Netflix’s Indian series ‘Trial by Fire’ revolves around the true story of the 1997 Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy, which took the lives of fifty-nine individuals, along with around a hundred others injured. The series follows the efforts of Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, the parents of two of the victims Unnati and Ujjwal, to seek justice for the families of the victims of the tragedy. As the series depicts, Neelam and Shekhar have been fighting for the justice the victims and their families deserve for around two and a half decades. Intrigued by their heart-rending and inspirational saga, we have found more about their current whereabouts. If you are eager to know more about the same, you are at the right place!
Who Are Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy?
Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy are the parents of 17-year-old Unnati and 13-year-old Ujjwal, two of the victims of the Uphaar Cinema fire tragedy. On June 13, 1997, a fire started in Uphaar Cinema theatre, reportedly due to improper maintenance of the electric transformer at the establishment, eventually causing a stampede and killing fifty-nine individuals, including Neelam and Shekhar’s two children. After mourning the deaths of their children, Neelam and Shekhar thoroughly learned about the tragedy and realized that the fire could have been avoided, which led them to take legal action against Sushil and Gopal Ansal, the owners of the establishment.
Under the guidance of Supreme Court of India advocate K. T. S. Tulsi, Neelam and Shekhar formed an organization named Association of The Victims of Uphaar Tragedy (AVUT) and reached out to the families of the other victims to start a legal battle against the Ansals. AVUT filed a civil compensation case against the Ansals and the Delhi government. In 2003, the Delhi High Court found the Ansals, Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), Delhi Vidyut Board, and the licensing authority guilty of negligence and asked the guilty parties to compensate the families of the victims with ₹25 crores.
Neelam and Shekhar’s fight didn’t end with the compensation case. Following a petition filed by AVUT, through Neelam, the Delhi police filed an evidence-tampering case prominently against the Ansals. In 2007, the Ansals and the other defendants were sentenced to two years in prison. As a result of Neelam and Shekhar’s decades-long legal battles, Sushil and Gopal got sentenced to seven years in jail in the aforementioned evidence-tampering case.
Where Are Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy Now?
Although Neelam, Shekhar, and their organization AVUT received favorable court decisions, their fight is far from over. To this day, Neelam and Shekhar believe that justice hasn’t been delivered to their two children Unnati, Ujjwal, and other victims, which keeps their legal battle alive. “We didn’t spend as much time with our children on this Earth as we have seeking justice for their murders. We are serving a living death sentence; it has been 26 years, and it is still on,” the couple told The Indian Express in January 2023. The Krishnamoorthys’ words are connected to Sushil and Gopal’s release from prison following a July 2022 verdict.
Neelam and Shekhar published their book ‘Trial by Fire: The Tragic Tale of the Uphaar Fire Tragedy’ in 2016 to provide a detailed take on the tragedy, the aftermath, and the legal battles that followed. The couple associated with the television adaptation of their book after losing any hope they had in the judicial system of India. “We hope our story will inspire others to be, and to remain, resilient in the face of what is unfortunately an accused-friendly judicial system,” Shekhar said in the same The Indian Express interview.
Neelam and Shekhar still live in their home located in Noida, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, with the memories of Unnati and Ujjwal. Although friends and well-wishers have proposed the idea of a new family, the couple cannot think about raising another child. “Whenever someone would suggest we try to start a new family, my response was the same: my children were not toys that can be replaced. Moreover, had we had another child, we don’t think we would have been able to let them even step out of the house after what happened to us. And that would have been unfair to them,” Shekhar added.
Before Unnati and Ujjwal’s deaths, Neelam and Shekhar were in business. After starting their legal battles, they reduced the same to almost 15% since they didn’t want to make money when their children aren’t with them to use it. Still, they found a way to survive. “I look back and ask Neelam how did we sustain for 25 years. She said it is the strength of our children,” Shekhar told Bar and Bench in 2021. “They are always behind us,” added Neelam in the same interview.
After nearly 26 years of legal battles, Neelam and Shekhar aren’t done. They are not ready to stop fighting for their children. As far as Shekhar is concerned, he made a promise to his children to fight for them despite the challenges that come their way. Neelam and Shekhar continue to honor the same promise. “That day, when we came back home, I asked Neelam what do you want to do? She said I want to fight, and that is what we have been doing and will keep doing,” Shekhar added in the same The Indian Express interview.