Narayanganj Fire

Again fire; again deaths; and again the process of forgetting the firing of life.

Fire and deaths, at least 52 laborers, in the Narayanganj-food-production factory is now news; and international news agencies have already disseminated the news of the murderous incident. So, there’s no scope to hide and deny; and no scope to claim that such reports tarnish image.

The murderous fact tarnishes image, no doubt; and that’s the image of the factory owning group of persons, of the capital that is engaged with such trade with life and death. A legal process would, hopefully, help straighten facts – irresponsibility and callous indifferent handling of life can’t go scot-free. Already a number of concerned persons including the owner and managing director of the industrial group owning the fire-ravaged factory have been arrested and charged with murder.

It’s a long legal journey whatever happens with the expected legal process – ascertain responsibility, negligence or not, etc. All citizens, as human being, expect fairness in this case as they expect in all cases.

So, citizens will wait and look forward – let’s see what happens. So, the factory-fire incident – deaths of laborers – has actually put a system of delivering justice on trial of time in front of citizens.

Whatever happens, even after a long and lengthy process of justice with the fire-death of workers, in the legal process will remain in people’s perception; and that’ll teach people, justice delivered or not, and in the long-run influence people’s decision and action.

History of similar incidents in countries, and even in this land since establishment of factories in the colonized days, tells this – people perceive facts related to their life – be it capital, or owner, lender and exploiter, deprivation, indifference, brutality, biasness and partiality. Their perception defines their actions – organize, reject, rise and resist. Resistance can reach to the level that can hurt interests of perpetrators of deaths by fire. There’re instances of such resistance across lands.

It’s now choice of the system – whether to deliver justice to the labor or not. It’s now level of maturity of the system – act to avoid animosity of the labor or not.

The incident is an eye-opener – condition of the labor in this time. Describing the condition and time as brute, cruel, indifferent, inhuman, exploitative and murderous are not enough. These – brute, etc. – have turned cliché. The descriptions of the incident the Dhaka media, citing concerned authorities including the fire fighting service, have presented is impossible to bear with – charred human bodies, impossible to identify the burned laborers without DNA test, human bodies burned out to the level that the human bodies lost shape of human body, no fire extinguishing system, utterly inadequate fire-escape ladders, locked in doors while fire was razing and engulfing all around, compelling labor to stay within the burning building so that the workers can’t escape while flames were increasingly licking surrounding – from lower floor to upper floor, stored flammable materials without safety arrangement, only a few could reach roof of the building that enabled the fire service to rescue those fortunate, and a few of the workers jumped down from that roof – more than five stories high – to escape an active furnace only to meet their single “destiny” – death.

It’s hellish. Scores, more than hundred human beings were pressed into this capital-made hellhole, actually a burning kiln. Was that a kiln that demands human beings as fuel to alight with crimson flames? The capital owning and operating the process is capable of providing the answer.

Who the gentleman owning huge capital there can imagine of staying in this inferno? None. They will shiver with imagination of such a situation and die in fear before such an inferno encircles them. Their life-long all out effort is to avoid such a situation for themselves; as such a situation obstructs their indulgence with comfortable, luxurious life.

But of laborers, the question of comfortable life “doesn’t” arise at all – is that the argument the capital puts forward? Haven’t the labor entered into contact with capital to produce profit till death subsumes labor – is that the argument put forward by the capital? Is that the reason the labor that were moving its muscles to produce food – juice, life energizing juice – turned into food of fire? Is that the reason the labor producing food for human beings turned lifeless, accepted an identity – void of identity, turned them into a subject of news- photograph?

But, human beings were kept pressed into this fire pit. Capital, ultimately, can claim that there weren’t human beings, there were only labor – no life, no soul, no human feeling, no brain, no dignity, no human relation, only muscles sold to capital for a certain time. That much was that.

This is the fact – capital hired labor for appropriating surplus value, and that labor was cheap, and there’s a huge reserve army of labor, and labor is so cheap that it’s easily expended, be it by pressing it into a fire pit and turning it into charcoal and ashes working as a crematorium, or by chaining it with inhuman working condition, or caving in of factory building, and turning workplace into graveyard. The unfortunate labor is in a hostile condition!

The condition making labor unfortunate is a show of capital’s power. This power leads capital to arrogance as it, the owner asserts, according to Dhaka media reports, there’ll be labor if a factory is established, there’ll be work if labor is there, fire may ignite if there’s work, the ignition might be switched on by the labor, should I [the capital owner] be held responsible for the fire? How many capital owners made such claims publicly? How many times capital owners in this colonized sub-continent publicly made such audacious utterances? The utterances show capital’s confidence with its power.

So, what’s the “problem” if there’s no fire fighting mechanism? So, what’s the “problem” if fire escape ladders are very narrow and inadequate? So, what’s the “problem” if the factory building was not constructed following the country’s Building Code? So, what’s the “problem” if a few laborers are licked by a hungry fire?

Do capital’s arguments are constructed in the way told above? Class power will ascertain the argument – false or not.

The lost labor’s kith and kin will search the labor – burned to death or “missing”; and weep and cry. But, that’s for a very short time. Has not Nazim Hikmet, the poet from Turkey voicing the toiling masses, written that the time-length of grief is very short today? All facts of the incident, and the incident itself will be forgotten by all other than a few labor activists and those who lost their earning members – be it a mother or an aged father or a teen age girl.

Capital will profess: What’s to that with those the fallen and the aggrieved? Bygone is bygone; forget the dead. Isn’t capital “powerful” enough to ignore, to brush out those voices of anger and grief? Has not capital got that shrewdness that shrouds all inconvenient facts with forgetfulness? So, “forget” those dead bodies. Those have no use now – unproductive. Those now can’t produce any surplus value; so discard and dump. With those charcoals, the question of productivity – movement of wheels with increasing speed – shall no more be raised. Be happy, as those shall not consume anymore, relieving a group of economist that only calculates consumption by labor and make bosses happy with figure of increased consumption. Those the dead shall no more put profit into capital’s coffer; so, forget those charred bodies, which were once living labor and serving me – the capital. Don’t you see, my class brothers, the organizations I belong to don’t denounce such acts?

That’s a fact, a fact of today: Forgetfulness.

But, can this forgetfulness rein on perpetually? Dynamics of class struggle in exploitative system doesn’t allow that perpetual rein.

Otherwise the Indigo British bosses whipping farmers in colonized Bengal wouldn’t have fled away; the British owners of mills on the Hoogly adjacent to Kolkata would have perpetually muzzled down voices of the labor, the labor in Bombay [now, Mumbai] wouldn’t have stood on the barricades along with the Royal British Navy sailors revolting against the colonial rule, there wouldn’t have been the Solapur Commune by labor – a tale of barricades and bravery.

A few powerful ignore this dynamics while a few forget. But, many souls tied to machine of exploitation don’t forget. Rather they calculate – so many lives for so much profit, power of this class and power of that class – an equation of class power. That’ll also be news, not of deaths, but of resistance, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.

So, with this calculation continuing and ultimately taking shape of a force, the death the factory fire has produced will also produce another fire, another inferno – of anger, organization, protest and resistance; and shall allow none to forget this death. It’s like Nazrul’s Taboo aamaare debo naa vooleete, Yet, I shall not allow burying me.

Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka.


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