KARACHI: “I am not here just to protest for the compensation money for my son, I want that no more mothers go through what I have to,” said Saeeda Khatoon, mother of 20-year-old Ayan, one of the over 200 victims of the Baldia Town factory fire, the worst industrial fire incident in the country’s history.
Saeeda, a resident of Orangi Town, was among scores of the family members of the victims of the Baldia factory fire who gathered in front of the Karachi Press Club on Sunday to mark the third anniversary of the tragic blaze that killed 260 people and wounded hundreds others.
The incident took place on Sept 11, 2012. However, the organisers held the protest demonstration to mark the third anniversary on Sunday as most participants were wage-earners and it was not easy for them to join a protest on a working day.
Her eyes brimmed with tears as she spoke about her son, her only child, who had started working in the factory just a few weeks before the deadly incident.
“It is not just a matter of money,” she said. “Our aim is to strive for better conditions in factories to ensure that no mother should lose her son in the future.”
Muhammad Jabir, 65, who lost his 22-year-old son Jehanzaib, said that the incident psychologically affected him so badly that he quit his work as a gas cutting machine operator in Shershah’s scrap and disallowed any of the remaining three sons to work in any factory.
“My son was a machine operator in the factory,” said Mr Jabir as he tried to suppress tears. “I raised my four sons and two daughters as their mother as my wife died 19 years ago.”
The demonstration he was part of was organised by the National Trade Union Federation (NTUF) and Baldia Factory Fire Affectees’ Association.
The protesters said three years had passed and the heirs of the victims were still waiting for justice.
“Life and health of workers is still not safe in factories, industries and workplace,” said NTUF President Rafiq Baloch.
Speakers said mill owners, international institutions, senior government functionaries and everyone else connected with the issue had failed to keep their promises.
They said Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah had promised to give a plot and a government job to one member of each affected family. However, they got nothing.
Similarly, they said, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose party was then in power in Punjab, had promised on behalf of the Punjab government to give Rs300,000 as compensation to every affected family. However, that promise was also not fulfilled.
A famous builder too had announced Rs200,000 for every family, but still around 100 families had not received the money yet.
They said the government had promised to take solid measures for safety of workers in all factories and at workplaces, but that promise too was not kept.
“Even today, the workers are dying and getting maimed in factories and at workplaces because of the lack of adequate safety measures,” said a speaker.
They demanded that German brand KIK and Italian social audit company RINA should accept the responsibility of the Baldia factory fire and pay compensation to the families of the victims.
Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2015