Rahima came to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) morgue looking for her daughter Lovely, who worked at one of the factories housed in the ill-fated Rana Plaza.
She could not locate her daughter among all the blackened, partially decomposed, inflated bodies lying in the morgue because her daughter’s “complexion was not black; she was fair and cute.”
The bodies have no names. The only thing that separates them from each other are the serial numbered tags attached to them.
She asked one of the morgue supervisors: “How do I identify my daughter? Everybody looks all the same.”
Rahima came from the southern district of Bhola three days ago after she heard the news of the building collapse. The relative, with whom she has been living in Dhaka, said she has not cried once in these three days.
She has been looking for her daughter virtually everywhere.
Suddenly the dam burst and her eyes flooded over: “O amar manik (oh my jewel).”
Rahima had finally recognised her daughter – not by the burnt but tranquil face but by the silver ring on the little finger of her left leg.
“I got her. Oh Allah! Why is her face so black! Please someone tell me! Why is she lying on the floor?” Rahima pleaded.
The air of the DMCH morgue is heavy with the despair of helpless people searching frantically for their loved ones among the decomposing bodies.
Lovely’s mother was lucky to have found her. But nobody could tell what would happen to the other 39 bodies, yet to be identified.
Shakil Ahmed, executive magistrate of the deputy commissioner’s office and in charge of managing the bodies, said: “We have received 49 bodies and handed over 10 of them to the relatives. The morgue has exceeded its limit. That’s why we had to keep the bodies on the floor outside the morgue.”
“We found a broken mobile phone in the pocket of one of the bodies. Using the SIM card, we managed to reach his relatives. But not everyone here is so lucky,” Shakil said, adding that after rescue efforts are over, the government would decide how to handle the unidentified bodies.
Momtaz, whose husband Ali Hossain worked in one of the garment factories, was out of Dhaka when their world collapsed along with the building in Savar. She has not had any trace of her husband since then.
When she finally identified her husband lying on the morgue floor of DMCH, she did not have the strength to carry her lifeless partner. No words, no tears – only an equally lifeless blank look hung on her face.
Momtaz’s brother Hasan said: “Some people advised us to come to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital morgue. We came here but could not find my brother-in-law’s body right away. All the swollen bodies looked the same.”
The walls of the hospital’s morgue are now covered with photographs of missing people.
Rana used to work in one of the factories on the third floor. His brother hung his photograph on the morgue wall and on a piece of paper, wrote that Rana was wearing the same T-shirt he was wearing when the picture was taken.
Even morgue assistant Ramu, who was recruited because he has strong nerves, could not hold back his tears.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before. The bodies have no identity. We have robbed them of their identities. When an ambulance arrives, people rush to it with photographs in their hands. We count the unidentified ones on our fingers,” he said.
Ignored alive, ignored dead – the bodies lie on the floor and decompose almost beyond recognition because the morgue does not have adequate freezing systems. All they get is a white sheet pulled up to the chin with faces left open for people to recognise them.
They lie there staring out as if to ask one final question: “How many more lives do you need in order to pay attention?”
Perhaps it’s needless to mention who this question might be addressing.