Remembering Himu in the time of social isolation

Nahid Riyasad | Published: 00:00, May 03,2020


Nowshad Hasan Himu

Nowshad Hasan Himu, a young citizen rescuer of Rana Plaza killed himself on the 6th anniversary of the collapse. On his first death anniversary, Bangladesh Garments Workers Solidarity has organised an online session to remember him. Nahid Riyasad reports

NOWSHAD Hasan Himu might not ring a bell to many but to the young citizen rescuers of the Rana Plaza collapse is still holding him to their heart. Went by the name Himaloy Himu in social media platforms, Himu was a familiar face during the early hours of the frantic rescue efforts by young rescuers, who diligently worked without proper training and equipment, to save anybody who was stuck inside the rubbles, in one of the worst ‘industrial accidents’ in the global history.

On 24 April, 2013 when the nine-storied building named after the local drug dealer and Juba League leader Sohel Rana collapsed, close to 4000 workers were trapped inside screaming for life. Himu was at the forefront of the three-week long citizen rescue mission. On the sixth year of the collapse, on April 24, 2019, he set himself on fire, his burning body fell on the ground in a locality not too far from the site of the collapse.

This April 24 marks the first year after Himu’s untimely death and seventh year of the collapse of Rana Plaza. The current condition of the workers amidst the ‘lockdown’ situation, the owners’ associations indecision as well as state’s lack of willingness to consider the safety of the workers is a reminder that perhaps Himu was too sensitive a soul who could not bear the inequality, injustice and gruesomeness of the system anymore thus relieved himself off of the horrible experiences.

Fellow political activists and citizen rescuers, to mark Himu’s death on April 24, arranged an online group discussion where they remembered him for his valiant efforts, for the human being he was and his frustrations on systemic approach towards working class which makes them even more economically marginalised.

The talk was attended by Taslima Akhter, president of Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity, Golam Mustafa, president of Bangladesh Students Federation, Kakon Bishwash, Aminul Islam Shama, Sadik Reza, Prodip Roy, Anjan Das, Julhasnayeen Babu, Babul Hossain and Al Zahid.

Al Zahid, ex vice president of Bangladesh Students’ Federation has pointed out to an important aspect of Himu’s work enthusiasm and its relevance to today’s world. ‘The way Himu indulged himself into rescuing people in the rubbles of Rana Plaza, it was very apparent that he was beaming with energy and a zeal to do something for those people. Many youths of today share the same enthusiasm with him but they do not know what to do and how to do it. Increasing isolation of the youth from the state mechanism is only worsening the conditions,’.

While remembering Himu, Anjan Das said that the country needs more youth like Himu who want to do something for the society. ‘The state mechanism has failed to patronise and nurture these youths who are beaming with energy to contribute to the building of the nation and as a result, youth like Himu is rejected by the mainstream society thus alienation engulfs them eventually.’

Kakon Bishwash indicates to the definition of establishment and urges for a more simplified definition of the idea. He says, ‘the state, the system and the family teaches us to accept certain ideas as established and rejects the rest, however, such confined perspectives create frustration among youths like Himu, who wants to consider the idea of establishment rather differently’.

He also stipulates that unless the system broadens its horizons, more and more youth like HImu will become frustrated which is a collective loss for any society. The speakers also talk about the lack of mental health support for the survivors as well as rescuers many of whom are still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. 

A fellow rescuer, who spent days with him at Rana Plaza told, he lost six kilograms and carries similar suicidal thoughts. A number of other rescuers present at the memorial talked about the mental help and medication that they took to battle with PTSD for the last six years. They said these on May 3, 2019, during a programme arranged by Bangladesh Students’ Federation and Garment Workers Unity commemorating the memories of Himaloy Himu at the University of Dhaka.

This shows how poorly the state has addressed the crisis situation as well as those who have rushed to the rescue. Moreover, all the factory owners of the rana Plaza, as reported in national media, have started new factories around Dhaka whereas many the survivors are still fighting physical and mental challenges of the April 24, 2013.

Such mechanism does not or cannot metamorphosis its characteristics overnight and it did not either and the government’s current response to the COVID-19 situation, especially how they handled workers’ issues, is a testament to that.

Government’s as well as apparel sector authorities’ indecision, lack of well intentional for the workers’ health and serious zeal to keep the wheels of the factories running when the entire world is locked down has generated a mass mobilisation of the workers to and from Dhaka, several times, in the last 30 days.

National and different social media platforms have swarmed with photos of apparel workers covering hundreds of miles on foot, how they are travelling in trucks and vans and even inside empty plastic drums on trucks. Many of them have to break their journey several times which costed them even ten times of the regular fare, only to attend their workplace otherwise they would end up losing their only source of income.

Meanwhile, despite the government have announced soft loan to the readymade garment and export oriented industries, many workers have not received their wages. On April 17, when workers were protesting for their due wages in Ashulia, police charged them with batons, fired rubber bullet and hurled tear-sells injuring a number of workers. On April 29, hundreds of workers of A One Limited were seen protesting because they have not received wages for the last four months. On May 2, another factory in Gazipur fired more than 300 workers and when they protested, hired goons of the factory dispersed the protesters by charging at them with stones and hammers.

Still, owners’ associations hide the grim reality of Rana Plaza under empty rhetoric and term that time as an ‘image crisis’ of our garment industry. In the 2014 Dhaka apparel summit, the owners promised to recover their ‘image’ and take the RMG industry to a USD 50 billion by 2021. The sector is responsible for 84 per cent of the export and is now a USD 40 billion industry. The lives of 1175 workers and more than two thousand handicapped workers were nothing but an ‘image crisis’ to the owners and the government.

Despite being such a huge industry that has been in operation for four decades, they are still waiting for government incentive packages to pay their workers. This again brings the question that why, even after receiving a Tk 5000 crore soft loan from the taxpayers’ money, more than 800 factories have not cleared their March wages. Let us again ask the question again that why this industry after decades of government incentives has not achieved self-subsistence with apparently zero crisis time funds.

This is true that Himu did not kill himself for the workers’ rights, rather, the experiences that led him to the moment of death is more complex. It will be unwise and unfair for us to flatten his experience to fit to our narrative of struggle. What he definitely had done, at least for some of his colleagues, comrades and friends, left a door open to ask questions that are not conventionally asked. 

Nahid Riyasad is a member of the New Age Youth team.

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