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.
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’.
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?
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.