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Fire takes toll beyond factory

This grocer in Nishchintapur has little business since the Tazreen Fashions fire and his business seems to be in trouble. Of the over 1,600 workers of the factory, 126 were his customers who used to shop on credit. And of the 126, only 17 have visited his shop since the fire. Photo: Anisur Rahman

Armed police stand guard at the gate of Tazreen Fashions. A black banner hung on the wall reads: "Please do not enter. The building is highly risky."

A few yards away a small crowd gathers at a grocery shop that Shafiqul Islam owns. Among them are some survivors of the November 24 fire. They speak of how they dodged their death by a nail's breadth, their faces look still frozen.

When a survivor describes how the assistant production manager directed the guards to lock the collapsible gate and a top official played music on a loud speaker in high volume to deceive the workers about the fire, a tea stall boy becomes angry. More in disbelief than hatred.

"If the production manager were here now," he says, adding that he wants to teach the officials a lesson. The boy does not understand how top managers can make decisions that kill.

But Shafiqul does not say anything. Maybe he does not listen either. Because he knows all these. He also knows he is in deep trouble, for, in addition to killing at least 111 workers and injuring another 100, the fire has threatened his living.

“We've no business since the fire incident. The fire has not only killed the workers, it ruined our businesses," Shafiqul says when inquired about his sale.

Of the over 1,600 workers of the factory, 126 were his customers who used to shop on credit.

“I myself saw the bodies of my 13 customers. I do not know exactly how many of them died. Only 17 of them [126] are coming to my shop. I've no idea what happened to the others," he adds.

According to his register book, Shafiqul sold to those 126 customers various items worth Tk 2.87 lakh.

For a small trader like him that is a huge sum, and he is unsure when and how he would get at least some of the money. Given the extent of damage to the factory, his biggest fear is that the surviving workers would lose their jobs.

But Shafiqul is not the only one to be so affected in Nishchintapur. Other small businesses in the area have as well been hurt.

Abdur Rashid, a vegetable vendor, was present during all these conversations at Shafiqul's shop on Wednesday.

He said he borrowed Tk 40,000 on high interest to set up the business, but he has no business now.

"All my customers were of this factory," said Rashid, "many of them bought vegetables on credit."

Like Shafiqul, he is uncertain if he would get the money.

Fear and uncertainty have gripped the surviving workers too. Some of them have already left for their village homes with many others planning the same.

Yesterday, Mozammel was leaving for his Rangpur home for a few days "because everything here is messed up".

He wants a permanent job but says, “Hundreds of workers are practically jobless due to this accident. So it would be hard to get a permanent job at the moment.”

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