KARACHI: Almost seven months back the death toll from the Baldia factory inferno rose to 260 as Nazia Ameera Bibi, one of the injured of the incident, quietly died in the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre’s cardio ward. But it was only recently that her name was taken at a press conference held by a labour rights organisation. Otherwise her name is still counted amongst the injured.
Her brothers Muhammad Zahid and Muhammad Shahnawaz, and brother-in-law Shahzad Ali also worked at the same factory and by what they described as “sheer luck” survived the incident.
Speaking to Dawn over the phone, her younger brother Zahid, 25, said Nazia and Shahzad Ali were both thrown out of the window after the fire engulfed the first floor. “I still remember everything clearly,” he began. “And every time I think about it, I feel suffocation and nausea.”
As soon as the fire engulfed the floors of the factory on the evening of Sept 11, 2012, the lights went out. “I was on the first floor when the smoke started filling the entire area. There was chaos on that floor and while trying to run out, I fell and hit my hand on a nearby machine crippling my right arm as a result. She [Nazia] was trapped on the other end of the floor. And from what I got to know later, she was thrown out of the window after she collapsed due to smoke.”
Meanwhile, Zahid said he ran out of the main door of the floor leading to an only open exit leading to the canteen. Their other two relatives also jumped from the window and saved themselves. But Nazia could not as “she was wearing an abaya and she told me that it was difficult for her to imagine climbing the window, so she looked for an exit, but she soon fainted because of the smoke.”
Nazia, who was taken to the Civil Hospital Karachi, started wheezing and developed a heart problem soon after surviving the incident. “She received scratches on her left and right arm, and her face. But her condition got worse over time. She was being administered an injection every month. Her breathing was not normal most of the time. We were taking her to hospital, then ICU and then back home. Finally, that cycle ended in June last year,” he narrated.
Zahid initially received Rs125,000 from the government for Nazia’s treatment which helped pay the hospital bills for the first two months. Recently, the family started receiving Rs25,200 through Employees Old-Age Benefits Institution (EOBI). But whether they will be able to get the long-term compensation is doubtful.
At present, 10 to 15 families are waiting for compensation due to various issues. There are heads of some families who are not declared heir to receive compensation on behalf of their departed family member. Some families left for Bangladesh thus creating problems in transferring the compensation amount to them.
Advocate Faisal Siddiqi, the counsel for the factory fire victims, said it was a legal issue that needed to be put before the courts.
But what he worries about is the joint investigation team (JIT) report. “It threatens to change the entire nature of the case. It diminishes the owners’ responsibility and directly impacts the ongoing negotiations for long-term compensation to the workers’ families. It’s devastating impact puts into jeopardy everything we have fought for up until now,” he added.
Published in Dawn, February 15th, 2015