Savar: a diary of Sorrow and Anger

Writer: Bithi Ghosh


By Bithi Ghosh

May-June 2013

Translation Humayun Kabir

24 April 2013 saw the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Savar. Bangladesh witnessed the expanding record of bloodshed in our history. I rushed to the Dhaka Medical College hospital - as a teacher, a cultural activist and above all, as a human being, I had to go. I have never seen such horrifying scenes. Those of us who were unhurt by the accident and walking by the sides of the hospital beds full of injured patients rescued from under the rubbles of the collapsed structure were often terrified by the shrieks of these victims of Rana Plaza. The sub-conscious mind drove me to run away from these victims, imagining myself in their shoes. But I failed to run away. An inner turmoil pushed me to go to the hospital every day. I used to be very restless at night when I returned home. I started to write on Facebook about those injured victims to get rid of my sufferings. Here, I present some of my writings on Yanur, Jhorna, Angura, Amjad, Saddam and a few others.

1 May 2013

Yanur, Barishal

Yanur (16) and her mother Anowara used to work in a factory at the 5th floor of Rana Plaza. Although Yanur was pulled out of the wreckage her mother was still missing. There was none that can try to find Anowara.

Whoever goes by Yanur's side and shows her some affection, she is addresses as her mother or aunt or uncle.

She cries, seeing love in peoples' eyes, saing, "Aunt, please do not leave me. Hold me tight. Tell Doctor Uncle not to inflict pain on me".

Liza, the woman who valiantly participated in the rescue work, has now taken up the role of Yanur's mother. Yanur also feels that she has found Anowara in Liza. This child could feel that everyone in Bangladesh is now her kin.

She was critical today. She lost a lot of blood due to internal hemorrhage and was shifted to Apollo hospital today.

Jhorna, Rajbari

Jhorna was employed on the 2nd floor of the Rana Plaza. She got an injury in her leg from the collapse and she was also suffering from some Kidney ailments. The doctor order that her leg be amputated. How will she be able to play again? I do not have the answer to this question.

Jhorna's sister Moyna is still missing. She used to work in Linken on the same floor. Their father sits beside one daughter with his hand over his head and stresses about the missing one. He cannot afford to look for the missing daughter since his ailing daughter needs his care too. In this hostile unknown city, where will he look for his daughter?
He cannot remember when was it that he had a change of clothes. He does not even know where to find clothes in this city. Even if he knew, how would he leave his daughter to buy clothes!

Rehana is a very pretty girl.

Her mother hoped to marry her to a good person. The doctors ordered the amputation of Rehana's leg. After a lengthy and unsuccessful attempt to convince Rehana's mother to give consent for the amputation, the doctors turn to me. They tell me, "Please convince her. The more time passes the greater is the loss". When I go to talk to her, Rehana's mother asks me, "tell me, sister, who will marry my 'cripple' daughter?" I fail to convince her that Rehana's life should get the priority. She is afraid that people will curse her daughter as 'cripple' Rehana. She is terrified by this imaginary name-calling.

After the collapse day: 25th April 2013 Rehana cries out, ''Sister, I want to walk like you. Please remove my bandage. I want to run."

Twelve of the injured including Yanur, Jhorna, Rehana, and Rahima were taken to the Apollp hospital. All of them were in critical conditions. We had to collect 26 bags of blood for 6 of their operations. One of the volunteers, Fayham donated blood and he also collected a few more bags from others. He was also awake throughout the night looking out for the patients. Our friends from the Students' Federation (Chhatro Federation) were his companions.

Yanur, Rahima and those like them are suffering from critical deadly injuries, holding hands with many unknown brothers, sisters, mothers, aunts and uncles. They can sink any moment. Some will probably recover and our paths may cross again, only they will have the ugly label 'cripple' attached to their names.

3 May 2013
The Red Carpet and Angura

The President of Bangladesh will come to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital to visit the victims of Rana Plaza collapse. There is an enormous effort to welcome him to the hospital. The walls are given new coats of paint. Hospital attendants who had been devoting their time to the injured victims engaged instead in decorating the hospital. Osman was one of them; he said that he did not want to decorate the hospital, instead, he wanted to work for the injured victims. But he was helpless, he had to follow orders.

The ward where the Savar victims were staying earned importance due to the possible visit by the Honorable President. The beds had new sheets, pedestal fans were brought next to the headrests. Even the cockroaches that used to reign freely on the beds and even often roamed around the open wounds of many of the victims, which had been unstoppable so far, vanished at the news of the Presidential visit. The relatives of all injured victims were driven away from the ward. We were also requested to leave the room for a Presidential protocol. I was standing in the next room waiting for the visitation to get over.

A red carpet was rolled out from the main gate of the hospital to the Savar ward. Everything was in its right place. The injured forgot their sufferings as they were witnessed this farce. Angura, a 22-year old woman from Amsora village of Sirajganj suddenly became a big problem in this situation. She was in one of the ground floor wards - the ward 121. Because of the possible visitation by the President, she was brought into the Savar ward with others. One of her hands and a considerable part of her leg was rotting. She had a high fever. After her wounds were dressed, she was unconscious. The doctors were anxious and sorry for the woman, whom they did not expect to survive. A stretcher was brought in.. The senior doctors pushed the stretcher towards the juniors, while the juniors pushed it towards the nurses. The nurses removed her from the ward. At the end, Osman and I pushed the stretcher over the red carpet and tried to take her to the Intensive Care Unit. It was very difficult to push the stretcher towards the floors above: the elevator was locked downstairs, waiting for the VIP to come to the Savar ward. We found more help and managed to push the stretcher of Angura towards the ICU.

This is the true face of Bangladeshi Protocol.

5 May 2013

Josna from National Institute for Trauma and Orthopedic Research (NITOR) (Hospital for the Disabled)

Josna is a pretty girl with a smiling face in one of the beds of NITOR. People who come to visit her suffer to see her condition. She consoles them saying, "Doctors say, I will get well. It may take a little time". How surprising is the energy of human life!

On the contrary, those with the indomitable urge to survive out of the wreckage, who asked the rescuers, ''please, give me a traditional kitchen knife, I'll get out by chopping my hand off' or ''please rescue me even if you have to chop my leg" are very sad now. They cannot see any reason to continue this life. They cannot imagine the darkness in front of them now, when they came to work in the plaza to light up their lives. They do not see any hope.

The 105 injured victims taking treatment at the NITOR hospital will never return to normal lives. Most others in other hospital have a similar fate.

Whenever someone visits these wards, the relatives of the injured victims rush to them with hopes of getting relief and other loving gifts. Not everyone gets the gifts. If one is deprived but another in the next bed is not, those who have been deprived get angry. They complain about this a lot. These helpless people have not yet recognized who their real deprivers are!

They say to everyone who visits them, "Brother, please don't forget to help us get all kinds of help". They do not feel that they have rights, as if they even lack the imagination to think about rights, as if everything l that has happened to them were part of their destiny!

As if they don't have any demand even after they have their injuries, lost limbs, and lost family members.

8 May 2013
Rahima, Parvin, and the march of the corpses

Rahima's ancestral home is in a remote village of Gaibandha. Rahima and her cousin Morefa used to work in a garment factory in Savar. Morefa survived the Rana Plaza collapse and returned home to her mother. She does not know Rahima's fate.

Rahima's parents are very poor. They could not come to see their daughter since they could not arrange the transport cost to come to Dhaka. They know that their daughter has been saved from death by the mercy of Allah. But they do not know where she is staying, in which hospital? They have heard that the government, as well as many others, were supporting their daughter.

Rahima has lost both her kidneys. Her arms and legs are badly injured. Today, she is in critical condition and she has been sent to the ICU. Doctors say she is clinically dead.

I called Morefa today. Through that phone call, Rahima's parents were informed about her actual condition. They took the address of the hospital. They have asked their neighbours to help them get on the bus tonight. They will probably return home tomorrow with their daughter's dead body.

Rahima in the morning, Parveen at night - they are all leaving us for the land of death. I do not understand all that the doctors say, neither do Parveen or the relatives of Rahima. They only look at the doctors with a blank gaze. They try harder and harder to understand what is being said in a foreign language by trying to decipher the movement of the lips. Not understanding that language they try to listen to the patient’s body. But Parveen, Rahima, and other victims fail.

Even in such dire conditions, the families often fight. Who is going to claim the funeral compensation for the dead body? A dead body means BDT 20,000 with the possibility of much more in the future. Greed for more advantages is not easy pacified. They haggle with each other over the right to the corpse. 9 May 2013

Lonely Amzad

When you see injured garment worker from Savar, Amzad, in the hospital bed, you might mistake him for a child. Only a careful look at him will reveal that he is a young adult. He lost both his feet up till his ankles. He got CGPA 5 in his SSC examination. His heart broke when he failed miserably in his HSC examination. He did not study further.

A visitor at Apollo Hospital who is a teacher by profession, wrote in a piece of paper, "You will be happy if you think about a good thing every morning. Your day will be happier.” Amjad reads that piece of paper daily but he is not happy.

Amjad married 3 months ago. After he lost his feet, his in-laws will not allow his wife to come to visit him. But whenever he is awake, he wants his wife by his side. He remains sad that he does not find her. The doctor said that if his wife were here, he would have recovered quicker. This heartless society will not even fulfill that desire. 9 June 2013

Saddam, Tangail

Saddam has completed his bachelor degree in Economics from the National University. His Master's degree examinations are days away. He dreamt of a good job after he finished his studies. Rana Plaza took away everything. His previous job was with Robi. Recently he joined a dealer agent of Nestle. His office was in the building next to the Rana Plaza.

When Rana Plaza collapsed on the 24th, he was in his office. Their building also collapsed with Rana Plaza. 19 people including Saddam was stranded inside the debris. Three of them died, five were rescued with wounds. Saddam was rescued within the first 50 minutes after the collapse, but later his hand had to be amputated. The accident strained his heart, his eyesight was affected and legs were injured.

He looks at the visitors with a blank gaze whenever anyone visits him at the Apollo Hospital. Those eyes hold a look filled with hatred and mistrust. Members of his family fail to convince him that it is not a big deal that he has lost one arm, the fact that he is still alive is much more important to them. He is not consoled so easily. He wants to deny this world, shaking and tossing his head continuously. During that time, Apollo hospital took care of his treatment. After he recovered, he was transferred to CRP for tertiary care.

The rubble of Rana Plaza has left people around the world speechless and hurt. People from all walks of life have rushed to Savar, from one hospital to another to visit and to help the victims and to console them as much as they could. Many organizations and individuals came together to support the victims. Many individuals rushed to the sides of the victims, leaving their work and lives aside, including University of Dhaka teacher Meher Nigar, teacher Najma Begum, theatre worker Liza, Doctor Shahana, Doctor Mouree, entrepreneur Taslima Miji and many others.

Now all the injured victims have left the hospitals of Dhaka. Some have returned home with a disability, while some others are waiting at the CRP for artificial limbs. Both Rehana's legs had to be amputated; she is disabled now. Now she wants two good legs. Amjad will also be happy to get two prosthetic legs. Saddam has sat for the Masters examination with the help of a writer and got good results. He missed First Class by only 12 marks. Angura survived her fight at the ICU, so did Aklima, Ratna, Taslima, Feli, Rebeca and so on. But they did not want this life. They wanted a life with their heads held high by hard-earned money from work. The state has snatched all their dreams. Many of them still call us to enquire when they will get their compensation. They remind me to remember them if I get information for more provision for the victims, I should take care so that they are not deprived of their dues.

These people are destitute and their lives are full of uncertainty and anxiety. Those who are responsible for this dire situation of the workers, those who benefit from the labour and sweat of the workers, are busy saving the criminals and presenting new theories and fake tears to pave the ways for amassing more wealth for themselves. And we are left with an ever-expanding list of dead workers from Tazreen, Spectrum and Rana Plaza. Until Rehana, Amzad, Angura and others like them start kicking those people in their chests, until the workers learn to seize their own rights and their dues, and until this society regards the workers as human beings, these dishonest and deceptive people will become more powerful, more people will die, and we will be exhausted by writing Diaries of Sorrow and Anger.

Bithi Ghosh
Teacher, Central Organizer, Samageet Sangskriti Prangon May-June 2013