Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Rana Plaza Collapse

11 years on, victims live in suffering

  • Survivor workers waiting daily for the guilty to be punished
  • They recount the horrific experiences of April 24, 2013 
  • Cases still in limbo
Update : 24 Apr 2024, 10:14 AM

Dayal Sutradhar and his wife lived near Savar bus stand. Both worked hard to manage the family's affairs well. Just three years into their marriage, they had a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. 

Two days before the Rana Plaza tragedy, Dayal's wife informed him that she wouldn't be going to the garment factory that day. She mentioned that everyone had been granted leave because the building was cracked. Two days later, she informed Dayal that the factory was open, but she wouldn't be taking lunch from home that day. Instead, she suggested they have lunch together during the lunch break at home.

Dayal recounted to Dhaka Tribune: "That day was April 24. My wife didn't come home at lunchtime. I went to the garment factory to find out that the building had collapsed. Neighbours came running to find their relatives. My little girl cried for her mother for 13 days. Exactly 13 days later, I found my wife's lifeless body. Since then, my daughter stopped crying. I often see her at her mother's grave."

He continued: "I buried her body in my village. My daughter is now in the eighth grade. With the income I earn working in Dhaka, I may not be able to support her education much longer. Therefore, I am considering marrying her off to a good man. We have lost hope of receiving help, but we have not lost hope of attaining justice," he added.

"I found her decomposing corpse. My child couldn't even see her mother's face one last time. Where can I find justice for this pain?" 

Dayal, as a witness, testified in court and has since been waiting daily for the guilty to be punished.

Another victim, 24-year-old Shila Akhtar, had been working in the garment industry since her husband's passing. She used to reside in Savar for work with the aim of providing education to her only daughter. She began her struggle in 2010, sending her daughter to a village school and sending money every month.

Shila started working as a senior operator in a garment factory named Ethertex Limited on the sixth floor of Rana Plaza in Savar. On April 24, 2013, at 9:30 am, Shila witnessed the six-story floor split in two before her eyes after a tremendous jolt. "Before I could react, the roof collapsed. When the seating tool collapsed, my waist got trapped. After that, I don't remember," Shila told Dhaka Tribune.

Survivor worker Shila of Rana Plaza Tragedy. Photo: Courtesy

Upon regaining consciousness, she found darkness surrounding her. As she moved, she felt the broken part of the roof on her right hand. When rescue workers attempted to extricate her through a tunnel around 1:30 a.m., she suddenly got stuck on a pillar. As the pillar moved slightly, it fell on her stomach, causing her innards to spill out. She lost consciousness once again.

Assuming she was dead, rescuers proceeded to rescue others. Upon regaining consciousness again, she signalled to them that she was still alive. She was rescued 18 hours after the accident and later hospitalized. Her right hand remains immobile, supported by an iron sheet stand. Shila cannot recall the last time she stood on her own.

"I know I am no longer capable of working. I also desire assistance from people to continue my daughter's education. I have asked them to provide me with a job, any job I can do in this condition. I've even heard people suggest resorting to prostitution for money," she said tearfully.

Shila's dream of making her daughter a nurse has been shattered as doctors have informed her of a large tumour in her stomach that could develop into cancer if not promptly addressed.

On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapsed, claiming the lives of 1,135 garment workers. Additionally, another 1,169 workers were severely injured and disabled. Though Shila survived, she can no longer engage in heavy work. Despite her struggles to survive, there seems no way for Shila to continue this wounded life with her daughter. Others who survived with severe injuries like her are now pleading for medical assistance.

Nilufa Begum has received assistance totaling Tk3,30,000 through various channels, all of which she spent on medical treatment. She has undergone 11 operations on her legs but still cannot walk on her own. Another operation is required, which cannot be performed in Bangladesh. If completed, it might enable her to walk to some extent, a dream she holds onto dearly.

Survivor worker Nilufa of Rana Plaza Tragedy. Photo: Courtesy

"We are wounded, but we do not want anything unrealistic. We know we cannot return to our normal lives. We have lost loved ones, friends, and relatives. We have also lost our abilities. Yet, we continue to fight to survive because we want to see the criminals punished," these victims expressed.

"We demand the maximum punishment for them. We want the perpetrators to be hanged. May they suffer for a long time, so they may understand our pain."

Cases still in limbo

Even though 11 years have passed since the disaster, a total of 20 cases are ongoing, none of which have been resolved. All the accused, except one, are out on bail. 

Among these cases, the criminal cases filed by the Directorate of Inspection of Factories and Establishments in the Labor Court are still at the stage of issuing arrest warrants.

The Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (Blast) stated that no compensation has been paid to the affected workers or their families, although many have received financial assistance from the Rana Plaza Trust Fund. Despite numerous initiatives to ensure a safe working environment for workers, accountability and justice have yet to be ensured.

Advocate Aneek R Haque mentioned that there are four writ cases under trial in the High Court Division, none of which were heard until last year. However, they remain hopeful to receive directions from the High Court regarding these writs soon. He also emphasized the need to address overall issues starting from workers' protection.

Acting chairman of Dhaka's Labour Appellate Tribunal, MA Awal (senior district and sessions judge), suggested that settling the case by taking testimony from only essential witnesses could expedite proceedings, rather than involving all 594 witnesses in the Dhaka Judge Court case. 

He also noted that with the court's cooperation, the case could be resolved promptly.

Experts highlighted the challenge of summoning 594 witnesses scattered across the country for criminal cases. Providing them with travel allowances to reach the court poses a logistical challenge for the state counsel.

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