Scorched Lives at Hashem Foods

Anwara and Roksana break down at the morgue where they found the charred body of their 16 year old nephew Munna. Photo: Suman Kanti Pal/DrikNews

Long after the water from the fire engines had extinguished the raging flames that surged through the Hashem Foods factory in Rupganj, the flames still burned in the charred homes of the 54 who died in the fire. Their lives ravaged. Their dreams shattered. Their belief in a just society, torn to shreds.

Four year old Rafin holds up her mother’s photo as she waits outside the morgue for her mother’s DNA test results. Suman Kanti Paul/DrikNews

There have been many fires before. Many times we have said ‘never again’. A few headlines, a few statements by those in authority that ‘there will be a full investigation and no one will be spared’ and then it’s forgotten.

Predictably, the owners, invariably wealthy people with connections, escape the selectively porous dragnet of our justice system. Their well calculated donations and their constant patronage of the power elite ensure they do not suffer the same fate as the dissenters and critics of the system. They re- emerge as patrons and are feted in social events. Unlike the tombstones of the hapless victims, their’s bear the inscription ‘philanthropists’.

There was no firefighting equipment in the factory, and no fire escapes. Inflammable raw materials rapidly caught fire, resulting in 54 deaths. Photo: Istiak Karim/DrikNews

And the victims? What comfort can we give to Nazma Begum mother of the 12-year-old Mohammad Hasnain as she waits outside Dhaka Medical College Morgue to get news of her son. What lies will make her forget the excruciating pain her son would have felt as his skin burned, the fat feeding the flames?

Scratch marks on charred walls made by a labourer who desperately wanted to live. Hashem Foods Limited, Rupganj, Narayaganj; July 10, 2021. Photo: Suman Kanti Pal
The burnt carcass of a floor of Hashem Food Factory Ltd. Photo: Parvez Ahmed/DrikNews

How do we redeem ourselves as a society, knowing we let it happen? If after so many deaths. So much pain. So much loss, we still turn away, surely the lock on the gate that prevented their escape will have our fingerprints.

The lock that prevented workers exiting the factory. Photo: Shahidul Alam/DrikNews

Shahidul Alam

Author: Shahidul Alam

Time Magazine Person of the Year 2018. A photographer, writer, curator and activist, Shahidul Alam obtained a PhD in chemistry before switching to photography. His seminal work “The Struggle for Democracy” contributed to the removal of General Ershad. Former president of the Bangladesh Photographic Society, Alam set up the Drik agency, Chobi Mela festival and Pathshala, South Asian Media Institute, considered one of the finest schools of photography in the world. Shown in MOMA New York, Centre Georges Pompidou, Royal Albert Hall and Tate Modern, Alam has been guest curator of Whitechapel Gallery, Winterthur Gallery and Musee de Quai Branly. His awards include Mother Jones, Shilpakala Award and Lifetime Achievement Award at the Dali International Festival of Photography. Speaker at Harvard, Stanford, UCLA, Oxford and Cambridge universities, TEDx, POPTech and National Geographic, Alam chaired the international jury of the prestigious World Press Photo contest. Honorary Fellow of Royal Photographic Society, Alam is visiting professor of Sunderland University in UK and advisory board member of National Geographic Society. John Morris, the former picture editor of Life Magazine describes his book “My journey as a witness”, (listed in “Best Photo Books of 2011” by American Photo), as “The most important book ever written by a photographer.” His recent book “The Tide Will Turn” published by Steidl in 2020, is listed in New York Time’s ‘Best Art Books of 2020’. Alam received the “International Press Freedom Award” for 2020 from ‘The Committee to Protect Journalists’.

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