This piece is going to be its writer’s expression of solidarity with the teeming workers who flocks in the garment factories, day in day out, for yearn of a life so that they can buy food to live and feed their near ones, so that they too can prolong their life span. So that they would be able to live in city, fall in love and raise offspring. And buy colour TV where the glittering lifestyle cramped with subtle nuance of emotional tempestuousness, hitherto unfamiliar in their own lives, of people who do not belong to their own class, country or speak their language, keep them fascinated for a significant portion of their non-working hours. For this fantasia infested boxed life charge up their sentient as much as the charger does to their mobile sets. On whose sweat, (and blood and limbs) his country accumulates digits to surge its GDP curve. This is also going to be my aeration of revulsion at the profiteers, corrupt businessmen and government officials, and the government and opposition politicians for their apathy to the sufferings of the people and at the decadence in social mores and triumph of greed.
These I do in concert with retired government apparatchik’s, politicians, newspaper columnists, bloggers, writers, poets, fellow shoppers – in TV talk shows, in hoisting flag half-mast, in twitter blogs, in after dinner chit chats or at barber shops.
And for doing all these, I render this piece into an exercise in futility.
For inevitably, this will draw out comparisons and analysis of what happened in Tazreen and elsewhere, and will be a aide-mémoire that the louse-ridden government and controlling bodies have ceased to become functional against collective greed of the powerful few. How political scoring, blame game and apathy for the people in the lower rung of the ladder took over all sense that was needed to stop repeat of the same tragedy again?
Admittedly, these have all happened: a ninth floor building was built on a three or six floor foundation. The municipal authority of Savar sanctioned the plan ultra vires, and RAJUK, the authority that should have monitored these defaults, did not intervene or stepped in to regularise it. When the crack showed up on the building, the bank at the ground floor packed its business and moved away from it. The governing body of the RMG industry, the BGMEA notified not to use the premises for the obvious risk to the worker lives. And at the spectacle of the mother of all flouts, the garment factory owners assembled their workers in the building on the fateful day to carry on as usual.
Of course, they had their shipment schedule to maintain. Failing, it could induce their foreign principals to take business away from them, may be to another country. Bangladesh would lose valuable foreign currency earning and this in turn could delay its attaining middle income country status by such and such date. Only saboteurs, who do not want to see Bangladesh prosper would impede that prospect. So, some of them knocked on the building hard to make it crumble. Everybody else: Savar Municipal Authority, RAJUK, the architect, the factory owners were all imbued with a rare sense of patriotism in their thoughts and deeds.
I understand the building was also an assembly point for the workers when they were called for their rent a mob moonlighting chores, organised by the owner of the building, who is also a ruling party somebody. I do not know what the rest of the world is thinking about the characteristics of the Bengali people in general, but I guess, as a young poet Sukanta inspired us to believe, some hundred years ago, that they view us in awe, because even in a desolated reduced to ashes state, Bengalis do not compromise with evil. I should also think this is not unique to Bangladeshi only as a people. What is puzzling however is our propensity to tolerance of the evil deeds and inability to see beyond the box, our overwhelming urge to be compliant with the power that be and inability to take a principled stand.
The successive governments have failed in implementing building codes despite a number of publicised structural collapse since 2004 (Shankharibazar in 2004, Spectrum in 2005 and Phoenix in 2006). There is also a charge of criminal negligence which can be pointed towards the authority in their inaction to make provisions for disaster management when calamity of this magnitude strikes. The fire service and the army do have some resources but for improved management international organisations and coordinated programme with foreign governments should have been set off.
But importantly, nobody has ever been made accountable for these inactions or misdeeds. No one person or body has been seen to be brought to justice. And the people of Bangladesh has voted to powers the two same ruling clique by rotation despite everything that has been done to them, no matter how outrageous or heinous that have been.
At the inception of industrial revolution in the nineteenth century Europe, the Communist movement urged the metamorphosed industrial labours from peasantry to rise in armed struggle, reasoning that they had nothing to lose other than their shackles, in the then upcoming struggle for their emancipation. Had Europe truly not seen the spectre then, we would not see the social welfare states and economies across Europe and North America today, where the workers’ right and securities are treasured, monitored and implemented virtuously.
Now at the inception of globalisation why are our workers still mired in their current state of cerebral or sentimental backwater, while we are emerging as the new breed of sweat shops of the world?
But please pause for a thought, if you would.
This is post Shahbagh country. We are seeing in television how ordinary people have come out in flocks to help out in the salvation of fellow citizens from the debris. How the rescue workers, doctors, nurse, fire service men, police, army have thrust aside their uniformed animation and put that extra effort and have shed that extra drop of tears while relentlessly carrying out the rescue work.
Bastille fell for lesser reason. Nobody should, least of all the vested interest groups who have the most to lose, ignore these cyphers. It may be tempting, under the false cocoon to dismiss this as bubble in the mass emotion, with flawed conviction.
But doing so will be the beginning of an undoing; doing at peril.
Latif Quader is Fellow Chartered Accountant and a businessman.