasons, he deserves for a liberal view while passing the sentence.’
The convict had pleaded, ‘On the point of sentence I submit that firstly without questioning my reputation in the Society for running NGO Theater Age has gone too high in the Society at Chandigarh and my works are recommended and appreciated by everyone. I have family to support.’ He had also stated that there was no evidence to show high-handedness. The court was also told that, ‘In some countries, homosexuality had ceased to be an offence. On this ground also, the liberal view can be taken against the convict and he can be punished with the imprisonment which he has already undergone.’
Theatre Age students perturbed
The remote hope, that perhaps few innocent and unsuspecting students of Zulfiqar’s NGO Theatre Age had, is also lost. The conviction of their mentor has come as a shocker, even though some claim they knew of the crime all along, but coming out in the open came with a baggage of its own.
For Ajay Kumar Machal, 35, who was at school from 1992 to 2001, it is something he became aware of in 2006. “Twice, I found him with two kids on the third floor in the building in Sector 25, yet I didn’t know how to prove what had happened. I was scared to come out in the open.” Currently a peon at Panjab University, he feels Khan should have been given at least 10 year rigorous imprisonment.
On the other hand, Raman, 26, who just completed his masters at government college, Sector 10, is in shock. “I didn’t ever want to believe the allegations against Zulfi sahab could be true. One had that ray of hope that it might all be false, but now that the court has given this judgment there has be to be some truth in it. I am shocked beyond words,” said Raman, who was a part of the NGO for almost 12 years.“I find it rather ironical that the man who once mocked Asaram Bapu for the charges of molestation, was responsible for sexually assaulting kids himself,” said Nitish Sheriya, another former student of the NGO (2009-2011).
An independent videographer in Chandigarh now, Nitish told HT, “It is difficult to come to terms with someone whom you once looked up to so much, could commit such a heinous crime.”
He added that since he had never experienced any of this himself, he would often think if this could be true at all. “Now that he has been held guilty, I can’t think of what those children must have gone through. I wish Zulfiqar had been awarded life-imprisonment.”Strap: Theatre Age sodomy case The conviction of their mentor has come as a shocker, even though some claim they knew of the crime all along