They never knew the darkness of a grisly night could be a portent of another dark episode of their lives waiting ahead. The heavy air filled with smoke and heat, and the loud, terrified screams of the many people trapped inside the blazing Tazreen Fashion building were just the beginning of a drawn-out struggle survivors of the fire would still endure two years after the tragedy.
On 24 November 2012, at least 117 people burnt to death after becoming trapped behind locked exits at the Tazreen Fashion factory, which supplied clothes to global brands. Two-hundred more people were severely injured in the fire.
Those who were lucky to survive do not feel like that anymore, as they suffered serious injuries, received no compensation, and are now left without a source of income. More than one-hundred of the injured Tazreen workers face extreme hardship and struggle to bear the costs of their treatment.
Anju Ara is one of them. "Sometimes the intensity of the pain drives me mad," she said. "I break things in desperation. I wake up screaming 'fire! fire!' at night. I can't sleep."
A good number of survivors are yet to recover from the trauma of the terrible incident, having lost their mental strength permanently, not able to work in the garment sector or in any other industry. Many others could not afford proper treatment afterwards and have developed fatal health complications over the last 24 months.
The fire started on the ground floor of the nine-story factory – and while the fire was consuming the lower floor, many desperate workers were stuck on the second, third and fourth floors of the building. Finding no way out, they broke windows on the eastern side, and jumped out.
Some survivors say their new lease on life has become a curse amid the practicalities of poverty. The list of health problems among them is long. Kidney disease, backbone problems, and chest pains prevail, and many also suffer from severe post-traumatic stress and crippling fear whenever they try to sleep.
Shahnaz Begum, 36, jumped from 3rd floor of the building. “I lost an eye and I’m having backbone problems,” she said. She now has to struggle to make a living and survive two years on.
Both Hasan Mia, 30, and Mahfuza Akter, 20, jumped from the second floor and survived the deathly fire that killed their friends and co-workers. “I now suffer from psychological and mental illness. It’s hard to think of that day,” says Mia. Like her colleague, Mahfuza suffers from the same illness.
The 2012 Dhaka fire was the deadliest factory fire in Bangladesh's history. The cause was initially blamed on a short circuit, however the government later declared that it could had been an “arson attack or sabotage" due to the occurrence of previous similar events.
Because of the large amount of fabric and yarn in the factory, the fire spread quickly to other floors, burning the building for over 17 hours before the firefighters were able to extinguishing it.