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An Awful Life

A.M. Ahad | Bangladesh

Mozammel Haque, left, looks to his son Abu Rayhan, posing for a portrait in front of the burnt living room in which his wife, Yanur Begum (32), was killed when a factory fire ravaged Tazreen Fashions in Ashulia, Bangladesh.

A fire broke out at Tazreen Fashions, a garment factory in Ashulia, Bangladesh, killing 117 people and injuring over 200. Two years later, I returned to the site of the tragedy to investigate its human cost. I discovered that many family members of those that perished are permanently scarred by their losses, yet they continue to visit the scene of the fire and reminisce about the positive experiences they shared with their loved ones.

An Awful Lifecaptures portraits of the family members of those who perished in the flames in a building adjacent to the factory. Husbands, children and parents clutch onto clothing items of those lost in the deadliest factory fire of Bangladesh’s history, at the scene of the disaster; and each still reveals the tangible losses to the families. On the day of the shoot, even I could sense the presences missing from the frames.

Garment workers remain vulnerable to these workplace disasters and I find that true justice in the aftermath of this tragedy would be to prevent negligence and exploitation by employers.

“Life is precious, it can never equate to money. In my past, living in poverty, I may not have realized this wordproperly, but the last two years I am feeling it with every breath I take.

I got seven hundred thousand Taka as compassion from others, but with this money what am I to do? Till now I haven’t found my daughter’s body. I am crying in front of every grave, and don’t know whether that grave is my daughter’s: I don’t even know whether she got a place in a grave or not. Others have identifiedthe place of the graves of their relatives by taking a test (DNA), Allah didn’t give me this same minimal amount of luck.

She was my only child; my husband left me when my daughter was a child and I was left merely holding my daughter. I am living as a dead woman these last two years”, said Rokeya Begum, standing in front of a scorchedhouse next to a burnt garment factory building.

Her voice was shaky and her eyes were full of tears, when she was spoke to me. Two years before, on November 24th, 2012, a blaze in the Tazreen Fashions factory, in Ashulia, near Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed 112workers. Seventeen-year-old Hena Akhter, Rokeya Begum’s daughter, was one of them. On that day 112 unbearable, heartbreaking, unacceptable, and awful true stories transpired. Each story speaks of losing a husband, or wife, mother, father, brother, sister, or daughter.

Time and tide wait for none— life goes on. Relatives of the victims have tried to adjust in the two years since the factory fire. Many of them have returned to their villages, and a few have remained jobless—traumatized to work in a garment factory. Some are starting small businesses as a tea stall, while some have restarted working in garment factories; many have stackedin a room through sickness. Time, tide, life really becomes stacked for the few as a Rokeya, Jobbar, Lota, Mujammel, Jomira and more after theTazrin factory blaze.

To this day, the families of the victims continue to visit their former living rooms and remember their family lives with their loved ones.

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