Burnt jeans lie on a stand next to a table piled with matchboxes. A photo collage of smiling faces and a timeline of major infernos that have taken place in Pakistan in blaring red complete the scene in the hall, recreated to recall the day a factory fire in Karachi’s Baldia Town claimed the lives of over 250 people. A blood-splattered candle wax figure, depicting the last moments of a helpless victim is perhaps the most striking pieces on display, enough to make the visitors stop in their tracks.
In the center of the room, a pile of paper planes made out of newspaper clippings on the incident falls over itself, perhaps symbolic of how the nation now deals with the ever-increasing disasters.
The tragedy with Karachi, in particular, is that whatever good, bad or ugly happens here is forgotten almost immediately. To prevent the Baldia fire from becoming ‘just another incident’ a consortium of more than 60 artistes from various areas have set up an exhibition called ‘Awaaz’ at the Arts Council.
Musician Jawwad Ahmad lent his support to the cause and especially flew in from Lahore for the screening of his video which pays tribute to the victims. It’s aptly titled ‘sun lo ke main mazdoor hoon’ and was shot at a concert packed with families of the Baldia fire victims.
The two-minute long video received a thunderous applause from the audience including families and students who had come in for the exhibition’s opening on Friday.
Speaking on the occasion, Ahmad said his goal was to highlight the plight of the working class who were being “mistreated the world over.”
“The trappings are different in every country. To counter that, we need to hold those responsible to account,” he added while dedicating his song to the people who have recently suffered in incidents of factory fires in Pakistan and Bangladesh and to labourers worldwide.
Karamat Ali, the executive director of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), said the “state looked on helplessly” while scores of people died, pointing out that despite being a nuclear state, Pakistan had only one DNA testing laboratory which had made identifying victims of such tragedies an extremely long drawn and painful process for the family members.
The counsel for the victims of the factory fire, Faisal Siddiqi, said: “We as a nation need to come out of our depression and dream to create what we believe in.”
Speaking on his upcoming plans, Siddiqi said he wanted to see a public monument at the Baldia factory. “It seems impossible, but I want to see it happen.”
Also on the occasion, deputy general secretary of the National Trade Union Federation, Nasir Mansoor, said it was good to see that the fight was not limited to labourers only.
“We have to rescue our city from goons and criminals and for that we need to make concerted efforts.”
Awaaz runs until Feb 15 and is bound to leave an impression on the minds of the visitors. But there is no doubt that sustained efforts will be required to ensure that the Baldia fire does not become just another piece in the pile of forgotten tragedies. -Photos and text by Saher Baloch