(MR Zine, 25 April 2013, http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2013/chowdhury250413.html)
Bangladesh stands petrified as an unprecedented horror unfolds in Savar, near the capital city of Dhaka. In the morning of the 24th of April, a nine-story building crashed down in Savar Bazaar. Thousands of garments workers were in the building. The death toll, as of this writing, was more than 175, with over 1,000 injured, according to a Dhaka daily. Thousands are still trapped under the pile of concrete rubble.
The deadliest of all such incidents in recent history, the situation worsens with the scorching heat. The challenge now is to rescue the survivors. The dead can wait for now. Time is running short and the death toll will rise with each passing day.
The building was not approved by the RAJUK, the authority for capital city development. Nonetheless it was there. On the 23rd of April, the building developed cracks in some of its pillars which were considered fatal, and it was ordered to remain closed until further scrutiny by experts from Bangladesh University of Technology (BUET). A number of garments factories were in the building. Though ordered by the Industrial Police to suspend all operations, the factory owners decided to continue them. So, the workers were forced to remain in the building despite their protest. They were chased with clubs to join work, according to a number of Dhaka dailies.
At around nine a.m. the whole structure collapsed in minutes. Around 4,000 workers were working inside the nine stories of the building when it crumbled to a two-story height! A hell was created on earth!
What is it like to be buried alive? It is stygian dark, it feels airless, and the debris all around presses down so no movement is possible. The memory of light slowly fades away, dehydration creeps in, the heart beats slower, then death comes, and the victim can feel every painful second of it. And that may be the situation now under that pile of concrete in Savar.
Facts surpass fictions. Above are hard facts, emotionless facts, faceless facts. More than 175 dead, thousands injured, all are facts. Crushed lives, crushed dreams, those are facts too! Hands that built are broken, faces that laughed are broken, legs that ran are broken, hearts that beat are broken.
Those workers, they came to the city from villages. They came to Dhaka to earn a simple living, to support their families. They wanted to earn, they dreamed to break free from poverty, they dreamed their children to be educated, they dreamed to live like anyone else. And, now, they can dream no more. The child who has lost his parents, the parents who have lost their child, the wife who has lost her husband, the husband who has lost his wife, they all had so many dreams. And now they are no more. They were cheated in life and now they have been cheated in death. And all they wanted was to live decently.
A rescue operation is underway. Oxygen and water have been supplied. The authorities say it may take two or three days. With a small mistake the whole situation can turn worse as the giant debris is precariously angled and risks unsettling with the slightest jolt. As the dead pile up, the living stand in horror. In the blame game being played, some are unable to comment and some are just out of reach. The nation mourns.
But haven’t we mourned enough? Haven’t we asked enough for explanations? Haven’t we cried enough for justice? Yet, why do our questions remain unanswered? Who will answer for the crushing of thousands of dreams? And who will stand trial for the killing of hundreds?
Lives of workers are the least costly of all commodities. The Savar crash incident stands gruesomely true to that fact. They were herded like sheep to work and they were slaughtered like sheep. The building housed garments factories and that was enough reason to keep it open despite warnings.
For those workers were simply expendable tools to create profit. Their labor was bought cheap and that in turn made their lives cheaper. Millions of such hands are out there and a profiteer need only just buy. They work cheap, and they die cheap! Few of their names appear in news as they die in hundreds and thousands. Then they are forgotten.
Shakila is searching for her son Idris among the debris. She came from Jamalpur as she heard the news. She points to a photo of her son as tears run down her cheeks and asks: ” Where is my Bazan [son]? Bazan, where have you gone? Will he survive two more days?” (The Daily Star). We do not know the answers to these questions.
Maybe it’s time we should ask some questions. Maybe it’s time the rein of profiteering is checked. Maybe it’s time to reclaim the right to natural death.
Omar Rashid Chowdhury is a student of Civil Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.