Two years ago on this day, the nine storied building that housed five garment factories crumbled to rubble as it collapsed suddenly with thousands of people trapped inside, most of whom were garment workers who migrated to the capital from rural areas with the dreams of a better life. The collapse which went down in history as one of the worst industrial disaster ever resulted in the deaths of at least 1,200 people and injured thousands of others, making life unbearable for their near and dear ones.
The families of those affected are still reeling from the effects of the disaster as children became orphans overnight. Many victims were the only sons or daughters of their parents. As such, their parents are now suffering financially due to the loss of income that their children supported them with, besides trying to cope with the grief of losing their child.
On the afternoon of April 19, Jaheda Begum sat silent looking at the rubble of the Rana Plaza site that still bears the trail of devastation as tears rolled down her cheeks. The 74-year-old mother comes three to four times daily to the site, to search for her daughter Saleha, who worked on the fifth floor on the day of collapse. After two years, it is virtually impossible to hope to find her daughter alive but she cannot force herself to accept that she will never see her daughter’s face again.
Saleha was the only child of Jaheda Begum. In the two years since the disaster, Jaheda has searched every possible place but no one could help her. ‘I know that she will never come back but I wish I could touch her grave at least once,’ the mother laments.
She has no kith and kin except her son-in-law, and the two of them live in a tiny tin-shed room near where the tragedy struck at Rana Plaza. Her son-in-law remains her only relative who would be able to help her out financially but he often falls sick and is unable to work. Jaheda Begum has barely been able to scrape together three daily meals. ‘I feel hungry, but what can I do, I no longer have the physical agility to work,’ says the grieving mother.
As her daughter’s dead body is still missing, she was not enlisted for the financial compensation.
Later in the afternoon on April 19, Mahera, Rubi, and Majed Mollah joined Jaheda at the Rana Plaza site in grieving the losses of their dear ones whose bodies have not been located yet. These families have fallen in a whirlpool of uncertainty since the disaster.
Mahera’s elder son Babu Miah (20) was working on the fifth floor on the day of disaster. Since the incident she searched DMCH, the other hospitals, Jurain graveyard, the government offices, but has not found her son. ‘No one even paid any heed to my calls to help find him,’ the shocked mother says. She also could not apply for financial compensation.
Mahera’s husband passed away a few years ago and she is unable to work after falling ill. The mother is struggling to support herself and her eight-year-old son.
The survivors are also suffering from the post traumatic stress, physical ailment, injuries and huge mental scars. Shafiqul Islam was working on the fourth floor on the day of disaster. He was left with broken bones in his hand and legs after a giant wall collapsed on him. The extent of his injuries was so severe he has lost full mobility of his arms.
After the incident he was given Tk 50,000 that was spent within two months of treatment. The doctor advised him to consult regularly, which he is unable to do as he would not be able to afford the doctor’s bills. ‘I requested many doctors to provide me treatment but no one would agree to do so for free,’ Islam shares.
Now his wife is the sole breadwinner who also works in a garment factory. The money his wife earns is not enough to meet the expenses of house rent, meals, and schooling for his seven-year-old son. ‘How can I afford the expenses for treatment?’ Islam questions.
Finding no other way Islam went to many garments factories and went to BGMEA looking for a job. But he did not get any jobs. ‘Now I have become a burden to myself,’ Islam says.
Lipi, another survivor, also received severe head injuries during the disaster. Till now she still feels pain in her head and backbone. She also cannot continue the treatment as she has no money. She was rescued after two days of the disaster. Her trauma is so great that she has been terrified to enter any multistoried buildings since.
After the incident, the survivors were given only 50,000 taka which was insufficient for them to continue their long-term treatment.
Tania, another survivor, joined a garment factory last month despite severe physical injuries. She needed the income so she could feed her only child as well as her mother.
These stories are only a tiny fraction of the massive damage caused in the lives of people whose loved ones died or were injured during the Rana Plaza disaster. There are many more who have their own stories to share but no one is around to hear them or offer help.