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  • The Ghosts of Rana PlazaIn Bangladesh, one year after the worst accident in the history of the garment industry, recovery remains a fragile process, justice seems elusive, and reform has a long way to go.
  • Reporting by Jason Motlagh
    Photography by Atish Saha and Jason Motlagh

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Photography by Atish Saha and Jason Motlagh

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Rana Plaza complex. Savar, Bangladesh. April 24, 2013. (all black-and-white photographs by atish saha.)

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Aboard at Adhar Chandra High School tallies the dead, rescued, dead recovered by relatives, and bodies not yet identified.

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Lutfer Rahman holds the document that his daughter found next to the body of his wife, Rina Rahman, confirming her death in the collapse. (jason motlagh)

Four Days in April

On the morning of Thursday, April 24, 2013, traffic on the Dhaka–Aricha Highway was lighter than usual. On most days, the industrial artery that connects the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka to suburbs in the northwest is choked with Suzuki hatchbacks, scooters, and banged-up buses that honk and belch incessantly as they carry commuters to construction sites and factories in towns like Dhamrai, Gakulnagor, and Savar, a subdistrict of the capital dominated by garment makers. But on that morning, they were in the third day of another nationwide hartal, or strike, called by opponents of the ruling Awami League party, the latest in a never-ending cycle of political brinkmanship that had paralyzed the country on and off for years. Like power outages and flash floods, strikes are a fact of life in Bangladesh. In Savar and other manufacturing hubs, the protocol among working-class people generally is to heed them or be prepared for trouble.

Rana Plaza, a hulking commercial complex that fronts the highway, was an exception that day. The building’s owner, Sohel Rana, insisted that employees report for work as usual, in defiance of the opposition, with plans to mobilize them for a possible street protest. This was not an empty gesture: On any given day, the plaza’s eight stories held as many as five thousand people, most of whom were employed by garment-making companies linked to well-known Western brands.

At his pastry shop across the street from the plaza, Saiful Islam was reading about the strike in the morning paper when he heard a shriek of breaking glass cut the air. He looked up to see shards of blue glass from the building that adjoined [End Page 64] the plaza raining onto the far sidewalk, cutting several people waiting at the bus stand below. For a moment Islam assumed it was sabotage, a brick through a window, until the ground started to quake. Rana Plaza seemed to be imploding.

As the quake intensified, more panels blasted out onto the street, and several workers jumped to their deaths. Then the upper floors fell in quick succession, one after another, causing the bottom half of the building to pancake under their weight. In a matter of seconds, the eight-story building was reduced to a heap of slabs and iron.

As the cloud of concrete dust began to settle on the rubble, Islam and others bolted across the street to look for survivors. Police and the fire...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2154-6932
Print ISSN
0042-675X
Pages
pp. 44-89
Launched on MUSE
2014-05-02
Open Access
No
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