Khushi Kabir: They Are Our S/Heroes

I spent the last 2 days in Savar. A concerted effort of architects, civil engineers, disaster trained workers from Red Cross & other agencies, trained community groups, fire fighters, armed forces, all have collectively formed a task force, and are slowly using heavy equipment to surely though slowly cut the top (maps have been made of the structure etc.) and lift people, dead and alive, as well as other equipment to remove debris. The process is slow, but the time for the public action, which was amazing,THEY ARE OUR S/HEROES, the only ones who went inside, is now no more feasible. People came spontaneously and worked together from all walks of life, from all part of the country, city bred comfortable lifestyle people, to students, to carpenters, garment workers, peasants, rickshaw pullers all. It was a social leveler. Like 1971.

And from the government side, it was only the fire fighters who went in to work alongside volunteers to bring those 3000 people out, of whom over 2000 were still alive. The other government forces, remained outside, moving about, looking official. The police were making lists and noting down names of people dead to hand them over to their families and those that need treatment to hospitals. Thousands of people crowded the school field trying to find their kin/friends. Many were on the streets trying to get close to the building. Last night, the volunteers were all asked to leave. Seeing them, they looked so exhausted, yet had the grit, courage and will to continue, if need be indefinitely, I felt once more the compassion and courage of our people. I felt such pride in them.

Once they were outside, I met a few of them. They couldn’t bend their knees. Their pants were stuck to their skin. Would probably need to be peeled off. Yet the feeling was,that they wanted to continue till the last. The operation then started at night. Today during the ‘official’ operation, 3 more people were brought out, two still alive and one dead. I am relieved that they are being sensitive and moving slowly, not just bulldozing everything.

Went back today. Everything cordoned off very strictly. Seems that the task of lifting people, bringing them out is now out of the hands of the volunteers, the people. Army is in charge, fire fighters are the ones going into the building, and task is being coordinated and directed by the army. Volunteers are feeling very sad, they wanted to stay till the last. They have all been asked to leave now. Their commitment is human rather than efficiency. 6 more bodies were bought out in the early hours of the morning. Seems that most of the equipment is used at night. A lot of people are around still hoping just in case their kin are alive, just in case their bodies at least can be identified. Emotions run high. I guess that is why they have decided to work at night. During the day plans are made. As it gets hotter, the bodies are decomposing fast. Most of the debris and people from the top floors have been cleared. Only the third floor remains, with people flattened and unrecognisable. In the midst of this the discovery of the two women survivors after midnight, as mentioned in my last post was almost a miracle. Just as the birth of the two babies to the two women amidst the ruins and rubble.

We, ourselves, still have much to do. Find out the number of workers, their families, addresses, we need to gather strength for forcing BGMEA, the owners whose accounts have been frozen, the Government to provide support, treatment costs and full compensation for them: those living, those maimed, and families of those who lost their lives. Treatment is a big concern. Our past experience is after the initial phase, people forget. We have to continue to monitor and pressurise. We need to follow up on actions and cases, follow up on both verdicts given in the past and keep our eyes open re the current ones.

Our friends abroad, in countries where the manufactured clothing is being supplied to, please continue to take companies and corporations and their agents, the buyers to task. People must comply. Every life is valuable. This has happened too many times, we cannot afford to have any more deaths occurring.

Khushi Kabir works at Nijera Kori, which has helped organise over 175,000 landless people in Bangladesh’s rural areas since 1980. Her previous article for was “How our generation sees Shahbag

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