Tahera, 23, has been so ill from the injuries she sustained in the November 24, 2012, Tazreen Fashions factory fire, her husband Roshidul has had to quit his job to take care of her. Now, they have no income to support their family of four.
The blaze, which spread through the multistory factory outside Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, killed 112 workers and injured thousands more. Like nearly all Tazreen survivors, Tahera jumped out of a window to escape the flames because the stairwells were locked.
“I have severe pain in my whole body,” Tahera said, crying. “I don’t feel any strength in my body now. Although one year has been passed, I can’t sleep properly because of fear. I try to forget the memory of the Tazreen’s fire accident, but I can’t. Sometimes it seems to me that I will not live any longer.”
Her physical injuries are severe, as are her mental and psychological suffering. As panicked workers broke windows and ripped open air shafts to escape the building, the electricity went out while the blaze spread. Tahera fell in the melee, and her head and chest were trampled.
“Following the fire accident, Tahera behaved abnormally,” says Roshidul. “She used to try to leave the house all the time, even at night. I used to sleep in front of the door of house so that she could not wander out. Following the accident at Rana Plaza, she used to cry loudly watching those scenes on television and, even one year after the accident, whenever my wife watches any scene of fire on television she becomes so scared she cries.” In the Rana Plaza disaster, more than 1,200 garment workers were killed April 24, 2013, after the multistory building housing five garment factories near Dhaka collapsed.
“Even now, I can’t remember any one’s name, sometimes nothing,” Tahera said.
Tahera and her husband are borrowing from shopkeepers to survive and do not know how they will pay rent for their home in Savar, near Dhaka. “Our present financial condition is very poor, which it was not before the accident,” said Tahera. They have a 14-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son, but Tahera says, “I can’t pay the tuition fees of my daughter, I can’t buy milk for my little son and I can’t remember anything.”
Roshidul said nearly all of the money they received for Tahera’s injuries from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing and Exporting Association (BGMEA) was spent on her medical care. He also used up his savings for her treatment. Now, there is no money left. “I haven’t been able to take her to the doctor or buy medicine for her treatment for the last two months,” he said. Tahera and her husband say families like theirs have been forgotten.
Tahera came to Dhaka nine years ago, hoping to better her life. Now, all she wants is enough support to get medical treatment and ensure her family has a place to live and food to eat.
“Now my life seems worthless,” Shahanaz Begum said, crying. “I cannot see through my right eye. I have problems in my spinal cord and can’t even walk properly. I cannot sit because my left leg was broken (and did not heal well), my right leg is filled with blood clots and I cannot lift heavy weight.”
Shahanaz sustained all these injuries while fleeing the burning building where she worked, the Tazreen Fashions garment factory. The only way she could escape with her life was to jump through a window: The building had no fire escapes and the stairs led to the burning storage room on the first floor. And the only reason she is alive today is because she defied the factory manager who told her she could not leave.
A year ago this weekend, 112 garment workers died in a fire that burned Tazreen Fashions, located in the outskirts of Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka. Women and men working overtime on the production lines were trapped when fire broke out in the first-floor warehouse. Workers scrambled toward the roof, jumped from upper floors or were trampled by their panic-stricken co-workers. Some could not run fast enough and were lost to the flames and smoke.
Shahanaz’s daughter, Tahera, also worked at Tazreen. Since the tragedy, Tahera’s mental state is fragile. Shahanaz’s husband married a second wife after Shahanaz lost her right eye in the disaster and, now with two families, he only occasionally provides Shahanaz with financial support. With her injuries, Shahanaz says, “I am not able to work and I don’t think that I will be able to work anymore.”
As a result, she has stopped taking her medicine because she cannot afford it. She can no longer support her mother, as she did before. And she is unable to pay her rent. She spent the compensation she received after the disastrous fire (from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Employers Association and two private organizations) on the extensive treatment she required in four separate hospitals.
For the survivors of the Tazreen fire and their families, Shahanaz’s untenable situation is far from unique. Shahanaz and many other workers who survived the events of that awful evening now face very uncertain futures, abandoned by the factory owner, the brands and the government and left with few resources to deal with the financial and emotional disaster they continue to experience.
Nasima, 25, cannot neither breathe nor see well these days. She speaks softly, too weak to raise her voice. Nasima escaped the November 24, 2012, Tazreen Fashions garment factory fire in Bangladesh with her life, but her injuries from the disaster are so extensive that she can no longer support herself and her family. “I don’t have the strength to work in the garment factories anymore,” she says.
Nasima works in her landlord’s house for food but has been unable to pay rent for the past four months. Her husband cannot work because of a heart condition, and their daughter and son may not be able to continue in school because the family has no money to pay their school fees.
“I am always worried about my family’s future. How will I survive? Day by day my situation is getting worse,” she said, weeping.
She sold all possessions she had left in her home village to pay for her medical expenses, but cannot afford the CAT scan her doctors recommend.
On the day of the Tazreen factory fire, which killed 112 workers and injured thousands more, Nasima said, “even after the fire alarm, I was warned by other workers that if I leave, I will be terminated.” With two small children at home, Nasima said, “I wanted to go out. But the factory manager and the production manager had forbidden me to do that. They said nothing was happening.”
She left her work station and made it to the second floor. “I asked others to somehow let me go out of the building. I was lifted to the shoulder of a mechanic and thrown to the roof of the nearby building.”
Following the Tazreen disaster, Nasima received $320 and a little food from two private organizations. She says she received a call from the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturing and Exporting Association (BGMEA) regarding compensation, but the employer group later refused to give her money, saying she would get it in the future if it were available. A year later, Nasima has received nothing.
Nasima hopes for compensation from the employers and the government—enough to enable her to survive if she can never return to work. “I am in this condition while doing their work,” she said. Nasima wants her children to get education so they will not struggle to survive. She wants to get well soon and go back to work.
Morsheda is forced to send her son to live with relatives because she can no longer support him after being injured in the Tazreen Fashions factory fire. Credit: Solidarity Center
Morsheda could not travel to her home village in Bangladesh for the recent Eid holiday because she could not afford the trip. Her 9-year-old son, who lives in the village with his grandmother, told neighbors there that he does not have parents because if he did, they would be with him for the holiday
“You cannot imagine how very painful it is for parents to hear such words from their child,” she said.
Since sustaining severe injuries in the November 24, 2012, Tazreen Fashions garment factory fire, Morsheda, 25, has been too disabled to work. Without funds for her son’s education, she sent him to live with her relatives.
Morsheda has lost the use of her right hand, so badly damaged during her flight from the blaze that swept through the multistory factory that she can only prepare meals with the help of her sister. To get out of the factory, Morsheda, like nearly every Tazreen survivor, was forced to jump from a window to safety after she and co-workers found the stairwell exits locked. They escaped even though their manager had ordered them back to work when the fire alarm sounded. Her right eye was gashed as a result of her fall, and she still has difficulty seeing from it.
“My whole body is swollen when I wake up from sleep,” she said. “Every night I feel pain in my right leg and my waist.”
Her husband, also a garment factory worker, is not paid enough to buy the medicine she needs. “With his income, it is tough to buy medicine, to run a family, to pay for my son’s educational expenses, to pay back loans, etc.,” she said. The little money Morsheda received in compensation for her injuries was quickly spent on her medical care.
Morsheda believes that the factory owner, the brands and the government have forgotten her and the thousands of other Tazreen garment workers now too injured to support themselves and their families. Morsheda says she needs real assistance if she and her family are to survive.
Morsheda and her husband came to Dhaka, the Bangladesh capital, several years ago in search of jobs. With two incomes, the couple could pay for their son’s education. But now, out of school and missing an education, they fear their child will face a bleak future, one that likely will continue the cycle of poverty.
“Leading a better life is not only the hope of rich people but also the poor people like us,” Morsheda said, crying. “Garment owners have much money. They have the capability to run so many garment factories. They have nothing to lose. But we poor have lost everything.”
Anjuara suffers from constant pain. She is too injured to work and unable to pay the rent. Yet this is not the worst of her suffering following the November 24, 2012, Tazreen Fashions garment factory fire in Bangladesh.
“The most painful thing is that I haven’t been able to lift up my 3-year-old baby girl in my lap for the past year because of the severe pain in my hand and back,” Anjuara said, tears in her eyes.
Over the past year, Anjuara’s medical bills have added up to nearly $3,900—a fortune in a country where the average yearly income is $770, according to the United Nations. The compensation she received in the wake of the tragedy, $1,282.05 from the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing and Exporting Association (BGMEA), did not come close to covering these costs. So she sold her few valuable possessions, such as her television and the small plot of land she owned in her village. She also went through her savings.
Yet she is far from well and may never be able to work. She is regularly in pain and cannot sit for long periods. Anjuara sustained two broken vertebrae and a broken shoulder when she made her escape from the blaze that killed 112 of her fellow garment workers and injured thousands more. Today, she is unable to lift heavy items.
“I haven’t been able to pay rent for five months,” Anjuara, 30, said. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Savar, just outside the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka. “I could not buy new dresses for my children last Eid and could not cook any food for them.” She owes more than $750 in loans and has no idea how she will pay them back.
“Sometimes I feel it would be better if I would have died in that fire,” Anjuara said, crying.
Her husband, Azahar, is a van driver. Anjuara said, “before this accident, we could save money for our children’s future. But now, because I can’t do any work, it is tough to maintain a family on only my husband’s income. Most of the time, my husband has to do the household work as I can not do heavy work at a stretch.”
Anjuara is stunned and saddened by the silence from the factory owner, international buyers and the government, none of whom have stepped up to assist Tazreen victims and their families. The Tazreen fire broke out on the first floor, where material was stored in the open, rather than in a fireproof room. The stairwells were locked, preventing workers from escaping the blaze, and managers uniformly tried to prevent workers from leaving when the fire alarm sounded.
“The Bangladesh government does not want us to remain alive. If the government wanted us alive, then we would get some financial support,’ Anjuara said. “We at least got condolences from the government. Our factory owner did not even express condolences to us.”
Anjuara, who came to Dhaka 12 years ago in search of a job with plans for a better life, has this hope.
“My wish is that no garment worker has to face any accident like the Tazreen fire.”