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OP-ED: The expendable lives

  • Published at 09:12 pm July 13th, 2021
narayanganj factory fire
We never learn DHAKA TRIBUNE

Are factory workers considered to be cheap materials that can be easily replaced?

Two years back, in April 2019, I wrote an article in Dhaka Tribune titled “When will we learn?” about a fire incident in Old Dhaka that claimed 70 lives. It is a matter of great regret that in 2021, I am writing again, and the subject matter is exactly the same as the one from two years back. Once again, a fire incident has caused the deaths of 52 innocent lives -- something which could have been avoided if we wanted to.

Looking at different repetitive accidents, often I wonder if we as a nation have taken the sole responsibility of proving Hegel’s quote about the human tendency of not learning from history to be absolute truth. It occurs to me as if we have become used to such fatalities, and we no longer care. We will write in newspapers, television channels will broadcast live, experts will present their opinions, and that’s it.

However, this time I will try to look at this from a different angle. It is no secret that the industrialists largely thrive on exploiting the labourers. When the labourers often come down to the streets for due wages, the lordly attitude of the industrialists towards the workers gets exposed in the most naked possible way.

There is no doubt that, like you and me, these people in expensive suits and ties also have witnessed every tragedy that took place ever since the disaster of Rana Plaza. If such accidents took place in their fancy headquarters, would they be as relaxed as they have been about their factories? Which happen to be the workplace of their workers? A simple no!

In my conviction, this reluctance has its root somewhere else. It is in our character-rooted condescending attitude towards the poor working-class people, who belong to the lower level of the socio-economic structure, upon which the modern industrial society operates.

All the stakeholders who could bring about change have consciously or unconsciously taken the lives of the workers working in such factories as expendable. To them, these workers are not humans, rather cheap materials that can be easily replaced.

This is why we can see magnificently built offices of the large corporations with all modern systems for any emergency, as the lives of people working there are considered to be of much higher value. We have thrown the idea of equality out the window.

The good news is, the top brass of the business group which owned the factory have been arrested. Although I wonder if it will remain as good news for long, and if they will get out soon on bail and get back to business as if nothing happened.

Lastly, when I look at such catastrophic incidents taking place intermittently, and the strange indifference of the business-owners, I do not think it will be an exaggeration to imagine many of them, if not all, as modern-day vampires whose thirst for blood makes the ones from European folklore look all-too innocent.

Ratnadeep Toorja is a software programmer by profession, and musician and writer by passion.

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