A review of 'Chobbish April: Hazar Praner Chitkar'
On April 24, 2014, Bangladesh witnessed what is perhaps the biggest man-made disaster not only in Bangladesh but also in the whole world. Rana Plaza, an eight-story building housing several offices including garment factories, collapsed on this day, killing 1,120 workers and leaving scores more injured and battered. It was termed a “mass industrial homicide” by many Bangladeshi workers’ organizations. Bangladesh owes its recent achievements in economic growth solely to the garment workers, who are underpaid. But the Rana Plaza disaster bluntly shows how little the government and industry owners care about their safety.
Published in 2014 by Garment Sramik Samhati, Chobbish April: Hazar Praner Chitkar (April 24: Cries of a Thousand Souls) is a collection of stories, essays, interviews, street plays, dance dramas and photographs on the traumatic experiences of the victims whose loss and injuries were merely an “accident” for factory owners. In nine chapters, all the way to the end, the book chronicles the memories of survivors in what is a bold initiative to preserve their memories and also to ensure justice and reassess industrial laws that led to this tragedy.
The collection starts with the chapter “Harano Praner Artonad” (Moans of Lost Lives)—a series of heartbreaking stories recounted by the victims’ relatives and dear ones. They explain why they left their ancestral village to live in shanties in Dhaka and took up a ten-to twelve-hour job in packed, hazardous factories.
The second chapter is a compilation of interviews and stories by six survivors who languished for a long time in hospital beds after the disaster. Some of the stories narrate how their injuries left them crippled for the rest of their lives as their limbs had to be amputated later.
“Uddhar O Shohayotar Obhiggota” (The Experience of Rescue Work), the third chapter, contains the experiences of ten people who volunteered for rescue work, putting their lives at great risk. In the fourth chapter, the names of all the dead and missing workers are listed along with their passport-sized photos. It also includes a district-wise map of the victims.
The following chapters comprise insightful articles and opinions by writers, activists, researchers and intellectuals who’ve delved into the socio-political aspects of the Rana Plaza collapse. One of the most important features of the book is a collection of street plays, skits, dance dramas, cartoons and photographs that highlight the many unknown threads of the factory workers’ lives. Activists, organizers and artists have always been vocal against the inhumane treatment of garment factory workers at the hands of their owners. What distinguishes the book in the final analysis is the way it also shows how workers face threats and violence when they organize protest rallies to press their demand.
Chobbish April: Hazar Praner Chitkar is a very important collection documenting memories that we have to keep alive throughout the year so that the issue of workers’ rights and safety never takes a back seat.
Mir Arif is Staff Writer, Arts & Letters. He is also a fiction writer.