Sumaya and remembering as political act

Sumaya at Bashundhara City August 2013

Sumaya at Bashundhara City August 2013

A year ago today Sumaya Khatun, an injured survivor of Tazreen fire had died. The day has gone by unceremoniously. We don’t remember her in big, earth-shattering ways anymore. But, we remember her. I remember her, the girl sheepishly disclosing her real age at the hospital corridor. I remember her mocking the owner of Tazreen Fashion Ltd. She once had my hands tied to her hospital bed with her orna. I woke up this morning feeling the knot in my wrist.

To fight the impulse of the ruling elite to let sociopolitical atrocities responsible for Suamaya’s death fall into oblivion, acts of remembrance are our political responsibility. In my ways of remembering and honoring her life and the community that comforted her during her last months, I share this letter, we wrote a week after her death.

Instead of a memorial service, we make this letter public that bore the pain and grief of Sumaya’s family and community at large, we struggle to continue to tell her stories. Sumaya’s family moved back to the village where she is buried. They now live in the house she sacrificed her adolescence for. Bureaucrats from labor ministry and in other similar offices are still figuring out whether her death should be considered as part of casualty of Tazreen fire.


31 March, 2014

Dear Friends and Comrades

Sumaya was with her mother, Amerun Begum when she died (21 March, 2012). In her last moment, she held her mother tight and in an unusually clear voice, she said, “ma go [mother], save me, save me.” Those are her last words. She never wanted to die, even in her last breath she was fighting the beast, the insect that she thought she inhaled during the factory fire.

She died in a loving embrace, but she left unwillingly. 

To the NGO bureaucracy, she was dead before she died. Few weeks before her death, CARITAS began to process her family’s compensation claim considering her as dead. They had good intention, they wanted to help her. Alas! She did not fall under any category of victims. She was not injured in the conventional sense, neither did she die on that fateful night of November 24, 2012 to become a deceased worker.

To the local administration of Melandaha where she is buried, she is not dead. They refused to issue her a death certificate. The chairman of the Union Parishad happens to be Md. Delwar Hossain’s cousin-brother. Last fifteen-months, Sumaya’s mother spent so much time proving that her daughter was indeed a survivor of Tazreen factory fire. Now, a grieving mother is asked to provide evidence that her daughter is really dead.

To us, all of us, she is dead, and she is alive.

We will continue to tell her story as it unfolds. Today, in the presence of her absence, we have realized something more than ever that the struggle of story-tellers against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting. With your support, we have gathered courage to envision this struggle, joined this fight. No words are enough to express our gratitude to you for being there for Sumaya, her family and her comrades.

Thank you so much for making Sumaya’s life comfortable, helping her family to literally survive this trying time. Amerun Begum asked us to tell you that she is eternally indebted to all of you. We have read your condolence letters/texts/facebook messages/newspaper articles to her. She said, [all of] you will always be in her prayers.

May her memory continue to haunt us….

In grief, gratitude and solidarity

Categories: Journal

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