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Bangladesh Tragedy: Crushed Lives, Crashed Dreams

By Omar Rashid Chowdhury

25 April, 2013

Bangladesh stands petrified as an unprecedented horror unfolds in Savar, near the capital city Dhaka. In the morning of 24th of April, a nine-story building crashed down in Savar Bazaar. Thousands of garments workers were in the building. The death toll, till the composition of this article, was more than 175, with more than 1,000 injured, according to a Dhaka daily. Thousands are still trapped under the pile of rubble.

Deadliest of all such incidents in recent history, the crash site is now a jumbled pile of concrete. 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 23rd of April, it developed cracks in some pillars which were considered fatal and the building 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 it. So, the workers were forced to join 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 storied structure while the building sandwiched to a two-story height! A hell was created on earth!

What is it like to be buried alive? It is stygian dark, the air seems vacant and the debris all around press down so no movement is possible. But the worst part is when one realizes that there is no hope. No one is going to come. The memory of light slowly fades away, dehydration creeps in, heart beats slower, and 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, crashed dreams, those are facts too! And those toiling bodies that now lie bloodied, mangled, devastated, crushed, cease now to be mere numbers! 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 desired 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.

Rescue operation is going on. The authorities say it may take two or three days. With a small mistake the whole situation can turn worse as the giant debris are precariously angled and risks unsettling with the slightest jolt. Oxygen and water has been supplied. As the dead pile up, the living stands in horror. Blame game is going on. 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 those remain unanswered? Who will answer for the crushing of thousands of dreams? And, who will stand trial for the killing of hundreds of lives?

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 them open despite warnings. The cruelty and injustice of it is just unacceptable to a humane, rational mind.

Or maybe 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 faces are out there and a profiteer need only just buy. The faces turn into nothingness, and their dreams go into oblivion and pounds of profit take their place. They are sold cheap, they work cheap and they die cheap! The individual is lost as they simply reduce to be numbers. Their names appear in news as they die in hundreds and thousands. Then they are forgotten. Maybe we just like it to be that way.

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)? Where have you gone? Will he survive two more days?” (The Daily Star). We do not know the answers to these questions. And maybe it’s time we should ask some questions. Maybe it’s time the rein of plunder-based profiteering is checked. May be it’s time to reclaim the right to a normal death.

(The author is a student of Civil Engineering, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology)




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