urge parliamentary scrutiny of the state within a state of the Khakis, especially the dreaded spy agency (DGFI). The interference of the Khakis into state politics will once again jeopardize institutionalization of elective democracy, good governance and secularism. The rogues fear social justice activists, critics, politicians and journalists too - Joy Manush!
Monday, May 13, 2013
Bangladesh building collapse: How many still missing? Who knows?
Photo: Relatives search for names of missing garments worker
Photo: Still missing
Numbers have always been a tricky issue in Bangladesh, so
much so that there is disagreement over even the total population of the
There is always someone ready to raise
questions about any "official figure" , whether it is the voter list
or death figures from a road accident.
Not surprisingly then, when the eight-storey
Rana Plaza collapsed on 24 April with thousands of people working in five
garment factories, numbers became a hotly contested issue.
Two sets of figures are now accepted as
accurate. Firstly, the number of people rescued alive, which stands at 2,438
and secondly, the number of bodies recovered from the rubble, which stands at
more than 1,000 and keeps rising every day.
Calculating in the dark
But there is disagreement over how many are
still missing - and hence, the total number likely to have died.
Nearly 3,500 people have already been
accounted for, with unknown numbers still buried under the rubble”
More than two weeks after collapse, there
is still no agreement on exactly how many workers and staff were present in the
building. This has left officials calculating in darkness.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and
Exporters Association (BGMEA), initially said that 3,200 people may have been
employed by the five factories located on the upper floors of the building.
But that figure now looks unrealistic. Nearly
3,500 people have already been accounted for, with unknown numbers still buried
under the rubble.
Five days after the collapse a woman named
Shahina was found alive.
But Shahina could not be rescued, as a fire
sparked by metal cutting machines killed her on 28 April. One of the rescuers
later died in hospital from burns sustained during the abortive rescue.
It was not expected that more survivors
would be found, and rescuers switched their focus to recovering bodies.
Then another round of distrust about
numbers was kicked off by none other than Maj Gen Hasan Suhrawardy, the man in
charge of the recovery operation at the site.
On 1 May, he told journalists that only 149
people were missing, raising heckles across the social landscape. Even senior
government officials expressed doubts about the figure.
Workers rescued from the site said many
people had tried to escape down a stairway at the back of the building. They
insisted that many bodies lay in that part of the building.
It appeared the general had used a list
which local administration officials had stopped using. The police had their
own, much larger list, based on people registering names of their missing
Officials worried that many names were
appearing several times in different lists. They also worried that fraudsters might
be at work, registering fake names to get compensation.
As a result of the confusion, all lists
were taken down and officials stopped talking about the number missing.
But more fuel was added to the fire by
former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, leader of the main opposition, the
Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Addressing a big rally in Dhaka
on 4 May, Mrs Zia accused the government of ''disappearing'' 900 bodies.
The opposition leader did not quote any
source, but it reflected a sense of frustration and distrust among relatives of
Hundreds of relatives of the missing waited
at the site everyday, desperate to ensure they at least got the body of their
loved one so they could be buried properly.
But rumours soon spread that the army was
about to bulldoze the site. Rumours were also spread that trucks removing
debris from the site were being used to take away dead bodies.
Anger and frustration spilled over on one
or two occasions and relatives, aided by locals, blocked army vehicles carrying
Painstaking work by officials finally
calmed the situation. The army made it clear there would be no bulldozing and
that every effort would be made to recover any remaining bodies.
The military and fire brigade decided to
use heavy equipment sparingly, only after ensuring that no body was left to be
It is perhaps this painstaking, time-consuming,
brick-by-brick search for bodies that has allowed the rescuers to find a woman
alive in the rubble on Friday, 12 days after the last survivor was found and 17
days after the building went down.