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Dhaka Tribune

Life has not been the same for all

Update : 23 Apr 2014, 08:40 PM

For Reshma, who survived a 17-day nightmare under the rubbles of Rana Plaza, media spotlight has fetched a comfortable life.

But badly ignored Sultana and Shanenur, who were equally traumatised by the deadly collapse, had to choose prostitution for a living.

The miracle girl’s near-impossible story of survival has put her under media spotlight and landed her quite a comfortable job at a five-star hotel in the capital.

But her fellow survivors came back to a different reality. They have not ended up quite as fortunate. Their agonies and stories still remain unheard.

The survivors did not get much financial help – from the government and other organisations. Yet, they cannot afford to be without work for long.

Sohrab Ahmed Jahangir had a job at one of the factories in the Rana Plaza but now works as a shop assistant.

“I came out of the wreckage minutes after the collapse, but Shahnaz, once my co-worker and later my wife, could not. She was rescued three days later,” he said.

Shahnaz got treatment and recovered from her two broken legs, but is no more fit enough to work again. She now lives in her hometown in Kishoreganj with her children.

“My mother now looks after both of our children and also Shahnaz. I visited them only once in the last three months... I am staying here alone since there are few opportunities for me to earn a decent living back in the village,” Jahangir said.

Although injured workers received some financial support from the government, NGOs, individuals and British retailer Primark, a major portion was spent on medical, food and other necessities.

Jahangir’s family so far has received Tk80,000 in the form of assistance from local institutions and individuals. The whole amount has already been spent on Shahnaz’s treatment, relocation from Savar to Kishoreganj and basic needs in the last one year.

Miracle survivor Reshma, meanwhile, considers her job at the five-star hotel a gift from Allah. Since June last year, she has been the Public Area Ambassador of Hotel Westin in the capital’s Gulshan.  

Available data suggests Reshma ranks third on the list of the longest survivors beneath rubble. Pakistani national Naqsha Bibi survived for 63 days following the 2005 Pakistan quake, while rescuers pulled Evans Monsignac out of rubble after 27 days during the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

“I do not want to go back to that life again. Those factory days were tiring and hard,” she said.


Sultana, Shahenur, Saleha

April 24, 2013 was Sultana’s (not her real name) day off. She and her husband Selim worked for separate factories in Rana Plaza.

Before her husband Selim bade her goodbye on that fateful summer morning, they made plans to go to a movie in the evening after he came back from work.

But little did Sultana know that she was never going to meet her husband again and her life was to become a movie itself. She did not lose a limb in the collapse that left more than a thousand people dead. But she had to go through some dreadful experiences which drove the garment worker to pick prostitution as a profession.

The deadly factory building collapse affected her in two ways. First, the factory she worked for was closed. Second, she could not claim any compensation for her husband’s death.

Sultana and Selim got married and moved in together nearly a year before the collapse. But their families did not know that. Neither was there any document to prove that they were married because they took the nuptial vows before a local religious scholar, not before “kazi,” who could have put their marriage in papers.

If she could have proved their relationship, she would have been entitled to a compensation of at least Tk1 lakh from the prime minister’s fund.

“Yes I was lucky to be alive. A few days after the building collapsed, I joined another factory in the locality. But the trauma was too much to withstand. I could not look at the walls and the ceiling of my new workplace. They looked like they would come down on me any moment,” Sultana told the Dhaka Tribune.

“I knew from then on that it would be impossible for me to work inside a factory again. Then some of my [former] colleagues [from the Rana Plaza factory] told me about selling my body. Some of them even went to a brothel in Daulatdia. But, I was afraid of brothels,” she said.

She however did not disclose the location of her work to the Dhaka Tribune reporter out of fear of getting arrested.

Sixteen-year-old Shahenur (not her real name) from Jamalpur was not as “lucky” as Sultana. She was inside the building when it collapsed and managed to escape with minor injuries.

After losing work, she said she and her family of two dependents fought long and hard with poverty. Finally, she decided to work “part time” by “seating” with her “clients” two days a week alongside her regular factory job.

“We [former Rana Plaza workers who took up prostitution] are not few in number. But nobody knows about us as yet because we do not work in the open. Some of us have taken up this profession just because they cannot work in a factory anymore,” Shahenur told the Dhaka Tribune.

Unlike Sultana and Shahenur, Saleha from Chapainawabganj did not have much choice.

After the building came down, her parents got her married to a man, who claimed he worked in India. After the wedding, the couple went to India and Saleha’s parents were happy.

But after about six months, Saleha’s parents sensed something was wrong because they had not heard from their daughter or their son-in-law since they went to India. They fear that their daughter has been trafficked by her husband and a gang.

Not only the victims of the Rana Plaza disaster, but also many victims of other recent industrial disasters such as the Tazreen inferno have also been falling prey to human traffickers.

Available data shows that at least 10,000 workers have lost their jobs as a result of these industrial catastrophes.

Salma Ali, president of Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association (BNWLA), said: “We do not know how many women have taken up this profession because some of them choose willingly. When these women become unemployed, they fall prey to the pimps.”

Senior Secretary of Home Ministry CQK Mustaq Ahmed told the Dhaka Tribune that the number of such women was not high but the ministry had been alert about the situation.

About trafficking, he said: “We have to take this seriously. We have to stop all kinds of trafficking. He have asked our border guards to remain alert. Although it is also true that we have failed on occasions.”

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