25 Jul, 2013

stories of loss…

Sehba Sarwar
25 Jul, 2013

Khushi arranges for us to visit Savar, the site where the Rana Plaza collapsed back in April. Today marks three months of mourning for more than 1100 lives that were lost when the building crashed. Today, more than 370 are still “missing”, a situation that leaves family members in a space where they cannot fully grieve their losses or receive any kind of compensation.

Rows of men and women push against a fence that lines the flattened plot where the eight-story building collapsed in April this year, while women hold out signs of missing family members. A man slips past the fence and squats on a stone, holding out two images of family members; meanwhile, television cameras document his grief and that of others.

In the evening, in a journey led by Afsan Chowdhury, we make a trek to Geneva Camp, where the Bihari community took refuge in December 1971, once the Pakistan Army was defeated and Bangladesh attained its independence. Here, streets are narrow, and houses – once mud-huts – are now built up into cement homes that have multiple levels of small rooms connected by cement stairs. Residents living in this community only recently acquired the right to vote and to hold Bangladeshi passports—for more than thirty years, they lived without either as they waited for repatriation to Pakistan or to be accepted as citizens in Bangladesh.

We are welcomed by Noor Pappu Islam, whose wife and family serve Iftar to us—because of crazy Dhaka traffic, we are late, and they have already broken their fast. Pappu’s two-year nephew offers me a salaam. “He has been waiting for you all day,” Pappu tells us. We sit on a bed at the topmost level of the house, and Pappu shares his story about his father, who worked as a cobbler all his life until he passed away a few years ago

Pappu, articulate in Urdu, English and Bengali, helps researchers by collecting information. He is working on capturing the untold stories of his community. “I never knew that we had a story to tell until I met Afsan Bhai…” he says.