“My mother and daughter both forbade me to go to work that day. They were scared after learning about the cracks in the building. But I couldn’t avoid the desperate call by our supervisor and the payment of Tk1,200 as overtime.
“And, since then, I’ve been paying the price of not heeding my mother’s and daughter’s advice,” said Nilufar Begum, 43, at the time an operator at New Wave Style Limited on the seventh floor of Rana Plaza.
“I’m living on borrowed time. My coworker Rabbi pushed me aside as a beam fell on his body, and while enduring pain, he said, ‘Sister, I don’t think I’ll live. So I’m giving my life to you’. I survived but was buried under two corpses for nine hours before being rescued,” she said.
Nilufar’s recollections echo hundreds of unheard voices of the Rana Plaza tragedy, survivors who are now living in misery being incapacitated by the disaster.
Saturday marks nine years of the tragedy, one of the deadliest industrial disasters in the history of Bangladesh, and yet there is a lot to be done about the survivors. But for a lot of them, being victims of this infamous tragedy has become a curse.
This correspondent talked to eight female workers ahead of the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse. All of them live in the adjacent areas of Rana Plaza in Savar. Four of them are self-employed, two are engaged as part-time or contractual workers in garment factories while two others are completely dependent on their family members.
Of the eight, only one woman had got support from her husband, while the other husbands abandoned the women at different times, mainly because of the physical challenges faced by the women.
Asma, 42, has a broken leg and earns a little money as a cigarette vendor in Savar’s New Market area. She has a 16-year-old son, who has fallen prey to bad company, as she could not manage to keep him at school. Her husband left them two years after the tragedy.
“My husband left me because I’m crippled. It’s fine. But he left me with nothing. He could at least have taken care of our son.
“My son has been cleaning latrines at other people’s houses to feed himself. I have failed as a mother…my son doesn’t see eye to eye with me…he hates me, and abuses me. Had my organs been functional and had I had a stable job today, I wouldn’t have to see this now. Tell me how the government can bring my life back to me. We are alive but living like dead people,” she said.
‘I’m scared to mention my identity’
The spread of myth, misconception and misinformation in the aftermath of the tragedy is taking a toll on the survivors who are going through a dejected life.
“The assistance that we got from the government went completely on my treatment. People have a perception that the victims of Rana Plaza are billionaires. Wherever we go, if we ask for work or help, everyone will say that we’re filthy rich. Even the public hospitals refuse to give us treatment,” said Salma, 32, another victim of the tragedy.