Afsan Chowdhury

Rana Plaza collapse: When it doesn’t matter how many die

April 24, 2013
Photo: bdnews24.com

Photo: bdnews24.com

It was a moment when the state of politics and vulnerability as far as who matters and who doesn’t in Bangladesh was made clear to all. When the Rana Plaza collapsed, the owner , a local AL bigwig managed to escape unhurt after being rescued by the local MP, but hundreds of poor workers were killed and many more still trapped under the rubble. Nothing could be more symbolic.

In the last few months many have lost their lives in a series of such industrial accidents which didn’t touch us much and won’t. We are busy upholding political positions and flags and are embarrassed to say that we really don’t care who lives or dies, particularly when it’s about a poor person, possibly a garments factory worker. They are the new poor, those who must die so that some may become rich.

* * *

The Rana Plaza was owned by a person who is a local kingpin of the ruling party and how such a person came to own such wealth is another matter but there is no confusion that he could build a death trap with impunity. He was told by the engineers that this building was not stable at all and had developed cracks which pointed to a major fault in the structure. He swished away the observations saying that they were ‘just cracks in the concrete’. The garments factory owners with over 6000 workers were also told to shut the factories down as the building was unsafe. Nobody bothered and the very next day, the building collapsed.

07_Rana Plaza Collapse_Savar_240413

Photo: bdnews24.com

It doesn’t matter who was responsible because we don’t have any sense of responsibility. What matters is that we are able to tolerate high rate of casualty and suffering if the victims are poor. Garments factory workers have become provider of  a grim ‘entertainment’ of sort for those who are not poor and nothing can be done against them because they provide jobs to the poverty-stricken and give opportunities to others to make money. The groups who fight for their rights are themselves beneficiaries of the system so there is no way that things can improve dramatically if at all.

* * *

Director of the Industrial Police Mostafizur Rahman has said that, “The Industrial Police had asked the owners of the factories to suspend operations after cracks were noticed.” “But the factories owners had ignored our directives and decided to open their units on Wednesday”.

Excuse me? Why have a police which nobody bothers to listen to? Unless it’s all for decorative purposes. Relatives of the workers who rushed to the disaster site were also blaming owners of the building as well as the factories’ for the tragedy. Many injured workers alleged the owners had forced them to join work on Wednesday.

“None of us wanted to enter the building. Our bosses forced us.”

The reason the owners could force them to enter the building was the issue of livelihood. The poor have no control over their own living and have no rights to protect themselves so they have no choices. Which is why their welfare never becomes a movement and nobody is willing to take any risk for them. In such societies, it really doesn’t matter if one dies or thousands die. More are ready and willing to step in and die. Numbers of dead have no meaning.

* * *

Photo: bdnews24.com

Photo: bdnews24.com

But how Bangladesh is socially constructed is also clear from the history of politics of the last few months as we have seen the middle class explode in unprecedented fervour demanding that the war criminals be hanged. It has involved the entire middle class and the anger and rage have come out in a way never seen before through the Shahbagh Movement. Many liberals and lefties who are always talking of ‘chetona’ have advocated that the enemies of Shahbagh should be ‘tortured’ and be given ‘gono dholai’. The level of abuse hurled at each other on the social media and Facebook defies the traditional cultural values of a Bengali. Yet they all carry the identity of the new middle class whose iconic moment came with Shahbagh, which was a demand that was a matter dealing with war criminals, a national issue. One of the reactions of the Shahbagh Movement was the Hefazat which has caused acute anxiety in the urban middle class at the prospect of the 13 demands being implemented is too scary for them. They have no connection with the Qaumi madrassah system and their children will never study there. That’s where the RMG worker’s children go. The divide is clear.

It’s not very difficult to see why no Projonmo will rise to defend the poor because it essentially trumpets the rise of the middle class as a political force which can’t be ignored by the factory owning upper class who run Bangladeshi politics.

* * *

Let us not be hypocritical and mourn these deaths. We will feel bad for a while and then forget them till the next disaster strikes. To us, the workers are numbers and while we may go insane at the slightest insult to our political causes and leaders, we shall after a token show of sympathy to the killed poor return to what really matters to us. While this also means that if buildings collapse without any provocation, most buildings will after an earthquake, for the moment, we can hide all that anxiety and wait for a political cause that excites us, not some wretched corpses of  workers which pop up at regular intervals.

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Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist, activist and writer.

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37 Responses to “ Rana Plaza collapse: When it doesn’t matter how many die ”

  1. farjana on May 6, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    আফসান চৌধুরী, আপনার লেখার প্রথম দিকে ভালই লাগছিল। কিন্তু শেষের দিকে আপনার বক্তব্যর সাথে আমি দ্বিমত পোষণ করছি।
    আপনি যখন বলছেন “It’s not very difficult to see why no Projonmo will rise to defend the poor because it essentially trumpets the rise of the middle class as a political force which can’t be ignored by the factory owning upper class who run Bangladeshi politics.”
    তারা তখন উদ্ধারকাজে এবং উদ্ধারকৃতদের নিজ নিজ সাধ্য অনুসারে বিভিন্নভাবে অংশ নিচ্ছেন। এটা সবাই জানে, নতুন করে কিছু বলার নেই।
    আগে তাদের বাঁচানো প্রয়োজন। তারপর আসবে তাদের অধিকার আদায়ের বিষয়।

  2. Nabil on May 1, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    “It’s not very difficult to see why no Projonmo will rise to defend the poor because it essentially trumpets the rise of the middle class as a political force which can’t be ignored by the factory owning upper class who run Bangladeshi politics.”-Afsan Chowdhury
    Dear Afsan Chowdhury,
    I finished the article.It was nice until I came to these lines.Some questions are poking me.
    What does that actually mean?Is it like- if the projonmo rises now the middle class will be like a political force to upper class?In other words projonmo will not rise because they are ally with upper class and those who died are poor?And Those poor are the people who send their children to qoumi madrashas and are therefore ‘Hefajote Islam’ is on their side?That’s the reason no middle class or projonmo is gathering now?
    I don’t know.But your words sounds kind of like this.You may be a researcher.But shouldn’t you speak much more clearly and straight when you are commenting on an important topic like this?
    Considering I got you right and you had seen people who were working there I will ask you another question.”From where you are waiting to see the new political force rising?” (Considering the projonmo can’t)
    And I wonder what do you mean by the word ‘Projonmo’?Is it new generation?Or is it the generation who supports the rising for the supreme punishment of war criminals?
    Where are you trying to go by saying that poor children go to that specific kind of madrashash?Do you think they choose that for they like that?Would they send there if they have other choices? And do you think that their defenders are going to come from so called nonpolitical ‘Hefajot’?
    “The divide is clear”- you said.Well.Certainly middle class won’t send their children to such institutions easily.And I think you know the reason why.But what does this divide prove?That’s the reason middle class ‘projonmo’ won’t stand for the poor?Aren’t you a researcher?What does history say?Please let us know.We are waiting…….

  3. afsan on May 1, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    On Tarun Projonmo
    ——————

    Whenever there is a disaster people from all walks of life rush to help. One doesn’t have to belong to any including political identity to do this. This is universal. Projonmo at Savar is part of that. Are we to suppose that people joined the rescue efforts because they were at Shahbagh? In 1970 and 1990 young people joined rescue and relief efforts.

    The Projonmo did not go to Shahbagh to sit down and demand the way they did that RMG owners and the Government ensure minimum wages to the poor, better work conditions and a better future in the manner they did for hanging Quader Mollah. That is because of the nature of their identity. The middle class and in this case their avan’t garde the laptop generation has nothing in common with the poor. Why should the rich and the middle fight for the rights of the poor.

    Shabagh at one level became a fight between the AL and the BNP-JI, the enemies of Shahbagh. Which is why it’s impossible to ignore the fact that all participants, supporters and enemies more or less belong to the same cluster, the ruling class. In this case the AL accommodated Shahbagh demands, the very party to Rana and Murad Jung belong.

    So no Shahbagh in my opinion can or will rise against poverty as they did against the war criminals because we are all beneficiaries of this state and the poor have no political representation let alone of their demands.

    I was not mentioning charity activities. They are humanitarian not political acts. Shahabagh is a political event.

    • Nabil on May 2, 2013 at 11:37 am

      On charity work and political nature….

      Do you think the demands of shahbag have any historical background?How many years and how much did we suffer from those war criminals after getting independence?Didn’t it slap us directly on face for so long?Didn’t people from all classes took part in our liberation war?So don’t you think people from all classes have their support towards the punishment of those who turned against us in danger period and turned in our patriots?
      And Isn’t recent collapse of savar directly striking on working class only?And is it totally clear to many who work in garments that where is the problem and what they are deprived of?Who are behind these?Whom to punish?(let alone the middle class or others like farmers or someone outside)
      But isn’t it getting clear?Isn’t people thinking over it around?And when they understand what they do?History knows better.And I think you know it too.
      And you said-”it’s impossible to ignore the fact that all participants, supporters and enemies more or less belong to the same cluster, the ruling class. In this case the AL accommodated Shahbagh demands, the very party to Rana and Murad Jung belong. ”
      Well tell me one thing-Is it possible for a day labourer to stay all day in shahbag?But is it negligible fact those from village of Sirajgonj(Who sent their support by sending ‘pithas’) or the rikshawala who refused to take money after carrying passengers to shahbag?What about the little money of one cigeratte seller or the woman who came from BSMMU (She gave water to people free)?Aren’t these supports?Or will you say these ‘only a few’?
      And why the clusters belonging to AL didn’t give microphone to their ’same class’ leader or throw water bottles at them?Are these ‘isolated’ incidents in your eyes?Why didn’t ‘Joy Bangabandhu’ came after ‘Joy Bangla’?I know you have an explanation.Don’t you?
      Why are you trying to compare two movements of different nature in the same scale?
      Your article gives decision like this- as they are not coming so they are or so to say the gathering was fraud,false.I may be wrong and you may be right.At least you should hope so.For I am now a little bit afraid what you are saying is a direct question against the spirit.AL and BNP can poison the movement.But the demand won’t die until one of sufferers of the war(direct or indirect)is alive.I, with my small knowledge assure you that.

  4. তিনা on May 1, 2013 at 4:09 am

    আপনি সাংবাদিকতা ছেড়ে সরাসরি রাজনীতি করলে বেশি ভাল করতেন।এই দেশে হাস্যকর সকল ধরনের কথাগুলা বড় বড় রাজনৈতিক ব্যক্তিদের মুখে শুনতে ভালই লাগে।কেন আপনি বিতর্কিত কলাম লিখে নিজেকে ফোকাস করতে চান বার বার জনাব সম্পাদক।

    তরুণ প্রজন্ম কিছু করেনা,করেও নাই তো এইটুকু বলেন বুড়া প্রজন্ম কি করতাছে?

    এমন হাস্যকর কলাম লিখে নিজেকে তামাশার পাত্র বানায়েন না।

  5. Niazul on April 30, 2013 at 5:22 pm

    ”It’s not very difficult to see why no Projonmo will rise to defend the poor because it essentially trumpets the rise of the middle class as a political force which can’t be ignored by the factory owning upper class who run Bangladeshi politics.”…. Afsan Chowdhury.

    In all our daily newspaper, Facebook and blog are publishing the news of how general young people are working in Savar. They are working in various ways.Some are going into the building to rescue people, some are collecting fund, some are working in the medical team, some working to maintain discipline and so many ways. It is known by all and everybody is appreciating this effort.

    But Afsan Chowdhury is saying there is no effort from ‘Torun Projonmo’.Now from his writing some questions are rising. Why he is writing this type of article? How can Mr Afsan say those lines? Where from he is getting ‘power’ to say this to our Young Generation? Did he don’t read the newspaper? Where from he is getting incitement? What is his motive to hide the truth? Why he is doing this consciously? What is his profit to doing this?

    There is a limit of ignorance and haughtiness. I think Mr Chowdhury has crossed the limit.

    • Golam Arshad on May 1, 2013 at 11:30 am

      Erstwhile, “Torun Projonmmo Chottor’ and now labelled as “Gonojagoron Chottor” was a staged drama, it vaporized in to thin air when BAL intervened, and it is in existence NOW to render an encoring VICTORY for BAL in the next election! Has any new verdict on War Criminal awarded lately! Ask the Prime Minister. When will be the next verdict, the date seem to be orderly calculated and framed customized for BAL Victoryin the next General Election, conducted and monitored by her her own Party Government.It was truly a “Awami Jagaran” carefully burnished by the left, tagging it with “Young visionary Force in Action” I am waiting for real “Jonotar Gagoran” without any intimidation or politically motive. For NOW it is only the CALL FOR NATIONAL UNITY!! Are you with me. Prove me Wrong, If I am not Right!

  6. Wajed hasan on April 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    এই আফাসনা চৌধুরী সাহেবের তো চোখ,কান নেই বলে মনে হচ্ছে । সারাদেশের মানুষ তরুন প্রজন্ম কাজের জন্য প্রশংসা করছে। অনেক তরুণ সাভারের উদ্ধার কাজে যোগ দিয়ে অসুস্থ হয়ে পড়ছে। প্রতিদিনের পত্রিকায় এসব প্রকাশিত হয়েছে। অনেক তরুন জীবন বাজী রেখে কাজ করেছে । এই সব খবর এই সবাই জানে। তারপরও তিনি কিভাবে তরুন প্রজন্মকে দোষ দিচ্ছেন? এ কাজ শুধু মাত্র একজন অন্ধ লোকের পক্ষে সম্ভব

  7. Flint sky on April 29, 2013 at 12:19 am

    It’s not merely an accident, it’s a murder for the endless accumulation of capital. The state is responsible for the killing of innocent civilians, it’s the state which is safeguarding the BGME, it’s the state who is allowing the brutal oppression of workers depriving them from organizing in the form of trade union.

  8. Shakil on April 28, 2013 at 7:44 am

    Absolutely agree with Alifa.

    I think the response of the youth or projonmo in Savar tragedy shows it to be aware of the poor. It is not sitting idle but joining in to fight for them.

  9. alifa on April 26, 2013 at 10:43 pm

    Dear Mr. Chowdhury,

    I appreciate your concern and the timely composition of this article.
    But I have a slight disagreement with you. You said “It’s not very difficult to see why no Projonmo will rise to defend the poor because it essentially trumpets the rise of the middle class as a political force which can’t be ignored by the factory owning upper class who run Bangladeshi politics.”
    I think you have made a serious challenge and unforgiving remark about projonmo. How do can you necessarily foretell that no projonmo will stand up for the poor? May be you have now turned into an astrologer as well as an ‘activist’! For your information Mr. Chowdhury from the first day of the incident members of the projonmo i.e. students and general youth have been actively participating in the rescue works, students from different universities, colleges and schools are there helping out people, rescuing and organizing charity work. They were the first to answer the call for help! And you still think no projonmo will stand up for the poor? Mr. Chowdhury projonmo has already stood up for poor, you just have missed the signs I guess, no wonder you are not a good astrologer!
    And your actions really raise questions. Your writings, though I have no idea how they get chosen despite the poor state of composition, have reflected you do not have much respect for the new generation. It may be because you are old. Or may be you have been instructed. I should not further delve into the matter.
    Anyway, as a member of the new generation or projonmo, I utterly denounce your such foretelling as absolutely unacceptable. Remember this, while the old sits and talks the new make sacrifices. Our history has always been a proof to that. So, do not lose hope or make wrong foretelling, otherwise history can be very unforgiving

  10. digonta ahmed on April 26, 2013 at 1:40 am

    ami saver a thaki ,,,,amar bashar samona rana plaza,,,,ami mule ghotona samna sameni dhakci,,,,,akhono onak manus atka pora acha,,,,,ami joritdar shasti dabi korci,,,,,,,ami bola bujata parbo ,,,,,onak lashe dakaci,,,,,,,

  11. digonta ahmed on April 26, 2013 at 1:28 am

    amar dhaka sob chaita boro gotona,,,,,ami sobar shati kamona korci ,,,

  12. M.H. Kabir on April 25, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    This matter is very sorrowful. when I was informed about that incident then I was totally speechless for that moment. I am very much shocked for that incident and I want punishment of all are accused in connection with the incident.

  13. Mohiuddin Zaman on April 25, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Dear Editor ,

    I am a little amazed that your Head Lines are not quoting the number of dead– when ALL media (local and International )are updating the numbers every half hour .
    It seems you are not tring to embarrass your “selected” Patrons .

    It’s a shame for a erstwhile good online news provider like yourselves .You are indeed losing credibility these days .

    Regards,

    Mohiuddin Zaman
    Dubai

  14. Nurul Hoque on April 25, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Save those lives please!

  15. Sixth Sense on April 25, 2013 at 3:48 am

    We shall never learn from the past tragedies.Because our greed knows no bound.Be it the Awami Jubo League leader of Savar— the owner of Rana PLaza or the owners of the Garment Factories which were located in this building.Everything is going on as usual in this country as if nothing has happened.While the rescue workers,led by the Army,were trying to rescue the trapped workers who were reportedly forced into the building by the Factory owners to meet deadlines—our elected President was seen to take oath being administered by the acting speaker.
    Nothing unusual will happen either to the factory owners or the powerful owner of this death trap known as Rana Plaza.Unusual things are not expected to happen in this country.

  16. Esha on April 25, 2013 at 12:34 am

    Im totaly speechless,crying many more time today&jst pray to my Allah.;-(

  17. Shafiq on April 24, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    All the people who are now shouting to hang the owner as an exemplary justice; you are the main contributor for this state of the country. For you, the law is always an instrument of convenience. You want the law to deliver what you want. You are never prepared for a lawful regime that will deliver justice irrespective of your convenience. You have no conception of rule of law.

    This tragedy happened not because of the greed of the owners, businessmen everywhere are greedy and skirt the limit of the law to get maximum benefit, this happened because we do not have rule of law. Worse part is that we don’t even want a rule of law.

  18. Mo Chaudhury on April 24, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    Dear Afsan,

    I am, personally, so very proud of your incredibly candid, poignant and brave commentary. Conscience, compassion and consideration are the rarest commodities in the political and business echelons of our ancestral nation. God save Bangladesh! — Mo

  19. Shafiq Rahman on April 24, 2013 at 9:47 pm

    Well said article but who to concentrate while victims are ultra poor, safeless workers -make money for riches and make the country safe! What a deep shocked tragedy

  20. koushik on April 24, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    এখানে আপনাদের Phone no. & Blood Group দিয়ে আপনাদের সহযোগিতা করতে আমাদের সাহায্য করুন …………
    http://www.facebook.com/JaruriRakteraPrayojana?ref=hl#

  21. Shafiq Rahman on April 24, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    “ফাটল ধরার পর মঙ্গলবার দপুরে ভবনটি ঘুরে দেখেন স্থানীয় প্রশাসনের কর্মকর্তারা।

    স্থানীয় প্রকৌশলী আব্দুর রাজ্জাক মঙ্গলবার ঘটনাস্থল পরিদর্শন করে বলেন, ভবনটির নিরাপত্তার স্বার্থে বুয়েট থেকে প্রকৌশলী এনে পরীক্ষা-নিরীক্ষা করা প্রয়োজন। তা না হলে বড় ধরনের দুর্ঘটনা ঘটতে পারে।

    তবে ভবনটির মালিক পৌর যুবলীগের সিনিয়র যুগ্ম আহব্বায়ক মো. সোহেল রানা মঙ্গলবার বিডিনিউজ টোয়েন্টিফোর ডটকমকে বলেছিলেন, সামান্য একটু প্লাস্টার খুলে পড়েছে। এটা তেমন কিছু নয়।”

  22. Kislu on April 24, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    Oh Allah! Save our people, save Bangladesh pls. Praying, praying, praying……

  23. Arham on April 24, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    My deepest sympathy for the victims of Savar.

  24. বোরহান উদ্দিন সামিম on April 24, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    দয়া করে আর তদন্ত কমিটির নামে সরকারী টাকা খরচ না করে সেই টাকা সাহয্য হিসাবে প্রদান করুন তাহলেও কিছুটা কাজের কাজ হবে

  25. Shaheen Amin on April 24, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    If the government doesn’t take proper action this time, then no vote for them ever.

  26. Aarshia Rusfia on April 24, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Our collective responsibility may help the victims of Savar tragedy for their early recovery. We should be united. We are educated, we know how to get united.

  27. Akmal Mustafa Tipu on April 24, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    This is time to mourn, not for politics. Please extend cooperation to ease the communication and deploy your young force for blood donation and better treatment of the victims.

  28. Avishek Sengupta on April 24, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    বিচার চাই খুনিদের……সব রক্তচোষা গার্মেন্টস মালিকরা খুনি…..

  29. Biplop Chowdhury on April 24, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    পুরা দেশটা লাশের নগরী হয়ে রইলো।শোক প্রকাশ এখন লোক দেখানো কালচার হয়ে গেছে।যাদের অপকর্মে এসব ঘটনা ঘটছে তাদের বিচারে ব্যবস্হা করুন।

  30. Shabbir Ahmed on April 24, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    I am totally speechless for Savar Building crash. Those who are in Bangladesh please go and donate blood for wounded people. I am promising if some one donate blood now and want to get back his blood I will give you back when I will be in Bangladesh. If you want I will give you written promise that I will give you same amount of blood back when U will need ……please go and give blood for wounded people

  31. Monirul Hoque Sabuj on April 24, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    জাতীয় শোক দরকার নাই্‌, চাই কঠোর একশান। এই বিল্ডিং এর মালিক হইতে ইঙ্গিনিয়ার – ঠিকাদার সবার বিরুধে। অনতিবিলম্বে… No more time for negotiation.

  32. Tanvir Haider on April 24, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    How shocking!

  33. Debasish Biswas on April 24, 2013 at 9:11 pm

    It is a common scenario in our country.

  34. Golam Arshad on April 24, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    Afsan: Just to act on transparency and taking responsibility, Perhaps you remember sometime in 1956, there was a train accident in India, and the then Railway Minister Mr.Lal Bahadur Shastri resigned, taking blame and responsibility of that railway death incident. Our Commerce and our Industry Ministers are still in office, and a local AL goon/owner untouched and unhurt. Who cares these days about accountability, transparency and integrity!!Afsan we are heading for a bizzaric situation! Prove me wrong, if I am not right!

  35. russel on April 24, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    who is responsible for this deplorable collapse? i think the whole system of our country dragging us to the epic of hell.
    i just couldn’t speak.speechless. :(

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