Monday, April 22, 2024

Savar survivor Arati stares into a bleak future

Fourteen-year-old Arati Rani Dhar was seething in pain on her bed at the Enam Medical College Hospital. Bandaged, her right leg has been amputated from below the knee.
She has survived, but lost one of her vital limbs.
Suffering severe trauma, she screamed: “What sin have I committed that I’ve to bear this pain. Oh God, take me away.”
Arati is one of the 2,400 plus survivors of last week’s building collapse at Savar. The eight-story Rana Plaza, housing five garment factories, gave way. The worst-ever industrial disaster killed her mother, also a co-worker, and more than 500 others.
The tragedy shattered her dream of supporting her family with the little sum she earned stitching clothes for Western retailers. She had to conceal her age to get the job. She wanted to provide for the education of her three sisters, wallowing in abject poverty at the remote Natun Naogaon village in Baniachang upazila of north-eastern Habiganj.
Rescuers pulled her out from under the rubble three days after the building crumbled. Physicians preferred to amputate the right leg, which was stuck under a concrete block for more than 72 hours.
Arati and her mother used to work on the sixth floor along with 400 others, who she believes have either perished or have been maimed for life like her.
A series of factory disasters in recent years have exposed poor workplace safety in Bangladesh and caused a serious hue and cry across the globe. The lingering issue is becoming a problem for the Bangladesh industry and Western companies, concerned that consumers will become worried that clothes are made in unsafe conditions.
Bangladesh is under pressure to meet international labour standards for its garment industry, which accounts for 79 per cent of the country’s export earnings, and accommodates more than 3.5 million workers, mostly women.
Arati’s youngest sister, Akhi Dhar, 2, was crying looking for their mother.
“How can I console my sister? She wants mother to comfort her.”
Arati has two more sisters—five-year-old Lucky and seven-year-old Lovely—who were staying with their father, Adhir Dhar, a poor day-labourer, at their rented Savar hut near the local Girls’ High School. Adhir is now left without the twin supplementary income of his wife and eldest daughter.
“Had I left for my village home when I lost my job at the Polo garment factory as I was underage, I would not have faced this situation,” Arati said with tears rolling down her cheeks. The Polo factory fired her when the authorities found that she was below 18, the age when a person is allowed to work as a factory worker.
Arati said she got the job at Rana Plaza on condition that she would state her age as 18. Her salary was Tk. 7,000 (USD 87) per month, which included overtime hours—working between 8 am to 10 pm—with a lunch-break.
She was also told that if any ethical standard officer from Western buyers or other big companies enquired about her age, she should say 18, as the factory authorities provided her with an identity card that said she is not underage.
She remembers that a power outage occurred immediately before the building collapsed. “I heard everyone screaming, crying for help as the structure caved in.” Sultana Kamal, executive director of the rights organisation, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), criticised the working conditions at the garment industry. Workers’ safety is hardly taken care of compared to the profit the garment makers earn. The Western consumers are satisfied with the low cost. They work like slaves without any basic rights under the law, the rights defender said, calling for improving their working conditions for better performance, including right to trade union.

-With The Independent input

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