Quest for dawn ends in darkness
They had come to Dhaka for jobs so they could get out of poverty and help their families. But the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse not only demolished their hopes but also pushed them into endless misery.
“Now I am out of luck. I am going through many difficulties,” said Babul Sheikh, who worked for New Wave Style Ltd as a senior electrician for a decade until the April 24 collapse. In his 20-year career as electrician, Babul has worked for many factories.
His situation is typical of many of the victims who escaped death. Many cannot start work again because of lingering injury and mental trauma.
Babul, who survived with injuries to the chest and head, said before the accident he earned Tk 31,000 monthly and had lived happily with his wife and three children.
He sent his family to his village home in Pirojpur after the disaster while trying to find a job. So far he has not got anything permanent.
The eldest of seven children, Babul waited until his brothers found jobs and his three sisters were married off before marrying himself.
His siblings are well settled now. He worries for his children, two boys and a girl. His sons are in class IV and II.
“We are a joint family. Once my siblings decide to divide whatever little properties we have, I'll be in trouble,” said Babul.
He said many factory owners had announced that they would employ ex-workers of Rana Plaza factories. None of them were keeping their promises.
“I have tried three factories. Two said they have no vacancies and one offered only a Tk 12,000 salary. Most factories want young workers.”
Babul, now 47, received about Tk 2 lakh as financial support from international retailers and other donors. He used the money to fix his home in the village.
Sathi Akhter came to Dhaka alone in 2010 to escape poverty as her parents struggled to support her and four other children.
She started in a garment manufacturing factory and within a year landed a position at New Wave Style, a factory located in the ill-fated Rana Plaza.
The factory collapse left her seriously injured in the head, back and chest.
She was treated at Enam Medical College and Hospital, Apollo Hospitals, Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP) and Gonoshasthaya Nagar Hospital for eight months. She went through 18 kidney dialysis.
Her husband, Lutfor Rahman Shahin, who worked at the same factory, also got hurt in his face.
Shahin and Sathi returned to their village home in Bogra two years ago.
There, a daughter, Azrin Akhter, was born to Sathi one and a half years back.
Using a wheel chair only a few days back, Sathi can walk now. But she is not free from her pains. Her head and back still hurts. Sometimes she loses consciousness. She has also become short tempered and does not know why.
When asked whether she would return to a garment factory job, the 20-year-old said she did not think so.
“Nobody will give me job because of my condition. Sometimes I faint. I get angry all of a sudden. I don't know why. I can't remember things.”
Sathi said the disaster had deeply scarred her husband Shahin's mind: he is scared to work inside any building.
“I can't work inside a factory. I'll not go back to work there,” he told The Daily Star over phone.
Shahin, 25, now runs a grocery shop.
Apart from free medical treatment and medicines, Sathi said, they received Tk 50,000 as financial assistance.
Another victim is Pronaly Rani Das. She had joined Phantom Apparels as a helper just three months before the building collapse. She jumped from the fourth floor and injured her back and knees.
The eldest of five sisters and one brother, she came to Dhaka for the job.
The 20-year-old says she has now become a burden for her farmer father. She got a job at a garments manufacturing factory but could not continue because of severe pain in her back.
“I don't see any hope,” she said.
Shamapty Rani, who used to work at New Wave Bottoms, doesn't see any future too. “It would have been better if I had died,” she said.
The 18-year-old, who joined the garment manufacturer 17 days before the collapse, said she did not want to go back to a job that required her to work inside a building; small businesses or shops would be okay with her.
Apu Joarder, an operator of New Wave Bottoms, said she could not work that needed concentration. She also cannot take loud rebukes for mistakes.
“I get scared if somebody shouts at me. I can still work on a machine but only in a friendly environment.”
Asked how she was doing, the 18-year-old replied in a choked voice: “You have to come and see for yourself. You will not get it from my words only.”
She said relatives and neighbours helped at first. “But they can't help us every day. Nobody has looked after me after that,” said Apu, who now lives with his parents in her home in Gopalganj.
Another survivor, Yeanur Akter, 17, who now studies at class VII and will stay at the CRP until she passes her SSC examination, said her legs, head and back hurts even now. “Sometimes I have to take medicines,” she told The Daily Star.
Her mother Anowara was killed in the building collapse. She had been working for six years at a separate garment factory located in the same building. Yeanur and her mother supported their eight-member family.
The Tk 10,000 assistance Yeanur receives every month from a government-fixed deposit scheme, arranged by the Prime Minister's Fund, is used for the family. She has to take care of the school expenses of her five younger siblings.
She is worried about her and her siblings' future. “I want to be educated and get a job so I can help my siblings.”
Yeanur said she wanted to be a therapist so she can help the injured rebuild their lives.