Country mourns tragedy; workers agitate for safety
Every morning and evening, they would walk swiftly through the crowds in the country’s many industrial zones and hardly anyone would notice them. Yesterday, as 53 of them made their final procession, the nation took a pause.
The 53 workers, whose bodies were burnt beyond recognition in the deadly fire at Tazreen Fashions Ltd in Ashulia on Saturday night, remained unsung even after their tragic deaths as nobody could own them.
They were stashed into five cars owned by Anjuman Mufidul Islam, a charity organisation that provides free burial service, and taken for burial at a Jurain graveyard in the capital.
Thousands of people, however, still thronged the Dhaka City Corporation (South) graveyard since morning to witness their sending-off.
Among them were many whose relatives were caught in the inferno, from whom they did not hear since that fateful night. Lugubrious and in a flood of tears they were.
Fifty-two bodies arrived at about 3:15pm.
Witnesses said about 30,000 people stood inside the graveyard, while many others took to the roofs of the surrounding buildings.
A namaz-e-janaza was held before the dead were laid to rest. It all took about two hours to complete. Another was buried later in the night.
Some onlookers used the occasion to register their disgust at the government’s failure to bring to book the persons responsible for such fire incidents.
These incidents are recurring. In each case, the stories are same — the gate or the emergency staircase was locked, the government formed probe bodies and then comes the compensation.
“How long will it continue? If there is any lock, then there has to be some people to unlock them as well,” said a woman, seething with anger.
Another woman, who was watching the burial from a rooftop of an adjoining building, said: “The government always probes incidents after they take place, but why doesn’t it take any precautionary steps against these incidents?
“Why should the BGMEA [Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association] always wait for the government to do something? The BGMEA itself can monitor whether the factory is being set up with all the safety requirements.”
“The factories do not bother about safety measures because they do not feel pressured to do so,” the woman told The Daily Star, asking not to be named.
At the site of the blaze, more than 10,000 people gathered with many wearing black badges as a sign of mourning. Security forces were deployed, but no clashes were reported.
“I’ve lost my son and the only member to earn for the family,” said Nilufar Khatun, the mother of a worker who died. “What shall I do now?”
Meanwhile, different trade and socio-cultural organisations staged protests across the country, demanding justice for the victims of the fire that claimed at least 111 lives.
It was a murder, not a mere incident, labelled some of the organisations while observing the day of mourning nationwide in the memory of those died in the fire and a flyover collapse in Chittagong, both on the same night. At least 12 people died in the flyover collapse.
Wearing black badges and holding black flags, the protesters brought out mourning processions in parts of the country.
They demanded exemplary punishment to the people responsible, including the owners, after proper investigation.
Adequate compensation and rehabilitation of the victims’ families, along with ensuring workers’ safety at the factories, of course, were their other demands.
All garment factories were closed, and the national flag was at half-mast in all government and semi-government offices. The garment factories in the capital hoisted black flags.
Hundreds of grief-stricken garment workers in Ashulia held a mourning rally at Nishchintapur Primary School playground, seeking justice for the victims. Garment workers brought a procession from Mashrum gate in Savar and paraded different areas.
At a mourning rally in front of the Jatiya Press Club in the capital, Garment Sramik Trade Union Kendra threatened of going for tougher actions if their demands were not met.
They want the arrest and punishment of those responsible, including the owners of Tuba Group that owns the factory, Tk 10 lakh in compensation to each of the victims’ families and giving the right to form trade unions.
Karmachari Nari, a non-government organisation, formed a human chain at Manikganj bus stand on the Dhaka-Aricha highway yesterday to voice their demand for justice for the victims. Wearing black badges, a few hundred workingwomen of Manikganj district, joined the programme holding black flags.
In Tongi, around two thousand garment workers of the area brought out a mourning procession, chanting slogans like “Unite, all the workers of the world”. The demonstration blocked the Dhaka-Mymensingh highway for two hours, paralysing traffic movement.
Earlier in the day, two bodies were identified at Dhaka Medical College Hospital, from the 62 brought into the morgue on Sunday night.
Babul Mia said he identified his wife Mariam Begum, 25, who was apparently burnt beyond recognition, but he could identify her bangles and her small teeth.
Zahera Begum, who worked on the fifth floor of Tazreen Fashions, too, was identified by her husband Iqramul from her nose ring, bangles and necklace.
The DMCH premises also played host to another namaz-e-janaza which was attended by about 100 people that included Labour Minister Rajiuddin Ahmed Raju and BGMEA President Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin.
Speaking after the namaz-e-janaza, the minister said the factories with only one exit point would remain closed for the time being.
He also said teams would be sent to those factories to ensure that they do not use the exit points as warehouses and that movement of workers are not disrupted.
Raju said the factories would have to keep chemicals not only outside the building but also 100 yards away.
Meanwhile, Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir visited Tazreen Fashions and termed the incident an act of “sabotage”.
The government is determined to bring to justice the persons involved with the crime, the minister told reporters.
However, despite proper burials of the victims, members of at least one family could not console themselves.
Nilufa, who lost her father Nazrul Islam, mother Amena Begum, brother Md Nayan, and sister-in-law and Nayan’s wife Monira in the fire, all hailing from Dinajpur, went along with her two younger brothers Leon and Ratan from hospital to hospital in the last couple of days to find them.
But their last hope of getting their bodies ended with the burial, as they could not identify them from the charred bodies kept at the DMCH morgue.
“They knew that they would not get them alive. They just wanted their bodies,” said Khairul Hasan, one of their neighbours and also a worker of the garment factory, who accompanied them in the search.
Additional reporting by Wasim Bin Habib and Shaheen Mollah
Source: The Daily Star