ABID AZAD

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Eid void of happiness for families of Rana Plaza victims

On Eid day, the Dhaka Tribune also visited the homes of several other Rana Plaza victims, only to find that the colours of the festival had not reached those households.
Mother of Shyla Akter who was still missing from Rana Plaza collapse last year.

Mother of Shyla Akter who was still missing from Rana Plaza collapse last year.

The joys and festivities of Eid continue to evade the families of Rana Plaza victims, many of whom are living in financial uncertainty after losing their only breadwinner in the disaster.

During the three Eid festivals that followed the tragic day on April 24 last year, sorrow had been a constant companion for the family of Shyla Akhter, a garment worker who remains missing since the collapse of the building she worked at.

Reshmi Begum, Shyla’s sister who is also a garment worker, said: “Shyla is the youngest child of my parents. She had been working in garment factories since she was 11 years old and been supporting the family after our father’s death in 2003.

“Now this five-member family is totally dependable on me, even though I am married and I also have a child and husband whom I have to support.”

Family members said Shyla’s 78-year-old mother Zamila Begum had only searched for the body of her daughter instead of running to different organisations seeking compensation. The family got only Tk30,000 in compensation through bKash, reportedly by the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund.

Mother of Shyla Akter who was still missing from Rana Plaza collapse last year.

Mother of Shyla Akter who was still missing from Rana Plaza collapse last year.

Reshmi said: “Our family needs Tk11,000 per month to meet our household needs. But I am earning only Tk4,500 per month… We do not know how we should try to get compensation now.”

Although the government and several organisations have initiated separate efforts to compensate the victims’ families, many still claim that they have received little or no amount of the money.

The BGMEA claims it had already spent Tk14 crore to compensate the families, said Taslima Akter, coordinator of Garment Workers Solidarity. The prime minister’s fund also had Tk105 crore remaining to be spent, with only Tk22 crore so far distributed, she added.

Irish clothing retailers Primark has set aside a $9 million dollar fund for the victims who worked on the third floor of the building, Taslima said, adding that the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund already has Tk141 crore deposited with a target of reaching the Tk320 crore mark.

Asked about compensations to Rana Plaza victims’ families, Dhaka Deputy Commissioner Tofazzal Hossain Mia said: “Very soon the money deposited in the prime minister’s fund will be distributed among the families of Rana Plaza victims. We are now nearing the end of investigating the proper identification of victims’ families as we want to distribute the money to the actual dependants.”

“However, we do not know about the missing people,” he added.

On Eid day, the Dhaka Tribune also visited the homes of several other Rana Plaza victims, only to find that the colours of the festival had not reached those households. The victims’ relatives neither donned any new dress nor cooked any special food to celebrate the occasion.

Three different families who lost their four earning members from Rana Plaza collapse last year.

Three different families who lost their four earning members from Rana Plaza collapse last year.

“Every day remains the same since I have lost my husband. Nothing changes, nothing new happens, everything is deteriorating day by day,” said Nazma Akter Lily, who lost her husband Jewel in the Rana Plaza collapse.

At the time of the disaster, Lily was already pregnant and gave birth to her son Zunayed six months after her husband’s death.

Zunayed, a nine-month old infant, plays with a photograph of his father who died in the Rana Plaza collapse last year

Zunayed, a nine-month old infant, plays with a photograph of his father who died in the Rana Plaza collapse last year

“Although I have got some amount of money, but our future is still uncertain. When I went to the Savar thana nirbahi officer [for compensation] he became angry and shouted at us telling us not to disturb him any more,” Lily said.

Lily, mother of Zunayed, a nine-month old infant. Lily's husband was died in the Rana Plaza collapse last year

Lily, mother of Zunayed, a nine-month old infant. Lily’s husband was died in the Rana Plaza collapse last year.

Asked about the issue, the thana nirbahi officer, Kamrul Hasan Mollah, said: “It is not true that we became agitated against the victim’s family. We told them that once we get the money, we will provide it to them as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, only 200 metres away from the Rana Plaza site, the Dhaka Tribune came upon a building which housed three families who had lost a total of four of their relatives in the disaster.

Although the surrounding houses were abuzz with the sound of Eid celebrations, the building stood silent devoid of any sign of festivity.

A resident of the building, Chan Mia, said he lost his 22-year-old son Abdul Momin to a fire that was sparked when rescue workers were trying to pull Momin out from under the rubble.

Three different families who lost their four earning members from Rana Plaza collapse last year

Three different families who lost their four earning members from Rana Plaza collapse last year

He said: “Every moment, I see my son’s burnt face in front of me. I cannot forget such image of my son’s dreadful death.

“When I returned home after Eid prayers, I found Momin’s mother crying which became a daily scenario after we lost our son,” he added.

Another resident of the building, Abdul Hamid, lost his 19-year-old son Robin in the Rana Plaza collapse.

“I got some some Tk95,000 in three instalments through bKash [from Primark and Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund] and Tk1 lakh from the government. The money has already been spent to pay our loans, house rents and other necessary expenses,” Hamid said.

Another of his son, Rubel, 22, was also injured when he got trapped under the rubble of Rana Plaza.

“Rubel cannot work properly as he became psychologically weak after the incident. So far, he has had to change three garment factories as he could not work regularly or efficiently… He becomes frightened when generator machine is switched on, like the day when he was inside the Rana Plaza building,” Hamid said.

The grief is greater for Rubel’s mother, who not only lost a son in the disaster and had another one injured, but also lost her younger sister Rina Akter who worked on the building’s fourth floor.

Meanwhile, on the evening of Eid, six-year-old Miraj Hossain, whose mother Shilpy Akhter had been missing since the Rana Plaza collapse, came to the site of the building with his grandmother Fatema Begum.

“Miraj is still waiting for his mother. He continuously asks me when his mother will come back. I could not afford to give him any new dress this Eid,” Fatema said.

Although the family had received Tk45,000 through bKash, the money had already been spent to pay house rent, Fatema said. She added that there was also uncertainty on whether the family would get any further compensation as there was no DNA match for Shilpy, who worked for Phantom Apparels on the fourth floor of Rana Plaza.

On the other hand, Shahana Begum, whose missing daughter Baby Akhter could also not be identified through DNA tests, claimed she did not receive any kind of compensation from anyone.

According to rights organisation Bangladesh Garments Workers Solidarity, there are at least 160 families who claim that their relatives – who were present in the building when the Rana Plaza collapsed – remain missing and unidentified.

So far, DNA tests have been able to identify 200 of the 321 unidentified bodies, according to the Labour Ministry.

In the deadliest industrial disaster of the country’s history, the eight-storied Rana Plaza collapsed in Savar on April 24 last year, killing at least 1,136 people and injuring over 2,500 others.

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