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Stain On Our Clothes

July 6, 2017

Another tragedy struck Bangladesh. Sewing machines are stopped. Govt and factory owners search answers for questions that are resolvable. Talk shows have another theme to spend few more nights. Unionists have another fresh issue to let off their steam on the streets. Scavengers and fraudsters have another opportunity to take away victims’ compensations.

But some widows and  orphans will embark on a struggle. A struggle to survive. A struggle to live a decent life. A struggle to be on per with the rest of the society. In that journey they will meet lots of tear-shedders. But they will hardly find any true companion to make the journey easier, safer and comfortable.

This is the lesson Tajrin Fashions fire, Rana Plaza collapse and Tampaco boiler blast left before us. That is as ugly as a festering wound. That is as shocking as loosing a vital organ of the body. The truth appears like a giant sink hole in the middle of the road: this society lacks compassion. Compassion is a must to fight the social ills, to bridge the unbridgeable and to scale up the left-out.

So we get ourselves used to such disasters. When they really crop up,  we remain unmoved.

Another deadly boiler blast took lives of the workers in Gazipur. According to newspaper reports, safety devices installed in Multifab Ltd’s boiler alerted the workers twice in vain. Operators ,however, ignored the warning signs and kept it running, patting the workers a false hope of assurance. Worst is that the boiler got expired nine days before the fateful blast. None did anything.

The whole factory was mined! Workers were forced to embrace death!

It was in Gazipur where at least two  boiler explosions killed scores of people and injured many more within a year.

Yet authorities failed to fathom gravity of the situation.

The latest boiler explosion at Multifab Ltd evoked the memory of Tampaco Foils Ltd disaster in Tongi. I went there to see the scale of the damage. Workers used to huddle at factory building which was packed with highly inflammable raw-materials. Like the Multifab’s one, it was outdated and running beyond scheduled hours. When that time bomb went off , part of the building caught fire and collapsed. Workers perished in that trapped inferno.
Dear ones thronged into the site looking for the missing workers. Charred debris were still emitting smokes.

Workers were about to receive their Eid bonuses and salaries. The blast vaporized all hopes. Their widows and orphans got checks of a lump sum amount that does not even guarantee them a trouble free future.

One local resident told me around 100 workers had been working at the collapsed part of the Tampaco factory. Govt deliberately tried to scale down the number of the dead.

Perhaps it thought fewer dead could lessen the intensity of the damage.This time, in Multifab’s case, it is not hiding the number of the victims.

But why do Bangladeshi factories meet such disasters so often? Rumors are as wild as fire. Some say these disasters create  opportunity for debt-stricken owners. Banks provide fresh loans to them. Disasters are like diversions. I do not know how much truth lies in those rumors.

And workers find themselves on the losers side. They toil day and night but do not get fair share in time. On the eve of this Eid, a group of workers in Gazipur descended on the streets and protested against the factory owner for not getting their dues.

For months, they have been surviving on the mercy of groceries. They hoped they would be able to clear  payments of groceries before Eid. But their owners had other thoughts. When the moment arrived to clear workers’ dues , the owners went into hiding. Deception  is common in politics. Now we see it contaminates business and relations between workers and owners too.

European garments buyers’ platform ACCORD has recently disclosed its plan for safety inspection operations for another three years.

There has been considerable unease between platforms of foreign buyers and government since Rana Plaza debacle.

Govt is highly suspicious of their activities and views their actions as unjust interference in country’s industrial sectors. However govt shares their concerns. But did little to fix them.

Later tragedies are proofs of its little action. Had its concerns translated into actions, some workers’ lives might have been saved.

Tragedies continues to strike. Number of orphans rises. Number of amputated workers rises. Has Bangladesh become a killing field for workers? How does a crippled Bangladesh meet the challenges of a middle income country? How does its riches will make a  happy Bangladesh leaving so many workers cheated and unhappy?

Our factories, not all, are devoid of a feeling of “us”. Relationship between workers and owners  is not like a big family picture hanging on the wall. This tragedy and deception loosen the weft of  bonding and trust from the warp of employer-employee relationship. This growing mistrust in the end culminates into a weak social fabric that does not ensure political stability.

Signs are everywhere. Having been lower for several years, coarse rice’s price soars. Coarse rice is the staple of the working class. More and more workers find it hard to get three-square meals with their subsistence income.

Unsafe work place and hungry workers are an open invitation to trouble and agitation on the streets. Hungry workers demanding their dues  on the streets do not enhance a govt’s reputation, which has been under scrutiny abroad since Rana Plaza disaster and January 5 election in 2014.

Our soap makers produce some of the finest detergents. They can remove any stain from our clothes. Is there any detergent that gets rid of stigma of not creating a just society?

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From → Analysis

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