I have never seen dead bodies piled up by the side of the road before. Bodies, like rice dropped from a bag. Mothers looking for their daughters, adamant that they must be there, even two weeks after the collapse. More than 1,135 souls. Missing. I also returned for weeks, not completely sure why. I hadn’t known anyone there, nor was I an activist for garment factory worker’s rights. But I had to be there. Almost half as many had died from the Rana Plaza collapse, as those did in the World Trade Center. The footprint of the building was no larger than a basketball court. The Twin Towers covered 16 acres. I wandered around the wreckage and came across human hair, purses, under garments, an odd tea pot, gloves manufactured for export, broken machines and damaged manikins.
I started collecting them.
A sense of responsibility stirred within me. I cannot fully explain it. It was later described to me as trauma. The found objects piled up in my room, bringing with them the smell of rotten flesh, the smell of rana plaza. Many of them had blood of the victims. They stayed with me for about six months; I slept in the same room with them. After two weeks of searching, the government had put up an eight feet high fence around the perimeter, hiding the site from family members desperately in search of their loved ones. All that remained of the site was a shallow pit, partially covered in pre-monsoon waters. About six months after the collapse, I started photographing the objects I had collected. I did not want to see pictures of the destruction and death any more, but I never wanted to forget. I felt disgusted when others complimented me for my photographs of the destruction.
I had long hair that I had planned on growing even longer. But a sadness overtook me and I soon parted with my locks. There was a smell all over my hair, an imaginary smell of dead flesh. I kept my cut hair too, along with the hair I had found at the site.
‘It was an act of God’
BGMEA boss says about Rana Plaza Collapse.
Monowar Hossain, 22 years old, died in hospital on August 8, 2013 it was the day before Eid-ul-Fitr. Hossain, a garment factory worker, was the 1133rd person to die of eight storied Garments building Rana Plaza collapse on April 24,2013. Three hundred people are still missing. Another 2,420 have been rescued alive; many of them now live with permanent disabilities such as amputated limbs.
More than 1,133 Bangladeshi garment workers died here in April, almost half as many as died in the World Trade Center. The footprint of the building was not much larger than a basketball court. The site of the Twin Towers covered 16 acres. All that remained of Rana Plaza now was this shallow pit, a few inches deep in muddy water from the pre-monsoon rains, ringed by mountains of rubble and twisted rebar and damp piles of half-sewn clothing and bolts of brightly colored cloth.
Ordinary Bangladeshis volunteered at the disaster site. A lack of efficient machine compelled them to dig through rubble with bare hands to find humans living and dead, and to improvise amputations of trapped workers with machetes. Some rescuers were injured and hospitalized. Many are still suffering mental trauma.
According to witnesses, the factory building had a big crack in it already on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. Several workers feared building collapse and refused to continue working. Management told workers that if they did not come to work on Wednesday, April 24, they would be denied their wages from the entire month. A worker at this factory earns about 14 to 17 cents per hour, a malnutrition wage despite a 70 to 80-hour work week.
An architect has confirmed that the building was designed in 2004 as a shopping mall and not an industrial facility. Engineer Abdur Razzak Khan inspected the building on Tuesday, April 23, and appeared on television news stating he already told the owner that the building should be evacuated. Khan was later arrested.
The factories manufactured apparel for the Benetton Group, Joe Fresh, The Children’s Place, Primark, Monsoon, and DressBarn. Walmart claims that they had no authorized production in the building, but one of the factories in the building, Ether Tex, listed Walmart as a customer.
This occurred after a similar incident in November 2012 where 112 workers died in a fire at another garment factory in Bangladesh. Tazreen Fashion factory employed 1,630 workers who produced T-shirts, polo shirts and jackets for various companies, including the US Marines, C&A, Walmart and Li & Fung.
About 40 other similar work-related accidents have been reported between the Tazreen fire (November 2012) and Rana Plaza collapse (April 2013).
Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry supplies retailers worldwide and accounts for about 80 percent of the country’s exports. The collapse raised strong doubts about retailers’ claims that they could ensure worker safety through self-regulation.
Bangladesh is popular as a source of clothing largely because of its cheap labor. Worker protests forced the government to raise the minimum wage for garment workers to $70/month in September 2013, a sharp increase over the $38/month minimum in effect at the time of the Rana Plaza collapse. (According to the World Bank, the per-capita income in Bangladesh was $64/month in 2011.)
“This is not an accident. This is a killing incident.”
Bangladeshi government minister Hasanul Huq Inu.