Complying with Blindness

Sumaya with her friend Mita, Studio photograph taken at RatnaStudio at Nischintapur, Ashulia

Sumaya with her friend Mita, Studio photograph taken at RatnaStudio, Nischintapur, Ashulia

Seema Amin

What’s it like, to never have touched a human being and understood the eyes that have gone, the soul that persists, the darkness caving in, in the world of the child you locked inside the burning cage, is still holding on to a conscience, a consciousness, so near it is almost unbearable in the general blindness, death of responsibility, of the collective?

It’s the light of November and it is noon, where the dust of winter and its unsheathed sun elongate human shadow.

If this shadow is a sword, its edges are adjectives…that have long fled the scene:

Charred, burnt, cancerous, cold. These are the remains of bodies that left the scene, the bodies were nouns. Like Time, like Nishchintapur. They had their substance. But without the adjectives they have lost their place in this dimension.

Anne Carson says Adjectives latch nouns to their place, verbs release them.

As I write, it is not me who is fighting against time, but another.

The light in Nishchintapur is as languid, with the balm of a winter sun however fierce, as anywhere else in the country.

But light can not find its way to certain sealed places.

It is Sumaya who can’t sleep at night, though it is said like honey is the sleep of the just. In her 16 years, she could not have committed much sin, she went to work, helped her mother, slept, ate, dreamt a little.

Names give a particularity to nouns. Even a name loses its place without adjectives. Hard as they tried to give a face to the pain, the PAIN could not describe itself.

How slow the afternoons that followed, and night unable to tell itself apart from night… after night, how slow and blind time, since we remembered and since we forgot.

Those who sleep well, in what night do they live, in what noon? Some other time, some other world, an alternate dimension, where the inverse relations of truth and justice make syntax itself a fathomless perversity.

So these giant words float in the deserts of Anniversary Milad.

Charred, eyeless, cancerous, malignant.

The nouns are so huge, so immense, they are absurd.

BGMEA, ILO, High Court, Writ Petition, ASK, LAW, Workers’ Rights. GSP Action Plan. ROADMAP.

Then, the verbs, the verbs…

If shadows went forward, if they foretold three days in advance the burning of hundreds, perhaps a passerby who could read such signs would have held up a mirror to the as yet still uncountable dead (the exact number of the missing remains unresolved). But foretelling is a peculiar extrasensory skill in a dimension where roadmaps for factory safety, created by consortiums of the most powerful (BGMEA) and the most capable (ILO) , fade like a yellow map in the background of the government’s seal of approval, while a new factory collapses. Or, burns due to ‘an electrical fault,’ the cause of 80% of factory fires. It is not said that the consequence of the smok and the flailing bodies e in the ‘secured’ rooms of short circuiting machinery may include such unspecific diseases as blindness or cancer.

Unlike the construction sector, garments workers more often than not have ID’s. There is more scrutiny because it is in the international spotlight. For the same reasons, the Nouns that follow us to the bottomless pit, the New York Times, GSP, Anti Sweatshop activists, CCC….is easily attached to Bangladesh with adjectives like:


If indeed the roadmap they have agreed on for factory safety has begun (as early as June of this year), with shutting of factories and identification of many more critically endangered ones, is a sign of the Compliance of the Government (the press has said as much) then the simultaneous action of arresting Delwar would have been demanded. Not once from the various voices demanding safety is this being put first.

What is the point, living, with seven lakh or twenty lakh, if tomorrow your sistersenters the wrong dungeon, one of those still not shut, one of those in the shadows…one of those that burn, ‘accidentally,’ since nothing exists in Legal History to transform the findings of investigative committees into reality…accidents into acts of criminality.

Why is this not he priority of the fashion brands, the ILO, and everyone else?

This is not some misguided owner. Any social profiling of owners like Delwar would reveal prior murder cases, threats, the useabuse of power.

On the anniversary of Tazreen, two Imams claim, like the DG that protects him, his innocence to a crowd of the survivors, whose children return with jilapi…

‘Our’ milad is followed by a demand for his arrest; in the field another ‘left’ group says similar things, without the music. ‘Should there be music after Milad?’ In a world where murder and accidents are fungible, such categorical principles disappear into thin air even as they are uttered…Should is a strange world in the lives of nouns without adjectives. Morality is a clown in the thin rope hung over the stagnant waters of conscience.

The anthropologists who focused on a single case as a fractal of the larger one brought something to light: the reality of what this state-sponsored, nation-sanctioned protection of criminality does for the sake of dubious, very dubious wealth, dubiously filtering, dubiously enriching, only certain in its infiltration of the political system.

What about class action law suits? Asks the Ian, the NYtimes reporter. Yes well, there is some trouble figuring out how to set the precedent, al l the immense work advocacy organizations over the years have done to get just compensation has not resulted in a single arrest of a factory owner. The reality of the needed social pressure to bring a single owner to justice…which was the goal of the petitioners, which still is ‘our’ goal.

Of course Sumaya can’t play football. Real football or philosophers’ football, a la Monty Python (where you might as well score by kicking the ball into your own court…Endless Verbs, or endless Nouns).

What is done is done and believe it or not, in heaven or hell, in karma, in Judgement Day, or in ghosts that make men mad….

Sumaya cannot die.

It is us that live with cancer, in perpetuity.

Until her life is given meaning, not only by this love, but by the conscience that will commemorate the meaning of her last breath.

I would like to end with an adjective. Beloved!

But I can’t. The field is white as a page, peopled by creatures called humans, who look like raw cotton. The field is devoid of the colors, those descriptive particularities that latch the soul to the canvas of death/life. For as long as the eye can see…only words without latches….

The fire broke out on November 24th 2012.

Broke out on the ground floor, initial reports suggested an electrical fault – the cause of over 80% of factory fires in Bangladesh.

At the time of the fire an estimated 1,137 workers were in the building.

There were insufficient fire escapes for the workers.

Many of the survivors report being told by supervisors to stay at their workbenches and carry on working even as smoke was rising.

In December, 2012 an investigative committee found Delwar Hussein and four others guilty of Criminal Negligence. He has still not been arrested.

Categories: বাংলাদেশে নারীবাদ, যাপিত জীবন

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