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No one will rise from the ashes

The fire disaster at two factories in Pakistan ruined the lives of several women, their husbands and children. Blogger M. Salman ruminates on the consequences and why 9/11 suddenly gains a new meaning.

Two days later, the huge hall cuts a hair-raising picture. It seems as if countless sewing machines have been abandoned by people who have escaped the hall anticipating a natural disaster. The black, sooty walls indicate something else. That dreadful word: fire. The disaster has already taken place and only a handful of people have managed to escape.

Sept 11 is fast becoming a date not many in Pakistan would like to remember. On Sept 11, 2001 two passenger planes crashed into the World Trade Centre buildings in New York and set to motion a series of unnerving events that shook the entire world. On Sept 11, 2012 a horrendous fire broke out in a four-storey building in Baldia Town, Karachi, where approximately 400 (some say the number is bigger) men and women, girls and boys, were working overtime, trying to piece together ready-to-wear clothes so that they could be shipped to other countries. Little did they know, soon there’d be nothing to work overtime for.

Dusk had fallen. The sun was about to disappear into the Arabian Sea. It was not yet 7 p.m. when, according to one account, a generator near the boiler of the garments factory caught fire. How? It is yet to be ascertained. Soon the blaze assumed infernal proportions and engulfed the whole structure. Unfortunately, the only exit door was locked. All the workers got trapped inside the building, shouting for help at the top of their lungs; some died from suffocation, the majority charred to death. The few who somehow broke down the iron grilles on the first floor jumped off the building and saved their lives. Their bones broken, their souls shattered. However, no journalist was able to reach the women who had been earlier reported to have jumped off the third floor. They disappeared from the scene rather mysteriously.

There is a lot to mourn here. The precious lives of the poor men and women who had found it difficult to make ends meet and were working their hearts out to eek out a living is one reason. The other is the fact that help did not arrive on time. It never does. The inadequacy of the fire tenders, the slumbering response of the administration and the subsequent blame game of the concerned civic bodies is another. Even the media did not realize the magnitude of the tragedy until morning. By then, the screaming, helpless voices had gone quiet… forever.

The fear is, after a bit of hue and cry and loud demands for a thorough inquiry, all will be forgotten. Those who died were voiceless people. Their family members do not have the guts or the wherewithal to pursue the investigation. If they had affluent backgrounds or belonged to any political party, things might’ve been different.

And yes, Sept 11 is also the date when the father of the nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, passed away.

M. Salman is a journalist and blogger based in Pakistan.



14.09.2012 | 9:54