The Story of Rana Plaza

© K M Asad

By Manik Khan & Taslima Akhter

10th April 2014

Translation Humayun Kabir

I am Mohammad Manik Khan. On that day, around 1:10 pm I saw on television that Rana Plaza had collapsed. I left my home and went to Savar. There I heard the heart-wrenching cries of people. A few of us broke down the bamboo fences put up by the police and went inside. I was devastated by what I saw inside. I couldn’t control myself in that situation and joined many others in the rescue efforts. I got two individuals out after cutting off their limbs and brought out many dead bodies as well.

On the first day I worked towards the back [of the building]. There some of the victims still alive were trying to escape by jumping out; rescuers were trying to get the others out. Most of the people had died near the stairs – one person’s head on top of another, dead bodies and concrete beams piled on top of people, bodies all tangled and torn. This was an extraordinary episode of my life. I did some things that had never done in my life.

On the first day I entered many places where others didn’t dare to go in. A Hujur [Islamic teacher/leader] came from inside and informed us that there were people alive. But, no one dared to go inside. I went in with a flashlight. It was a very risky and tight place. There was no room to work, you couldn’t sit or stand properly. I managed to get in by crawling. Then I saw a woman trapped under a beam, one leg under and other leg on top like a Cross sign. There was hardly any space around her. She might be rescued if her trapped leg is cut off and the beam is moved. The person who had gone in before me had become tired after cutting her leg muscle for two hours; he could not manage to cut her bones. There was no other way but to cut off her leg. I don’t know where I got the strength or the courage! The blade wouldn’t cut through the bone but I tried with all my might. All I could think of was that I had to save her. The woman had become all pale by then. I became scared. I told her, “Sister, pray to Allah, just a bit more left to cut.” The person who had been cutting her leg before me had tied her eyes, mouth, and hands so that she couldn’t move or scream. I don’t know if she had been given any [anesthetic] injection or not. As I was cutting through her bone, she was screaming through her gaged mouth. I thought perhaps she might feel better if I removed the gag. After I removed the gag, she wanted to drink some water. However, people outside advised against giving her water, fearing it might do some damage. At that point she was continuously repeating, “ Turn on the fan, turn on the light.” She had no sense of her surroundings; how would there be any light or fan! By the time I had finished cutting her right leg, I feared she was dead; I felt no response from her. Anyway, I tied a cloth around her waist, torso, and head and then dragged her out. I heard she survived. I don’t even remember her name, perhaps, Shireen or something. Sometimes I feel the urge to see her; I want to ask her how she is now.

The next day I saw more dead bodies in the stairs, there was no way to get them out. I found thirty dead bodies on the floor, pressed under tables. I cut through the tables and light channels with a hacksaw and got the bodies out. Then I saw a few people trapped alive under a beam along with many dead bodies. We couldn’t get them out. I told the personnel from the Armed Forces, “There are many people trapped under the beam, alive and dead. If the beam can be blasted, they may be rescued.”

I went back home at midnight. When I fell asleep, I saw dead bodies and heard heart-wrenching cries in my dreams. After that I couldn’t sleep anymore. I went back to Rana Plaza at dawn. I removed a few more dead bodies from the floor. I came back home at 2:30 in the morning. I was covered with a foul smell. My wife didn’t let me enter the home [at first]. After changing clothes and cleaning up, I sat down to eat supper. But, I couldn’t eat, I only managed to eat a morsel of rice and drink a glass of water. I stayed home untill 5:00 in the morning and then went back again to Rana Plaza. This time I meet a few brothers from Chatra[Student] Federation. I joined their team and started to work with them.

We recovered a woman’s dead body from the south side of the stairs. Then we put one woman in the ambulance after rescuing her by cutting off her right leg. After that we removed a few more dead bodies. However, by then the corpses had already begun to decompose already. Wherever we would grab onto the corpse's, flesh would come off from the body. That day I returned home around three in the morning, extremely exhausted. I couldn’t eat anything on that day either. The next day I went back to Rana Plaza around eight in the morning. After removing one more corpse with the help of a rickshaw-puller brother, I became very sick. I came back home vomiting. Because of my sickness, I couldn’t return there anymore. I couldn’t go to work either for a week because of the illness. I couldn’t sleep many nights after that. All the time I had the feeling that living and dead people were calling me saying, “Brother please rescue me.” Then all of a sudden I would realize that I was still sitting at home.

I wish that I never have to witness such a devastating situation again. The memory of Rana Plaza will stay with me till my death. My demand to the government – hand out severe punishment to whoever may be responsible for this. The souls of those who have perished may get some solace then.

Writer Manik Khan & Taslima Akhter
Manik Khan: Now Garment Worker. At the time of Rana Plaza collapse he was working as a bus driver.
Translator : Humayun Kabir