Ashes of Souls

“A silent burial ground, where may be the ashes of wounded souls are still encircling. Broken pieces of brunt smashed tiles with countless busted glasses can tell the tale how staircases could not save hundreds of scorched living beings. Imagining myself at the place of these unfortunate garments workers who burnt alive, I felt vulnerable. Shoes, bangles or an unfinished ironed cloth in the stand or the half eaten evening tiffin are standing witness, how workers died helplessly. Pieces of glass bangles all over the floor, as mostly female workers had faced the tragedy, were witness of a violent disaster those no one of them even seen in nightmares. & thus by facing fire they lost their existence in burning blaze” – GMB Akash

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Tazreen Fashions, located in a rural area of Ashulia occupies a nine-storied building. The ground floor, which stored the factory’s raw materials, had the only entrance to the factory, with three staircases leading to other floors. The fire at the eight-story building of the apparel factory started on the first floor, quickly cutting off all three exits from the building. Survivors stated that at least one exit was locked while no emergency exits existed in the building whatsoever. Some workers tried to escape the fire by jumping out of the windows of upper floors – many of them died. Others choked to death in the thick smoke of burning fabrics. Many of the bodies the firefighters found in the ruins were burnt beyond recognition. Later it was estimated that more than 1,000 people could have been inside the building when the fire started. But survivors claims more. Even it takes more than two hours for fire fighters to arrive at the factory. Firefighters trying to reach the blaze were slowed because the narrow road leading to the factory made it difficult to get to the site and there was no source of water nearby. It took firefighters over 17 hours to douse the blaze at the factory, after it started on Saturday evening November 24. The fire at Tazreen Fashions Ltd, lead to the death of reportedly 111 workers, but witnesses and survivors alleged that the real number dead is possibly much higher.

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Raziv is one of the Survivors of the tragic incident; he worked at fourth floor along 300 other workers that evening.  He said, “I smelt smoke and ran downstairs at third floor and found that the place was already full with black fumes and I cannot breathe properly. With the sound of crying women the electricity went off within 5 minutes and most of the female workers had no mobile phone atleast to see though the phone light. I accompanied by my three friends & went at the small room of the third floor where I was atleast 200 woman were standing & crying helplessly. With another worker, I broke the window of the room and give the place to female workers to go out but most of them was so afraid and cannot do anything. I cannot be selfish to fly alone and helped them to jump through. But as soon as the fire was increasing I run to the biggest exhaust fan of the floor, many women workers seated at prayer and many started losing sense. Only by hand, I broke out the fan but cannot jump. The fire was so scary that I lost my power, I called and cried to my brother, he just said ‘Jump!Jump! Then I jumped to the roof of a shed next to the factory and found myself injured at the ground! I survived but I had no money for my treatment and no one asked me to help, even after five days of the incident I am searching for my coworkers and had not get any money for my treatment. I come to the factory for my four months due wages, no expectation from these rich bosses.” Along Raziv, Few more fire survivors said, that most victims died of suffocation as the blaze started on the ground floor warehouse, trapping the night-shift staff.

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In hospitals cases are alike. Injured workers hardly save themselves form fire, some lost their memory, some are in trauma, poor families has nothing to give them better treatment. Amongst huge numbers of injured, few are receiving treatment and rests of the survivors are not fortunate to get treatment except lying at home for money crisis. A survivor Kushi stated that, after jumping from the third floor she broke her legs and cried at least one hour for help but no one was there and eventually she lost her sense.

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Inside the living zone of these garments workers are not rosy. Jhilpar Slum is accommodating at least 20000-30000 textile workers and alike this slums garments workers living throughout all industrial hubs with daily straggles. Rooms of 10 feet by 10 feet accommodate minimum four women workers which monthly rent is 3000 tk. One toilet and one kitchen are definite for ten families of the slum. But still after having this trouble, passing through narrow life lines women garments workers are appreciating their lives as an independent being but incident like fire in Tazreen fashions has break out all hidden frustrations of them.

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Accompanying workers in the fight for their deserved salaries I also faced problems with police officers. They tried to stop me for taking photos and said many times that I am ruining my country’s reputation. Even in many cases the injured, victim’s families and workers faced continual negligence by police, local authority even after so much pressure from national and international media and having consolation from all over the world they had to fight for their due salaries. End of the day they knows they have to fight for their right after losing their dears ones and even facing fire may be easier than earning rights and justice.

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Nilufar lost four members of her family. While she received call from her brother, she heard only shout, ‘Save us!” ‘Help Us’! The phone was on the line for 20 minutes & she helplessly heard the sound of wounded peoples and their mourning. She passed the whole night in front of the factory gate along her two little brothers. While rescuers had lined up all the recovered bodies on the grounds of a nearby school, Nilufar unzipped bag after bag, searching her mother, father, brother and sister-in-law. She said the charred human remains looked like chunks of coal, but no where she found any dead bodies of her lost dear faces. Police wants ID cards of these four members then she replied, “I cannot found their burnt bodies after running three days, where the hell I would find ID cards!’ The tragedy does not end here; they have a long future to bear the wound with them with a tragic memory in mind.

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“While leaving the place I heard, a mother exclaims that her son’s blood demand Justice. We all know their sweats, their bloods asking answers. No, we can’t stands at more loss. No Space for Further burials. Each drop of blood, each drop of worker’s sweat asks JUSTICE. Nothing more, nothing less” – GMB Akash

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Author: GMB Akash

"I see the beauty of people and the human soul in the pictures I take. And though the circumstances of some of the people I portray may be grim, back-breaking, depraved, the people themselves are always remarkable characters and souls" For me Photography is my language, to access, to communicate, to identify and mostly to make it hear. Through photography I only jot down my heart’s language. The best part about being a photographer is that I’m able to articulate the experiences of the voiceless and to bring their identities to the forefront which gives meaning and purpose to my own life.

21 thoughts on “Ashes of Souls”

  1. This is a very tragic story. It is appalling that the very people that produce the wealth for these company owners are treated with such little regard. They deserve proper compensation. The government should be legislating to ensure proper health and safety measures are put in place by these companies.


    1. The garment industry is Bangladesh’s largest industrial employer, with 3.6 million workers. It has been gaining ground as a lower-cost alternative to the world’s leading garment exporter China, where wages have been rising sharply. Bangladesh is now the second-largest apparel exporting nation with about $18 billion worth of clothes shipped abroad last year. But still garments has to monitor worker’s right and safety first for the betterment of this industry.


  2. So sad to hear of the plight of these people. Help should but doubtless won’t come from the factory owners who got rich on the labours of the poor. Shame on the Police for trying to stop you from taking photos and well done you for your perseverance in bringing this sad event to the notice of the world at large.


  3. When I first read the news on the internet the morning after the fire, I was so angry. Angry at the factory owners for exploiting society’s most vulnerable, but even more angry at the big western corporations that quietly condone such practices. Such a horrific tragedy. How could such a thing be allowed to happen?
    But then I suddenly felt guilt overwhelm me. Am I also not condoning this behavior? Do I not look for the bargain clothes when shopping?
    Akash, your words and images here make this tragedy even more personal for me. Seeing the burned factory floor, the machines they worked at…..I can’t begin to imagine the fear those helpless victims felt. The picture of the man arguing with the police shows clearly, in his eyes, the anger and frustration he feels. And finally, the woman in the last photo; a mother whose heart is crushed by too much pain to bear. Who will answer her question …”Why?”.


  4. Garments cost next to nothing for us to buy, and they are so cheap because the workers (far away from us) making them have so very bad working conditions, and pay. Another strong documentary!


  5. Thanks so much…again…for showing this exceptionally poignant, personal side to a tragic issue. Without people like you capturing the emotions and faces of the people behind the gross, rampant exploitation, they’ll remain forever nameless. Thank you, as always, for doing so in such a beautiful way.


  6. Excellent post. CBC radio news did an in depth piece on the Walmart connection and how the company refuses to spend money to make sure the buildings have sufficient safety & fire code measures. Will pass this post on to others.


  7. i cannot “like” this . . . but I wish to thank you for bringing the human story into my awareness. I felt compelled to share on Facebook, Pininterest, and Google.


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