Raja Mia (24), Iron man, 3rd floor, Phantom Apparels ltd.

Deceased: Shahina, 32

By Taslima Akhter

November 05,2014

Translation Shehzad muhammad arifeen

Remember Shahina, fighting for her life until the very end? The ambulance and stretcher waiting just outside. Everyone waiting in tense anticipation for another living soul. Remember Shahina’s pale face, covered in dirt and yearning for escape? Rescuers were telling her, “We will get you out, no matter what it takes. Just try and stay calm; be patient.” With blood streaming down her forehead, she said, “I am being patient. I am in pain; see how my forehead is wounded and dripping with blood - but am I complaining?” Shahina was counting down the hours, with incredible patience and courage, waiting to see Robin. The media kept us on the edge of our seats, with live coverage and updates every minute. How could we forget?

18 month old Robin is Shahina’s only son, only child. For him, Shahina was both mother and father; he has not had a real father since Shahina was three months pregnant. She used to work on the 4th floor. Rescue workers got news of her and three other survivors on the fifth day of the disaster, on April 28, 2013. They were the rescue workers, ordinary citizens, who discovered the signs of four beating hearts, trapped in the abyss on the 3rd floor. These workers were joined by Captain Mahmud Hasan, Ashraful Alam Manik, Dr. Murad, fire service rescue workers Tanharul Islam, Khondokar Abdul Jalil and Abul Khayer, small trader Kaykobaad, and many others, all working together to get the four survivors out.

They were finally able to get in touch with Shahina, Kolpona, Farzana and Shahinoor, after digging a hole through the 9th floor ceiling and descending almost 78 feet. On the first day of the attempt, Dr. Murad told journalist Farzana Rupa, “There are four in there. Nobody believes us. Come with us and see for yourself.” And so Rupa joined them in their rescue attempt. But as time went by, the voices of the survivors started to fade away, leaving only Shahina and her battle for life. Their efforts at getting her out of that hole continued until the afternoon of the second day. Captain Hasan, attempting to describe that descent, said, “The whole place is like a tunnel. We had to go down, navigate through twists and turns, all the while pushing dead bodies out of the way to get to the survivors.” Khondokar Abdul Jalil of the fire service also promised Shahina that they would get her out no matter what - pointing to Captain Hasan, he said, “See the military is here as well.” Abul Khayer, also of the fire service team, went up to her and told her to saw the beams, hoping that that would help her get out. And so she did, saying “Please don’t leave me here.” Abul Khayer, in desperation, exclaimed, “If you die, I’ll die with you, but I won’t leave you here.” All of their confident promises helped Shahina hold on. Perhaps she was thinking of embracing her son any moment now - of feeding him, comforting him.

But despite all of their efforts, it was starting to look bleak. Eventually the orders came to cease all rescue operations inside and cut of the oxygen and water supplies, because it was time to use the heavy machinery. But the rescue workers were adamant that they would be able to get her out if they got just a little more time. They protested and pleaded for more time, saying that they had promised Shahina her freedom. Then Kaykobaad exclaimed, “Shahina will be free in another hour; just one more hour.” Everyone was waiting; all the rescue workers were exhausted. Their efforts continued well past 8 at night, but to no avail. Shahina’s head was out, but she was still stuck shoulders down. Then Kaykobaad pleaded with Captain Hasan for one last attempt - to go inside and use the equipment. There was no stopping him. Perhaps out of exhaustion and desperation he went in and tried to cut off the beam using a grinding machine, when suddenly the oxygen line burst into flames. Soon all the thread, cloth and polythene inside caught fire as well, with Captain Hasan, Kaykobaad, Dr. Murad, Tanharul, Khondokar Jalil, Abul Khayer and many others still inside. There is no telling who got pushed aside, who got trampled over in that mad rush in the darkness to get out with their lives. Captain Hasan, recalling those horrifying minutes, said, “It was getting hard to breathe. Trying to get out of that endless tunnel, we felt like we were going to suffocate and die at any moment, as the fire rushed at us from behind. Halfway out I found the rope dangling. As I was trying to squeeze through with my knees tucked in, someone stormed by, using my hands as step ladders, and rushed out. Nothing seemed real at the time. I felt like I had no strength left in my entire body.” That was when Abdul Jalil managed to pull him out. Kaykobaad was on fire - Dr. Murad tried to put it out by tearing off his clothes, but it did not help. Kaykobaad pleaded with Dr. Murad to leave him and save himself, but the doctor would not have it. Both managed to get out eventually, but they had to leave Shahina behind. Later, as the fires were being put out, she was dragged out and onto the stretcher - but she did not make it out alive. Kaykobaad, the small trader who stopped to help as he was driving through Savar on his motorcycle, was also sent to the hospital.

Every single one of them - Dr. Murad, Captain Hasan, Lieutenant Ashraful, Khondokar Jalil, Tanharul Islam, Abul Khayer, and everyone else broke down into tears. In agony Tanharul Islam exclaimed, “She kept saying, ‘I have an 18 months-old son, please don’t leave me here, give me the chance to feed him again’ - but we failed her”. Rupa had trouble breathing as the news reached her - she had gone inside that very day. Part of Shahina’s head was still inside; the doctors were considering getting her out even if they had to cut off her breasts. But on hearing this, she told Rupa, “Please stop them, I have to breast-feed my son”. Even now Rupa has trouble accepting what happened. Shahina is no more, Kaykobaad is no more, yet the nightmares remain with all those who were there. The memories can still startle them by day and keep them up at night - they are trapped in that abyss, the walls are caving in, Shahina begging for life as her entire body is on fire. Shahina has left us. Her son Robin remains. He stays with his grandparents, aunts and uncles. Many had offered to take him in, but his aunt Jasmine balked at the idea of him staying away from family just because they were poor. Shahina was the youngest of four siblings - Shajeda (50), Jahangir (45), Jasmine (37) and Shahina (32) used to live in Patuakhali, right on the riverbank. When the river claimed their house they moved a little further to Kumirpara, of the Kolapara thana. Their father, Jahirul Islam, used to fish for Hilsha in the river, and worked as a tenant farmer throughout the rest of the year. Their mother managed the household and the crops, and took care of the children.

Around 1982-83, their mother had to undergo surgery to remove a growth in her stomach, a surgery that set them back by 120,000 taka; the expenses and loans brought on hard times for the family, and one by one they started moving to Dhaka. The first to move was Jahangir in 1987, who tried to provide for the family by working sometimes as a bricklayer, sometimes as a rickshaw-puller. The rest of the family soon followed, forced by want and destitution, and Shahina came with them. She worked at a garment factory in Fulbari for about 12 to 14 years before starting work at Rana Plaza in 2009. By then her mother was no more. Without a husband, she kept on living with her father and siblings. Her hopes of bringing up her son and giving him an education died with her that day.

Her brother, in mad desperation, was looking for her everywhere, even as her face was plastered on TV screens throughout the country, until a cousin called him and let him know what was going on - but he couldn’t reach her in time. In the dead of night her family, in shock and despair, finally laid eyes on her corpse. But their tribulations were not over - after all they had been through, someone else came forward to claim the body. Eventually her brother and sisters managed to gather enough proof, including her voter ID card, to take her body and bury her in the Imandipur graveyard. And with that, her furious struggle for life finally came to an end.

Shahina (32)
Phantom Apparels, 4th floor, Sewing Operator
Mother: Fatema Begum; Father: Jahirul Islam
Village: Kumirpara; Thana: Kolapara; P.O.: Nilganj
District: Patuakhali
November 5, 2014