‘I hope she’s just missing’
Fifteen-year-old Tuli Akter wanted to have chicken curry for dinner, and her mother had cooked the dish on Thursday evening thinking that she would have a good meal with her two daughters.
But Tuli has not come home.
Having recently passed her secondary school exams, the young girl had started working at the food factory in Narayanganj.
"She thought she would start earning and save some money for her future," said Jhuma Akter, Tuli's sister.
Tuli's body has not yet been identified among the victims of the deadly fire in the Narayanganj food factory. None of the bodies could be identified as they were charred beyond recognition.
But Jhuma was clinging on to hope.
"I hope Tuli is just missing," she said. Jhuma was hoping that her sister would soon call with some outlandish story about why she is not home and that she will return to have that much-anticipated dinner.
The authorities have put the death toll at 52 from the bodies recovered which, according to the list of missing persons put together at the site, include those of a large number of minors.
Take another example of Mitu Begum, 14 years old.
She and her elder sister Mina worked at the food factory and both were scheduled to work in the same shift on Thursday.
"But my elder daughter's shift was changed suddenly. She was preparing to go to work but at that time we heard the fire broke out in the factory," Mohammad Billal Hossain, Mitu's father, said.
Crying and in a state of utter despair in front of the factory gate, he was asking people whether they saw his daughter?
"Was it our fault? My two daughters were working in the factory for bread and butter. Whywas my daughter killed?"
Like Tuli and Mitu, there were a number of girls working at Hashem Foods Limited in Bhulta, Narayanganj.
Witnesses said around 500 workers were working in the factory when the fire broke out and most were women and minors.
Holding a photograph of his daughter Fatema Begum, Sujan Mia had desperately been lookingaround the site since yesterday morning to try to find his daughter. Fatema, 13, was working on the third floor of the building since Thursday morning.
"She called me at 7:00 pm and said 'Baba, I can't breathe … the smoke is everywhere. The supervisor had locked the gate of the staircase'. After that I could not hear any more," Sujan, in tears, told this correspondent in front of the factory.
Contacted, Sajeeb Group Chairman Md Abul Hashem denied all responsibility for the Narayanganj factory fire and said there should not be any child labour in the factory.
Md Salauddin, the factory's admin officer, said, "The issue about the age of the workers is wrong. They were hired after reviewing the relevant documents. If the age is low, it is the workers who tampered with the documents."
Witnesses and survivors claimed that workers would have survived if the authorities took prompt action and the third floor was not under lock and key. Workers of the first and second floors jumped from the windows to save their lives when the fire broke out.
There were three covered vans adjacent to the factory building and workers escaping the flames first jumped onto the top of the covered van and from there, jumped to the ground.
Visiting the US Bangla Hospital in the area around 5:00pm yesterday, it was found that six survivors were taking treatment in the hospital.
Hospital authorities said they received around 30 patients initially and only six were taking treatment. The rest were referred to Dhaka.
Rojina Islam, a 15-year-old worker at the factory, said, "Everyone was screaming about the fire. I went towards the stairwell but there was fire. Then I went to the window and someone pushed me from behind and I found myself on the top of the covered van, and then rolled down to the ground."
Rojina was being treated for a fractured leg and she also had a wound on her chin.
Maria, 13, also jumped from the first floor of the building. Forty-year-old Monowara Begum was screaming in pain in the hospital bed.
"The fire broke out but none said that fire broke out in the building. I went to the second floor from the first floor and then jumped from there as there was thick smoke in the stairwell."
Ruma Begum, 14, also jumped form the second floor. Suma, another girl in her early teens being treated at the hospital, jumped from the first floor.
When this correspondent was leaving the hospital, the mother of one of the survivors said, "We are poor. We send our daughters to work in the factory for our survival. It hurts to send such innocent children to work, but we had no choice. Now we have lost everything.
Another guardian said, "Sir, do something for these innocent children. We dashed their dreams by sending them to work. Now their dream of survival is also bleak. Please help them."