Shagorika (17), Sewing helper, 5th floor, Ethertax Garment ltd.

Deceased: Shagorika, 17

By Bokul Khatun

December 11,2013

Translation Seuty Sabur

After her Secondary School Certificate (SSC) examinations, Shagorika came to Savar with her family from Natore, a district in northern Bangladesh, three months prior to the collapse of Rana Plaza, where she began working along with her aunt. Shagorika never returned home after April 24. It was only after her death that her SSC exam results were published. She received a GPA 5, but never got to hear the good news.

Shagorika’s sister, Bokul, who studies in Class VII, started writing this piece when she went missing. She was still missing when Bokul finished writing this. Her grave number was found in the first DNA report.

The family left the village with a huge debt on their shoulders; how to repay those debts now? How to live for another day? Finally a missing sister – in this piece, Bokul Khatun wrote about all of this and more.

I have my parents and relatives. My parents are good human beings. My father is an honest man. He never speaks ill of others. He would never say ‘you are a bad person’. If my kinsfolk and neighbours are in trouble, my father will stand beside them even if there is no one else to help them. My father has never caused pain to anyone.

We are six sisters. Our father used to have a business. He would buy paddy, process it into rice and sell it. This business was very profitable, and required hard work. We have been in this business for years. My father paid for the education of my older sisters. He used to say, “No one can call my daughters illiterate. I will provide for their education; it doesn’t matter how impoverished we are”. He said all this because he was literate, if only a little. Father was the one who used to take care of all the costs of our education along with his business.

My sister was the eldest; she used to work at BRAC, selling medicine to pregnant women. She got paid very little - only 1,700 taka at the time. She had to pay for the unsold medicine (taken out of the office), as well as any medicine sold on credit out of her own pocket. Because of all this, she eventually had to leave the job.

Our family had small loans from before. By loans, I mean money which my father had taken from the bank to invest in business. He would pay one loan by taking out another loan. Our parents had also invested in a DPS (Deposit Premium Scheme) in our names.

Our family matters were running very smoothly. Other villagers were envious - “Where does Ibrahim (our father) get all this money from? How does he manage? He looks after everyone as his own. He feeds his sisters and extended family as well.” They would warn my father, telling him that he shouldn’t be feeding so many people. Yet, he would feed everyone, even giving them clothes as presents.

Many of the villagers wanted to do business with my father, but he didn’t listen to anyone. Instead, he made a young man his business partner. That young man was very wicked and evil. We didn’t realise that he would betray us in the name of business. I will talk about it some other time. All of us were devastated by such a betrayal and were left with nothing. On the one hand, we had loan installments to pay off, while on the other hand, we had taken additional loans from a neighbour at high interest. We were going through a very tough time. My father had never worked in the field, nor did he know how to do weeding. But he was forced by someone’s betrayal to work in the fields. Soon, he started repaying loans by cultivating land. Whatever he earned went towards repaying the loans. Whether we ate or not, we tried to pay off the loans. We were barely surviving with the bare minimum of 10 to 20 taka ($0.125 to $0.25) that we spent in buying groceries. We had become really poor.

But, what a pity, none of our relatives came to help us! We would have felt better if they had offered us a little encouragement, if not help. Days were just passing by. Nobody treated us well, or called us. They are what you would call ‘fair-weather’ friends.

My eldest sister is 32 now - her name is Josna. My father loves his daughters. My parents had had a son before my sister’s birth. It’s a pity that he passed away a month after his birth. From then on, every time, my father would think that the next child would be a son. And so, the six of us were born, with him always hoping that he would have a son next. Three of our sisters were already married. My eldest sister got married and had a son. My sister, Shanti, is also married - she got married when she was appearing for her SSC exams. Then it was Shagorika’s turn to get married, but it was Shapla who got married instead.

There’s a long story behind Shapla’s marriage. The man who Shapla was married off to was a distant cousin. We did not want our sister to get married to him, but he forcefully married her. After that, the villagers asked us to pay dowry for the marriage. My father was influenced by the villagers to do so. They told us to give 30,000 taka ($375). We asked, “Where will we get this amount of money?” The villagers told us to give whatever we could, even if we couldn’t manage the whole amount. So we took a loan of 10,000 taka ($125) from my uncle - Shapla’s father-in-law - with interest. They abused her and asked her to get more money. When we couldn’t manage to pay more, she was not allowed to return to us.

People would say - “The older sister is still unmarried while the younger one is married.” On the one hand, people were talking, while on the other hand, boys were after my sister. And we were scolded by my sister’s in-laws for our inability to pay the dowry. But we didn’t mind. They didn’t let my sister come home. After seeing all this, we called our khala (maternal aunt) at Savar, who was working at the time. She told us, “All of you please come to Savar. Once you are here I will do whatever is necessary.” My sister sat for her SSC exams in 2013. Our aunt asked us to prepare some papers along with my sister’s SSC documents and get them signed by the chairman. We prepared our papers according to her instructions.

Meanwhile, much had happened. Another khalu (maternal uncle) of ours proposed that we do business together. But we were supposed to go to Savar. After hearing the proposal, however, people suggested that we stay back and do business in our locality. So we started a business with our uncle.

Khalu said, “No one should be able to say that my brother-in-law owes them even 10 taka. When people heard about my plans to do business with you, people told me not to; they said you will be ‘zero’ like them if you continue doing business with them.” Khalu told them, “It is my business and I will run it however I please.” My uncle told my parents, and even us, that he would pay off the loans if we worked hard. And so we did, and with khalu’s guidance, we did well in business. He did pay off some of our loans, and we thought that he was a good man. We processed the paddy into edible rice; we were supposed to sell the rice in the market, but my uncle wouldn’t allow it. It was fine if he didn’t let us sell it, but who would pay the wholesalers? He said that he would pay them off after selling the rice in a few days. These few days turned out to be three months. There were 115 mounds of rice left to sell. We paid off one bank loan and took out 60,000 taka ($750) from another bank, but my uncle snatched that immediately. He handed my mother only 600 taka ($7.5) and told her, “You will take the responsibility of the household” and then asked my mother to pay off the loan.

Even then we hadn’t realised that our uncle had ceased to do business with us. Meanwhile, had taken some loans from our eldest brother-in-law. My sister was thrown out of the house because we couldn’t pay that back. After the incident, we requested our khalu to pay off the loan on our behalf. He agreed and went to my brother-in-law’s house, and told him, “Take some money and I have rice stocked in the mill. Take the rice to the haat (market) and get the rest of the money.” All of us agreed to the proposition. Instead of continuing business with us, he gave some money to my brother-in-law, said “You can think of doing business with me. Half of the share will be yours and half mine” and left. He also said that he had a loss after doing business with us. My brother-in-law went to the mill – he expected that he would get the money by selling the rice.

Sadly, he couldn’t find a single grain of rice, not even a gunny sack when he reached the mill. My brother felt nauseous after witnessing this. He returned and told us that there is nothing left in the mill. None of us was there on the day when they took out the rice. My father had gone to plough the land on that day. He simply couldn’t believe that his brother-in-law (my uncle) had betrayed him like that. After all this happened, our brother-in-law asked us to talk to our aunt. He told us, “As the people you have taken rice from will come and charge you, it is better that you leave the village as soon as possible.” My parents contacted my aunt. My aunt said, “I will arrange everything for you; you won’t have any problems.”

We were struck with an idea that we couldn’t leave empty-handed. Grameen Bank was supposed to offer credit for that month. We decided to take the credit from them and pay it off once we were in Savar. Meanwhile we were in communication with my aunt. We had never left our village before. It was a long journey; we didn’t know anyone or any place. We were not even sure where to go. My aunt suggested that if we would take a bus from Singra thana and tell them that we want to go to Savar, they would take us to the Savar bus stand. We sent all our belongings to our sister’s house.

It took us an hour to reach Singra from home. The weather was a little chilly. We reached Singra at 3 AM in the morning, and got on the Savar-bound bus at 7 AM. We talked amongst ourselves on the bus, and reached Savar at 3 PM. The bus conductor dropped us off at the bus stop. I don’t know how but the gunnysack burst out and all the rice was scattered on the road when the bus dropped us off at Radio Colony. The bus speeded off in a hurry. My father started collecting the grains; even I joined him. My aunt’s sons came to receive us. They called us on our cell phone. We had vegetables with us. They helped us into rickshaws. My aunt came to take us home. That house had an empty room which was rented out to us for 15 days.

We went out to check some rooms but the owners said they would not rent to families with more than three people. A few days passed. My khalu (uncle) went to the mosque and asked everyone whether there were rooms available for rent. Everyone said that nothing was available, especially for families with more than three members. Finally, one of my uncle’s acquaintances told him that there was a room available. My uncle told him that there were five of us. But he knew my uncle well, so he agreed to take us in. So, after clearing the rent of that room, we moved to the other room.

The room was big but it had a problem with the water supply. We didn’t really mind - we even bought a big drum to preserve water - but wouldn’t have taken the room had we known earlier. The person who rented out this room was a good man. But his wife was awful. The day we moved in, she instigated a squabble, blaming us for no reason. There was no point in fighting. One day (for some strange reason) she stopped our water supply. We informed our aunt of this, and went to our aunt’s place for a shower. But the aunt’s landlord told uncle, “Your sister and nieces must not shower here”. From then on, we were barred from going to my aunt’s place.

Meanwhile, fifteen days had passed. My sister, Sagorika, who worked in the garments factory had to go to work without taking a shower. So we decided to leave that room. Fifteen days felt like fifteen years. Let me tell you a few things regarding the water supply. That woman beat up my aunt when we complained about the water supply. What were we to do? It’s a city area. Who knows what is where? So we stayed the day at my aunt’s with all our belongings. The very next day, my father, mother and aunt started looking for a room. No one was ready to rent a house for only fifteen days. After looking for quite some time, my aunt went to one of her acquaintances to check whether there was any room available. She told that they had an empty room for two months. We asked how much the room was, and they said 1,000 taka ($12.5). After talking to the landlord, we moved in.

This house didn’t have a problem with the water supply, but had a tube well. None of us were used to pumping water and our hands were tired. Our mother pumped water for us, which we used for bathing and for the toilet. My father said he liked the place. After moving here my father started working as a day labourer with my uncle. He was paid daily for his work.
After we came here, my aunt took my sister to her office for work. My sister would not have gotten the job if my aunt wasn’t there for her. My sister’s name is Shagorika Khatun. We decided that we would keep some money aside for rent and food from my father’s daily income and my sister’s salary, and pay off the bank loan with the rest.

The date of our arrival in Savar was March 15, 2013. My aunt managed to get my sister Shagorika a job on the 16th. Whenever my sister used to get out on the street people would ask, “Are you an upojati (member of an indigenous community)?” And she would tell everyone, “If I am an upojati woman in your eyes, then call me an upojati woman.” Even the general manager (GM), production manager (PM), boss and supervisor would ask her similar questions. She used to share those stories with us and laugh.

My sister’s garments factory was called ‘Ether Textile Limited’. She was a sewing helper. My aunt used to work next to my sister’s machine. My cousin worked in the D line, two lines away from them. My aunt, her son and my sister used to go to work together and come back together. She would share the conversations that took place in the factory and giggle. Then she received 2,000 ($25) for 15 days’ worth of work, and we realised how easy it would be now to pay back our loans.

A crack was discovered in the factory on the 23rd of April. Everyone in the factory started rushing to the ground floor. But the GM and PM said, “There is nothing to be terrified about. You can return home. But do come back in the afternoon, and follow our instructions.” Everyone went back home, so what was the point of my aunt, her son and my sister staying there? They too returned home at 10:01 AM. As soon as my sister entered the house my mother asked her, “Why are you home so early? What happened?” My sister told her, “I came home early because they found a crack in the factory.” My mother told her, “It’s ok, don’t go to the factory then.” But my sister said, “What would I do at home? I feel better going to work.”

My mother asked, “When will you go the garments factory again?” She said, “Sir asked us to go around 2 PM.” My aunt, cousin and sister all returned home from the factory that day. The very next morning, Rashid Member (a local elected representative) passed away. So my father didn’t go to work either. He said, work will start after his burial. My sister was at home in the morning and so were we. My sister, who used to wash herself only if someone else pumped the water, pumped the water herself that day to brush her teeth and take a shower. She took some shampoo to wash her hair. The person who would only bathe if our mother pumped water for her took a bath by herself and shampooed her hair that day.

My father and I were home. My mother said, “Let me accompany you to your aunt’s place.” My sister replied, “I had breakfast, now I want to nap for a while.” My mother told her, “Air dry your hair. Come to your aunt’s place when its time.” After saying this, she went to my aunt’s place. I was studying at home and my sister was lying next to me. I was studying and chatting about many things. My sister was saying, “I don’t know why but nothing seems to interest me today.” I asked, “What has happened to you, sister?” My sister said, “I’m feeling sad; I feel like sitting in one corner and crying.” In the meantime, my father had returned. Shagorika asked my father, “Come to me abba (father), I want to lie down next to you and hold you.” My father asked, “Are you sad, ma (daughter)?” My sister said, “Yes, abba I am feeling so sad. I just feel like crying.”

My sister never stayed anywhere without us. She loved our parents, and us. And we loved her. My sister is a very good girl. My sister didn’t even enter my aunt’s house on that day and asked her to hurry saying, “Let’s go, I am not feeling well.” My mother said, “I have a feeling that there is trouble waiting for us. Don’t go to the factory today.” My aunt said, “We will go to the front gate and if anything happens, we will come back home.”

The whole garments factory building was called Rana Plaza. Everyone knew Rana Plaza by its name. Everyone went inside the building after they were told that they would be paid on that day. The GM, PM and boss pretended as if nothing had happened, and were telling the incoming worker to get in saying, “If you are to die, you will die inside.” Everyone from the third to the ninth floor got into the building. My aunt, cousin and my sister said to each other, “Everyone is getting inside the building; why should we stay outside?” So they went inside.

My aunt was chatting when the electricity went off. Every floor had a generator. The weight of all the human beings and the machines had merged into one. My khala said, “We will die today.” She couldn’t even finish the sentence; the generator was switched on and everything, from the ninth to the first floor, collapsed into debris. We were cutting vegetables at home at the time. My mother was telling us, “Nothing feels right, I am going out.”

People in our neighbourhood were saying that it was hard to say how many mothers became childless today. I didn’t really understand. Then I went out and heard that Rana Plaza had collapsed within a fraction of a second. I ran to my mother and told her. My mother asked me to tell her everything in detail. I told her and she started wailing, so did my father. My parents said, “Let us go to Rana Plaza.” By the time we reached there, hundreds of thousands of people had gathered around the building.

Rana Plaza collapsed on April 24 at 8:30 AM. For three or four days, no one could enter the building. The army surrounded the area. Everyone said people who were alive had been taken to various hospitals. And people who were dead had been taken to the hospital and later transferred to the “Adhar Chandra School” field. After hearing this, people started to gather around the field instead of the hospitals. The number of people who had gathered around Adar Chandra was equal to the number of dead bodies. People who could recognise the dead bodies were taking them home. It was impossible to recognise the bodies from the faces. People were taking the dead bodies by identifying the colour and pattern of the clothes, registering their names and receiving 20,000 taka ($250) from the government.

They were providing some papers with the dead bodies and collecting the mobile numbers. We spent 20 days and 20 nights in that place. Each dead body felt like my sister’s dead body when it arrived. My aunt was rescued at 3 am on that night. And my cousin was rescued at 5 am in the morning. Both of them were alive and at Enam Medical College Hospital. Later one nurse called us and we brought them home. We couldn’t find our sister. No dead body was found. We checked all the hospitals. What terrible luck! She has not been found to this day. But where is she? – that is our question.

My sister got A+ in her SSC exams. How sad is it that she could never know her result! She was very sharp. There were many proposals for her hand in marriage. But she put her foot down. She said, “I am not going to get married.” She also said, “I am going to pay off my father’s debt.”

My sister was very tall and her weight was 47 kg and 75 grams. Her blood group was A-. Instead of eating herself, she would feed others. We used to give away clothes to people who were poorer than us because they were poor just like us. We loved our relatives but they chased us away when we were going through rough times. We didn’t mind, as we loved them more than ourselves. They may be bad people but we were not. We would never forget the atrocious behaviour of my khalu and my own chaccha-chacchi (paternal uncle and his wife) and the things they said to my sister for the sake of their business and land. Yet, even if they beat us or cut us to pieces, we loved them. My sister was everything to us. She had her dreams – “When I grow up I will make us a brick house and we won’t be poor anymore.”

My sister has gone missing after coming to Savar. There is no news from her. If we could find some information about her, then we could calm our minds. We were at the field of Adhar Chandra School the whole time, but we couldn’t find her. The people of Savar helped everyone so much; it was remarkable. The people at Adhar Chandra helped us in so many ways. Whenever they saw people they came with food and water. They gave us sheets and clothes to sleep at night.

My father and I took off the shroud of every dead body which came to the field. But we couldn’t find my sister’s body among them. Each dead body looked like a ghost. Some didn’t have legs; some seemed like they were still working, sitting in front of a table. Some had identity cards hanging from their neck. They didn’t have anyone to identify them, whereas there we were, unable to find who we were looking for. Any normal person would feel nauseous there. People were wailing in the field; there was chaos everywhere. The air was heavy with the smell of dead bodies. But people who had lost their dear ones didn’t find the smell off-putting. Some were checking the dead bodies like they had gone mad. Some of the bodies had only waists but no head. Some were sitting. Some had their eyes wide open. Some didn’t have eyes, or limbs, or legs. I cannot eat when I recall all of this.

I have only one prayer to Allah that if He has indeed taken her then she be at least granted Heaven. And that people who survived be granted a long life.

But as the election is coming up, they wanted to make sure the public couldn’t say that the government hasn’t done anything for Rana Plaza. That’s why they paid one lakh taka ($1,250) to the wounded and two lakh taka ($2,500) to the relatives of the dead. But they didn’t even bother to provide any information about the people who are still missing. The government didn’t do anything for them. Some say that there were three to four thousands working there. If so, where are the corpses of so many people?

My parents are going insane crying for my sister. There is no peace in our minds since we lost her. We can only find peace if we can find her.

Our uncle and his wife have been abusive towards us; they have even raised their hands on us and assaulted us.

No one could stand us. Even if they were mean to us, my sister would say, “To err is human.” Shagorika used to love everyone despite everything they did. After seeing our misery she would say, “We would pay the rent from baba’s and my income and rest we will save. And we will admit Bokul to a school. I will bear the expense. I will continue my studies and let my sister study as well.”

Us sisters had a very affectionate relationship. My sister used to tell my parents, “We will complete our education in Bangladesh. Then I will get a job and take away all of my parents’ misery. My studies may abandon me, but I won’t abandon it.”

Shagorika loved to drink Mojo, a beverage. My mother would ask, “Why do you drink so much Mojo?” She would reply, “I will earn and buy you a sack full of Mojo; now don’t say anything.”

My sister had high hopes and was virtuous. My sister was unmarried. She used to tell my parents, “I will attain the highest education in Bangladesh, pay off my parents’ debt and then get married. You can forget about marrying me off.” So my parents stopped talking about her marriage. My sister received many marriage proposals. One boy wanted to pay my sister or my parents 50,000 taka ($625). Yet, she did not get married.

My parents always talk about my sister because, for children, parents are the dearest ones. We had to pay the rent and, on top of that, bear the cost of food; where would we get so much money? My father had no work. We used to depend on my sister’s income. It has been three months and eight to ten days and there is no news of my sister.

Today is Eid. If my sister were alive, we would have had fun. I can’t even tell you how much fun we used to have every year. My sister is no more. And I feel so empty inside. I feel bad for my sister and her memories haunt me. I feel so bad sometimes that I wish I was gone with her as well.

We used to talk freely amongst ourselves. If I made a mistake in my studies, Shagorika would correct it. If there was any mistake in my math, she would correct it and explain it to me very nicely. She would tell me what was on her mind and I would tell her what was on my mind. Now you can understand what kind of relationship we shared. You could call us soul sisters. We can’t celebrate Eid in the same way we did before. She used to say, “We go for shopping every Eid and we will do the same this year.” It is very sad that we couldn’t find my sister. Just two months before Eid, she said, “I will fast for the whole month.” She had never fasted for a whole month ever. It’s a pity that Ramadan came but my sister was not here to fast.

Memories of my sister were flooding in on Eid day. It didn’t even feel like Eid day. What do you do the whole day? My parents spent the whole day crying. None of us wore new clothes. Aunt Lima sent 3,000 taka ($375) via Russel bhai for Eid celebrations. They are constantly keeping in touch. Aunt Lima went abroad. Since she came back she has been checking on us to see if we are alright. She also gave me this diary in which I am writing as a gift. She inspired me to write.

Mitali apu sent lachcha shemai (vermicelli), fine rice and sugar just the day before Eid. Rowshon madam invited us to the Enam Medical Hospital on Eid day; she gave us blankets and helped us in various ways. I am grateful to all those people who helped us through our rough time.

We haven’t received our sister’s salary. We haven’t received any money from the government. My family is going mad for my sister. There is no hope for us. But I want to declare that I will fulfill all of my sisters’ dreams, Inshallah (God willing). Please pray for me and my family. I wish to finish my studies and establish an orphanage in my sister’s name. I want a job when I grow up. I won’t leave any of my parents’ needs unfulfilled. I have another younger sister. I don’t know whether she will remember anything. She is only 3 or 4 years old. She keeps crying for my sister.

People who used to work at Rana plaza were well behaved. God helped people who were injured to get out. People who were dead or missing were taken by Allah to the heavens.. All of us will pray for them.

Journalists of different agencies disseminated the news to the villages and through documentary/videography to the global media. They have worked hard. The news of Rana Plaza would have disappeared if there were no journalists. So we want to thank the journalists and send them our regards and love.

There are still some workers from Rana Plaza suffering from mental illness. We looked for our sister among them as well. But we couldn’t find her. Doctors from Shaymolee and other hospitals are continuously keeping in touch. They said, “We will treat any physical illness that you are suffering from. Please come to us if you feel unwell.” They have also taken care of us. We want to send our regards and love.

My father went to Dhaka two months ago and did a DNA test in order to find my sister. We haven’t received the test results yet. Why the delay? That is our question.

I know only Allah can help me. I love and respect Him very much. I am scared of Him even if nobody is. It was such a catastrophe for us, yet we think that we were put to a test. Allah is testing whether we remember Him. But we never forgot Allah. Allah has put us in a misery to understand our minds.

The world is full of flowers, trees, birds, rivers and mountains. Everything is here except my sister. My sister was very good. My father almost gave up his life to find my sister. My father was standing with my sister’s photo in a mass gathering in front of the Rana Plaza when men from the Awami League started shooting and throwing cocktail bombs. He would have died if he hadn’t moved to another place.

Where is that arrogance now where Bangladesh is called a land of golden human beings? Where people live in peace? Now the people of golden Bengal are living in misery. It is better to leave a country that cannot ensure its peoples’ lives.

I am 12 years old. I was born in 2002. I am from Shingra, in Natore. The pain of leaving one’s motherland is unspeakable. I still love my motherland even if I have left it. I wipe my tears but it doesn’t stop.

Today I don’t have a sister; it is so painful. I don’t have anyone other than my parents. I hope to keep everyone well. I am hearing that the government will do something for the missing persons as well. It will be good if they do that. If we could get some money from the government, we could start a small business. We are taking money in exchange of my sister’s life; but what can we do? My sister was a very good human being and had anger too. She was full of love and affection, even if she was temperamental. My sister used to like light pink dresses. She also liked black. My sister had very thick and long hair. People used to say her face and hair matched. She had fair skin and dark hair. It was a delightful sight. I feel like seeing it again. I have written a small poem so that you can understand.

If this didn’t happen today
Nothing would happen to us.
If this didn’t happen today
Tears wouldn’t well up in people’s eyes.
If this didn’t happen today
Mother’s lap wouldn’t be barren.
If this didn’t happen today
There wouldn’t be any tears.
If this didn’t happen today
Tears wouldn’t dry up.
If this didn’t happen today
People wouldn’t go insane.
If this didn’t happen today
You wouldn’t die for others.
If this didn’t happen today
People of Savar wouldn’t mourn.
If this didn’t happen today
People wouldn’t say, ‘What happened?’
If this didn’t happen today
People would live happily.
Not everyone’s tear dried up.
So we want to build a memorial.

So that people can say that their dear ones used to work here, even if they are alive, dead or missing. What else to say! This was our story; the story of our grief, pain and sorrow.

Shagorika (17)
Ethertex, 5th floor, Sewing helper
Mother: Julekha Begum, Father; Ibrahim Ali
Village: Mushti Gar, Thana: Shingra, Zilla: Natore
August 11, 2013.