Fire ravaged their lives
Everything happens for the best, it is often touted, but for Hena Akter, it is impossible to find a silver lining in the tragedy that unfolded on this day two years ago.
A slight short circuit gave way to an errant fire, which went on to ravage her entire workplace -- and her life.
“I have lost everything in that fire,” said Hena, who joined the ill-fated Tazreen Fashions as a helper in January 2010. She used to draw a salary of Tk 4,500 per month, enough to support herself and her two young sons.
While the 35-year-old can count herself lucky to not be among the 112 that succumbed to the fire, the incident on November 24, 2012 though has left her and over 1,200 others wounded. She ended up with a broken backbone, an injury which has rendered her incapable of any strenuous work.
To save herself from the fire, which rocked the country's $25 billion garment sector, she jumped from the second floor of the nine-storey building that night.
“We all screamed on top of our lungs to open the door as the smoke was spreading thick and fast. But the general manager and the production manager kept it firmly bolted,” she said, while recounting the events of that fateful night.
Frantic for an escape route, a few of the workers managed to take out the exhaust fan from one of the walls. Many jumped through that small hole in the wall, including Hena. And in the process, she broke her backbone.
The single mother was rushed to the hospital that night and was released after two months. She has been fitted with an artificial backbone and the doctors have strictly forbidden her from doing any heavy-duty work.
Her back hurts all the time, due to which she has failed to become gainfully employed yet and understandably, is struggling to make ends meet.
“I do not have the money to even buy my medicine,” Hena said, adding that her medication costs Tk 1,500 a month.
Unable to afford the basic living costs, she has now moved in with her daughter and son-in-law -- and sent her two young sons to an orphanage in Sirajganj.
“I do not know how my little sons are doing -- they live so far away from me. My life is beyond miserable now,” said a tearful Hena.
Desperate to get her family life back on track, she is now earnestly pleading for her rightful compensation. So far, she got only Tk 1 lakh from the government.
Unlike the Rana Plaza tragedy, this industrial accident did not receive as much global attention, so a neutral body never fixed compensation for the Tazreen fire victims.
The permanently injured from the Rana Plaza collapse are due to get Tk 42 lakh, according to the International Labour Organisation conventions. Although they are yet to receive that amount, at least the Rana Plaza victims have a rough sum to hold out for.
While not as dire as Hena's, Reba Khatun's situation is bad too. Like Hena, the 27-year-old jumped from the third floor of the building and broke her right arm, right leg and fractured her backbone. She too cannot do any heavy work -- for the rest of her life.
Reba earned Tk 8,000 per month as an operator at Tazreen Fashions, which nicely supplemented her husband's income and enabled the couple to provide their two sons with decent education.
But the industrial disaster, which was amongst the worst in the nation's history, meant that their children's education now is in jeopardy.
Her husband is the sole breadwinner of the family now. He gives tuition to students of minor grades, but Reba says he too cannot take up additional work to make up for her lost earnings due to being poorly himself.
“I could not admit my son to the cadet college for lack of money, although he was selected for admission in the test.”
Like Hena, she too demanded release of adequate compensation.
“We also demand justice from the government as the incident took place for the negligence of the owner and officers of the factory,” Reba added.