12:00 AM, January 28, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 28, 2013

In depths of despair

Star talks with survivors, dear-ones of Smart Garment fire victims

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Shaheen Molla, Suman Saha and Sushmita S Preetha

Shamsunnahar, a Smart Export Garments' worker who jumped off the factory building after a fire broke out on Saturday, is attended by her sister as she lies on the floor of Dhaka Medical College Hospital yesterday. Photo: Feroz Ahmed

A visibly tense Sumi Akter was sitting by her elder sister on the floor at Dhaka Medical College Hospital yesterday. She does not know what will happen to her sister.
Her condition is not well. That is all she knows.
The elder sister Shamsunnahar Sharmin, 16, became senseless after she jumped out of a window of Smart Export Garments factory to save her life from Saturday's fire, as the collapsible gates were locked.
She is one of the victims of the fire that left at least seven female workers dead at the factory in the capital's Mohammadpur.
Sharmin and her younger brother Sujon had been working for Smart Export for the last six months. Sujon has narrowly escaped the blaze.
“We came to Dhaka for jobs as my parents are unable to run the family of three sisters and one brother,” said Sumi.
The 13-year-old herself has been working at another garment factory near Smart Export for two months.
After the fire, Sharmin was taken first to Shaheed Suhrawardy Hospital and later to Dhaka Medical College Hospital as her condition worsened, said her uncle Shahbuddin.
Doctors' comment on her condition was not available, but Shahbuddin said she did not suffer any burns but her head was badly hurt from jumping.
“We are worried about her as she is still unconscious,” said Shahbuddin, adding that the girl's family was unable to afford her treatment.
Sharmin's father works at a brick field in their village in Bhola.
According to Shahbuddin, a representative from the BGMEA visited the girl in the hospital and assured them of bearing the treatment cost, but nobody from the company went there.
Fatema Akhtar, another victim, had always wanted to continue her studies. But education, she was told by her family, was a luxury they could not afford. She was forced instead to work at Smart Export, where she died. She was 16.
“I have killed her with my own hands,” cried Dolon, the inconsolable elder sister of Fatema, as she blamed herself for compelling her sibling to take up the job. “We didn't know we were sending her to a death trap.”
Hasina Begum, 25, worked day and night to save up for her children's education, said her husband, Md Shafiq, overtaken by grief at the untimely death of his wife.
“She always thought of the children's future, working even on Fridays. Now that she is gone, their future is bleak. Who will look after them now?”
The garment owners' mismanagement and irresponsibility had snatched away her from him, he said in a broken voice.
Their six-year-old son was crying and asking why his mother died. “Who will give him the answer?” asked Shafiq.
The bodies of the seven victims were buried yesterday.
Workers alleged there were no fire extinguishers in the factory and the two exits were locked, one of which was later opened.
Altaf Hossain Sikder, father of victim Razia Akhter, filed a case with Mohammadpur Police Station on Saturday night accusing five factory owners and officials.
Chowdhury Manjurul Kabir, Tejgaon division deputy commissioner of police, said police were trying to arrest the accused.
An investigation into the fire started yesterday.
Meanwhile, five people injured in the stampede in the factory, were being treated at Sikhdar Hospital and one in Dhaka Medical College Hospital. Doctors said there conditions were improving.
Mosharraf Hossain, 16, was among those injured in the fire. When he saw the fire outside of the bathrooms, he along with six other boys tried to douse the blaze with water from toilets. Having realised it wasn't working, they burst the pipes of 12 toilets, hoping the water would contain the flames. By the time, it was too dark for them to see anything.
They crawled towards the exit in the dark, almost suffocated, after rescuing two girls who were trapped in a bathroom.
“I don't know what happened to those who were with me, or if they are still alive,” said Mosharraf, lucky to be alive.

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