As Mujib Watches Helplessly

I entered the giant graveyard. It was quiet except for my own footsteps but, in my head, I could hear the screams. Rows of blackened sewing machines, still in orderly lines, reinforced the sense that I was looking at tombstones. There were no flowers here. No epitaphs. No mourners.

Stitched photo of burnt remains of Tazreen Fashions. Photo Shahidul Alam

A fire had raged through the Tazreen Fashions garment factory in Ashulia on 24 November 2012. Workers stationed on the building’s third and fourth floors had rushed to the exits, only to find them locked, a regular practice in many Bangladeshi garment factories. Fires and worker deaths were, sadly, all-too-common. The owners justified the locking of the doors as a ‘security measure’ but workers were effectively prisoners during working hours. As the heat and smoke built up, the panic-stricken labourers, who were unable to break down the iron gates, rushed to the windows and somehow managed to remove the metal grills. It was a long way down, but one by one they jumped. Some screamed with pain as they fell; others were silent. Each landed with a dull thud, their bodies crumpled on the uneven ground below. Possible death was still a better choice than certain death. And some did survive.

Continue reading “As Mujib Watches Helplessly”

করোনাকালের করুণা খান

এই গল্পের সাথে কেউ কোন চরিত্র মিলাইবেন না। যে মিলাইবেন দায় তার… কয়া দিলাম কিন্তু….
করোনার প্রকোপে আর কিছু না হোক আমি যে পাগল হইতেছি এইটা তার বড় প্রমান। সো পাগলে কী না বলে…🧟‍♂🧟‍♂🧟‍♂🧟‍♂
Nahida Ashrafi_ by rahnuma ahmedNahida Ashrafi. Photo: Rahnuma Ahmed

করোনাকালের করুণা খান

নাহিদা আশরাফী

-আপা, শইলডা বালো?  একখান কতা ছিলো।
করুণা খান চোখ বড় বড় করে চম্পার দিকে তাকালেন, শইলডা কি চম্পা? বলেছি না ঠিক করে কথা বলবে? বলো শুভ সকাল আপা, আপনার শরীর ভালো? বলো বলো। কষ্ট হলেও সময় নিয়ে বলো। তবু শুদ্ধ বলবে। যাও চা নিয়ে এসো, আর রান্না শেষ করে আবার আমাকে শুদ্ধ করে কথাটা শোনাবে। তোমাদের নিয়ে আর পারি না।
কিছুটা বিরক্তি নিয়ে বিছানা থেকে উঠে এক ঘন্টা বাথটাকে বডিশপের শাওয়ার জেলে নিজেকে ডুবিয়ে রেখে রেডি হয়ে নীচে নামলেন তিনি । আড়াইটায় তার ওয়ার্কারদের সাথে মিটিং ফিক্সড।যদিও তা ভিডিও কনফারেন্স এর মাধ্যমে। গতকালের সিদ্ধান্ত নিয়ে দারুণ খোশমেজাজে আছেন । নিজের আপত প্রতিভায় নিজেই মুগ্ধ!
খাওয়া শেষ করে ডাইনিং টেবিল ক্লিয়ার করতে করতেই চা নিয়ে ঢুকলো চম্পা। কাচুমাচু করে দাঁড়িয়ে থাকতে দেখে নিজে থেকেই চম্পাকে কথাগুলো শুদ্ধ করে বলতে বল্লেন৷ চম্পা গলা কেশে শুদ্ধ করে বলার চেষ্টা করলো –
-আপা, আপোনার শরীলটা ভালো?
– উফ! আপোনার নয় চম্পা বলো আপনার। আর শরীলটা নয়। বলো শরীরটা৷ বলো, আবার বলো
চম্পা এই দুই লাইনেই আটকে রইলো টানা পনেরো মিনিট। তারপর খানিকটা খুশী হলেন মালকিন৷
– ওকে, এবার পরের লাইন বলো। তাড়াতাড়ি বলো। আমার আবার মিটিং আছে৷
– জ্বি আপা বলেছিলাম কি আমার পাঁচদিন ধ…ধ… ধইরা।
– উহু ধইরা নয়, বলো ধরে। হ্যাঁ বলো। পাঁচ দিন ধরে কি?
– জ্বর। গলায় বেদনা।
– আহা বেদনা না। বলো ব্যাথা।…  কী!!!
ব্যাথা শব্দটা উচ্চারণের সাথে সাথে ভয়ংকর শীতল এক স্রোত তার শিরদাঁড়া বেয়ে নামতে লাগলো। তিনি চিৎকার করে উঠলেন,
– তুই আগে বলিস নাই ক্যান? বেয়াদব কোথাকার।
– আপা ক্যাম্নে বলবো?  সকাল থেকে শুদ্ধ শুদ্ধ খেলায় আপ্নে আমারে যে ধমকের উপ্রে রাখছেন।
এই চম্পা তার বিছানা ঝাড়পোঁছ করেছে, রান্না করেছে, কাবার্ড থেকে শাড়ি নামিয়ে দিয়েছে, শাওয়ারের পর চুল আচঁড়ে দিয়েছে। আর এখন চা ও বানিয়েও খাইয়েছে৷ উফ!  আর ভাবতে পারে না করুণা খান। এক দৌড়ে বাসা থেকে বেরিয়ে ডাক্তারের কাছে যাবেন বলে গাড়িতে ওঠেন। চেনা পরিচিত সব ডাক্তার কল করে ফেলেছেন ততক্ষণে। হল কী এই মরার দেশে। কেউ ফোন ধরে না। ভাবতে ভাবতে অফিসে ঢোকেন। কী আশ্চর্য!  কেউ নেই কেন? ফিরে গিয়ে ড্রাইভারকে জিজ্ঞেস করতে যাবেন দেখেন ড্রাইভার নেই চম্পা ড্রাইভিং সিটে বসে দাত কেলিয়ে হাসছে। তিনি ভয়ানক আর্তচিৎকার দিয়ে গাড়ি থেকে ছিটকে  রাস্তার দিকে যান। গেটের কাছেই ড্রাইভার কাসেমের দেখা পান। কাশেম তার জন্য লাশবাহী গাড়ি এনে তাতে  উঠতে বলছে। সব কী পাগল হয়ে গেল। লাশবাহী গাড়িতে তিনি কেন উঠবেন?
তিনি দৌড়াতে শুরু করলেন,
দৌড় মিইয়ে এসে জোরে হাঁটায় রুপ নিলো।
জোরে হাঁটাও মিইয়ে এসে একসময় বসে পড়লেন।
পিছনে তাকিয়ে দেখলেন একদল মানুষ তাকে অনুসরণ করে হাটছে। হাঁটছে তো হাঁটছে… সামনে গোরস্তান, ডানে চম্পা,বায়ে কাশেম মিয়া ও তার লাশবাহী গাড়ি।
সরো, সরে যাও। দূরে যাও। আমার কাছে কেউ আসবে না বলছি। আমাকে ছোঁবে না। সাইকিক পেসেন্টের মত ভয়াবহ চিৎকার করতে লাগলেন তিনি।
– কই যাবো ম্যাডাম ? ডেকে এনে চলে যেতে বলছেন? একবার এলে আর তো যাওয়া যায় না । এটা তো একমুখী রাস্তা। তাই ঠিক করেছি সবাই একসাথে এই লাশবাহী গাড়িটাতেই থাকবো৷ ভালো হবে না ম্যাডাম?  কী বলেন?
তিনি হাতপা ছুঁড়ে মানসিক রোগীর মত চিৎকার করতে থাকেন। দিগবিদিক ছুটতে থাকেন কিন্তু বুঝতে পারেন না কোন দিকে যাবেন।
এগিয়ে আসছে চম্পা…
এগিয়ে আসছে কাশেম মিয়া…
এগিয়ে আসছে একদল পায়েচলা শ্রমিক…
আর তিনি একটু একটু করে এগিয়ে যাচ্ছেন গোরস্তানের দিকে …
দূরে কোথাও কৈলাশ খেরের গান বাজছে,
’জয় জয় কারা জয় জয় কারা সোয়ামি দে না সাথ হামারা।’

1134 – lives not numbers

A group exhibition dedicated to the lost garment workers of Bangladesh.

Photo: Taslima Akhter
Photo: Taslima Akhter

Still haunted by the memories. When I close my eyes I see the procession of corpses, following me behind, taunting my sense of responsibility. 24th April, 2013, Rana Plaza collapses, 1134 lost to senseless greed, lives lost due to collective negligence. A dark day in the history of garments workers lives, a nightmare which will terrorize us for the rest of our lives. Amongst the rubble, hidden beneath the stones, beams and bricks, thousands of workers lie enveloped in darkness, their dreams crushed under the weight of our negligence.

Continue reading “1134 – lives not numbers”

Silver threads, frayed seams

Until

Garment workers on their way to work, early in the morning, in Dhaka. Bangladesh earns more than $12 billion in garment exports, mainly to the United States and the European Union. The sector has employed about 2 million workers, mostly women, with the official minimum monthly wage for a new garment worker starting at 3,000 takas ($45). Dhaka, Bangladesh. September 12, 2012.

Continue reading “Silver threads, frayed seams”

Activists Identify DC Cop Who Infiltrated Bangladesh Sweatshop Protests

by Mike Elk Common Dreams

Left: Still photo from a video of the May 15 protest at Children’s Place. Right: Photo from @snufftastic Twitter account.Rumors have flown for many years that DC police routinely infiltrate and spy on the frequent protests in the nation’s Capitol. But until now, activists have never been able to identify a specific undercover cop at a protest. Now, after months of piecing together evidence, attorneys Jeffrey Light and Sean Canavan working with United Students Against Sweatshop (USAS) have confirmed that under an assumed name, Metro police officer Nicole Rizzi has participated in USAS protests against companies doing business in Bangladesh who refuse to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh following the death of as many as 1,129 workers in the Rana Plaza factory collapse.

USAS and its lawyers have numerous pieces of evidence placing Rizzi at protests under a pseudonym. District of Columbia Public Employee Information List records obtained by In These Times confirm that Rizzi has been on the DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) force since December of 2003.

USAS filed suit on Monday against the District of Columbia seeking an injunction to stop police from spying on the group’s activities.

The story of how Rizzi was uncovered reads like a mix of “Gossip Girl” and “The Wire.” Activists pieced her identity together from her obsessive posting to social media sites, including Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, FacebookWordPress and Yfrog.

Lacy MacAuley, an activist and media manager for the Institute for Policy Studies, has suspected for the past several years that a protester named “Missy” was an undercover cop. “Missy” seemed to be at every protest, but no one knew her. However, MacAuley had no way of proving her suspicions.

Then, in November of 2012, MacAuley was at a bar on U Street when a friend recommended that she follow a Twitter account of a funny person with the handle @snufftastic. MacAuley immediately identified the user in the photographs as the person she knew as “Missy.” The user Tweeted frequently about the daily grind of being a police officer in DC.

MacAuley says she then spotted Rizzi as “Missy” at an anti-Keystone pipeline protest at the Canadian Embassy on March 21, 2013. That was when MacAuley decided to approach Jeffrey Light, an attorney who works on police misconduct issues, with her suspicions. Light and his law partner Sean Canavan began searching for evidence to peg Rizzi as an undercover police officer.

The trickiest part was establishing Rizzi’s real name. But on @snufftastic, she let clues drop. On August 2, 2012, she Tweeted, “They used to call me No Sweat Nico because no matter how hot it was at academy, I never sweat.”


Light and Canavan did a public database search of all police officers in D.C. and found only two named Nicole; one was Rizzi. Photos on “Nicole Rizzi”’s Facebook account matched those on the @snufftastic Twitter and Instagram.

Moreover, a post on Rizzi’s since-deleted Tumblr account seemed to indicate that Rizzi worked undercover. In response to a post from a reader asking her how flexible her dress code was as a police officer, Rizzi said she wore “ordinary clothes,” but made a distinction between her position and that of a “plainclothes” patrol cop: “In the position I’m in, it’s beneficial to wear ordinary clothes. Plainclothes assignments too, you wear what would blend in.”

On April 20, MacAuley spotted “Missy” at a protest outside of the World Bank and snapped a photograph of her (above left). Meanwhile, Light and Canavan dug up evidence that Rizzi was a police officer, including a photograph posted on yfrog of Rizzi pointing out a typo on a piece of mail addressed to the “DC Metropolation [sic] Police Department.” Rizzi’s finger partially covers up the address line, but it appears to read “Director, Intelligence Branch.”


Light then began searching for a plaintiff who would have standing to file a complaint against Rizzi for spying. On May 15, Light happened to be walking by a USAS protest outside a Children’s Place clothing store in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of D.C. when he spotted Rizzi handing out protest flyers.

Light flagged down USAS organizer Garrett Shishido Strain and alerted him to Missy’s presence. Shishido Strain knew just how “Missy” had wound up at the protest: He had met her four days earlier at a USAS protest outside of a Gap. Rizzi identified herself as “Missy Thompson,” gave Shishido Strain her email and phone number, and asked to be informed of future actions so that she could attend. On May 14, Shishido Strain emailed her about a last-minute protest at the Children’s Place in Columbia Heights the next day.

Having been alerted by Light, Shishido Strain and other activists filmed Rizzi handing out flyers at the May 15 like a normal protester. Later, Shishido Strain would spot Rizzi once more, at a June 29 protest against the Gap.

In retrospect, Shishido Strain believes that Rizzi had notified DC police about the group’s plans. “One of the steps we usually take at our protest is to deliver a letter detailing the human rights abuses in their supply chain to the store/business being protested,” says Shishido Strain. “We do not break any laws and if we are asked to leave the store after delivering the letter, we do. After ‘Missy’ began participating in our events, we were twice blocked from delivering letters by the Metropolitan Police Department, who presumably had been tipped off about the time and location of our events. This occurred at the May 15 Children’s Place demonstration and the June 29 demonstration.”

A law enacted by the D.C. Council in 2004 imposes strict guidelines on police when they investigate or attempt to infiltrate First Amendment-protected groups. The Police Investigations Concerning First Amendment Activities Act of 2004 specifies that the MPD departments can only investigate free speech activities if they can prove sufficient cause that protestors are engaged in crime and they have the authorization of the Executive Director of the DC MPD Intelligence Fusion Divisions (or an appropriate supervisor of similar rank). To send in undercover officers, they have to go through the same authorization process again.

But USAS attorneys Sean Canavan and Jeffrey Light say the MPD rarely follows this law. To wit, a 2012 investigation of the department by the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor concluded that the DC police failed to obtain authorization for 16 of 20 investigations into protest groups between January of 2005 and November 21, 2011. (Another seven cases were open during this period, but the files were destroyed before the review.) The report also found that the MPD never obtained official permission to send in undercover officers to protests, but did so in 17 cases.

The DC Metropolitan Police Department did not return request for comment. However, in response to the audit in 2012, DC MPD Chief Cathy L. Lainer wrote, the “MPD contends that the Intelligence Branch has consistently gone far beyond what is required by the Act.”

Light, who filed the case on behalf of USAS, says that undercover surveillance sows suspicion among activists and hinders collective action.

“If they are putting an undercover [cop] there, then they are putting undercover [police] everywhere. That is a big problem for a lot of these groups,” says Light.  “You are trying to get people to come out and protest knowing that there is a undercover cop there—it’s a huge problem.”

Shishido Strain says his run-ins with Rizzi have already made him wary of strangers who want to get involved in fights for workers’ rights.

“I have personally become much more cautious with people who express support for us at actions and others who express an interest in joining our actions, if I do not know them already,” he says.

© 2013 In These Times

After Disaster, Bangladesh Lags in Policing Its Maze of Factories

By?JIM YARDLEY New York Times
DHAKA, Bangladesh ? Not even two months after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory building claimed more than 1,100 lives, a team of engineers arrived to assess another factory in the center of the capital. It was named Al-Hamra Garments, and it was one of hundreds of factories undergoing post-disaster inspections as Bangladesh sought to prove that its critical apparel industry was safe.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/03/world/asia/bangladeshi-inspectors-struggle-to-avert-a-new-factory-disaster.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
The Al-Hamra Garments factory, with its exterior staircase, is one of many reported to have structural problems.?Khaled Hasan for The New York Times

The Al-Hamra Garments factory, with its exterior staircase, is one of many reported to have structural problems. But this inspection, conducted in mid-June, was startling. The two engineers discovered that the eight-story factory was partly propped up by temporary cast-iron pillars placed on the ground floor. Several original beams and columns were cracked or disintegrating. And the factory was open for business, with more than 1,000 workers producing clothing for a Bangladeshi apparel conglomerate whose customers include Walmart and Gap. Continue reading “After Disaster, Bangladesh Lags in Policing Its Maze of Factories”

Justice Still Elusive in Factory Disasters in Bangladesh

by Jim Yardley. The New York Times

DHAKA, Bangladesh ? Inside Courtroom 21, the two judges peered down from high wooden chairs as lawyers in formal black robes presented their motions. Activists and victims watched from the back. And a few steps away, a portly man with a thick black beard remained silent. He was the suspect. He did not seem especially nervous. Continue reading “Justice Still Elusive in Factory Disasters in Bangladesh”

Murder not tragedy

An exhibition of observations, both witnessed and imagined of the Rana Plaza collapse.

©Suvra Kanti Das

24th April, 2013. 1127 garment workers perished in the collapse of Rana Plaza in Savar. Excluding natural disasters this is the single largest cause of death, post-independence. Hundreds of workers have been injured. Hundreds still missing.

The rescue operation at Rana Plaza continued for 21 days. The loved ones of the victims held their vigil without respite, twenty four hours a day, scrambling from Odhor Chondro Park to Enam Clinic, to the morgue and back. As tiring bodies wore down, they slept in nearby coffins. It is of course a tragedy of enormous proportions, but by calling it a tragedy, we are shielding the guilt. Making it appear as if no one was to blame. That this is the destiny of the poor and the downtrodden. Is that how it was?

The history of the garment industry in Bangladesh is littered with incidents of fire and collapsed buildings. 27 workers were trampled to death in Sharaka Garments in 1990, while trying to flee a fire. There have been many deaths since, some through faulty construction, some due to the absence of fire exits. The fire in Lucas Garments took away 10 lives in 1995. 14 died in Suntex Garments in 1996. 22 in Rahman and Rahman Garments in 1997. Another 27 in Tamanna Garments the same year. We lost 53 in Chowdhury Knitwear Limited in 2000. It is a longer list including the recent fire in Tazreen Fashions, with Rana Plaza being the latest addition.

Drik had invited photographers, activists and other artists to submit work and register their protest. Their observations, recorded and imagined, form the basis of this exhibition. Murder, not tragedy.

The exhibition “Tragedi Noi Hottakando” will be opened at Drik Gallery tomorrow Friday, 31 May 2013 at 5 pm. The exhibition will continue till 5 June 2013. Please get your friends, family and clients to come and voice their support. This cannot, must not, go on.

Reshma alive! After 17 days under rubble.

Reshma pulled out alive: bdnews24.com

Reshma, who was spotted alive under the debris of collapsed Rana Plaza on Friday afternoon was pulled out safely and rushed to Combined Military Hospital (CMH).

She was miraculously located alive under the rubble after 16 days of the worst ever building collapse tragedy in Bangladesh’s history.

Earlier, rescuers found her after hearing a feeble voice under the debris. A rescuer from Bangladesh Army identified the woman as one ‘Reshma’.

She has fought all odds to survive the catastrophe for 17 days, even as the rescuers had lost hope of finding anyone alive under the debris weeks ago.

The rescuer said they could talk to her. “After being located she was given food, water and oxygen.” She was then pulled out alive.

After giving up hope of finding anyone alive under the wreckage, the rescuers had pressed heavy machinery to clear the debris on April 28.

But only the next day on April 29, the rescuers found one ‘Shahina’ alive under the debris. But she could not be rescued as she died in a fire that had broken out at the wreckage site a few hours after she was spotted.

The nine-storey commercial block, Rana Plaza, collapsed on Apr 24 leaving over a thousand people, mostly garment workers, dead.