My Heart Aches for Bangladesh

May 9, 2013

I was born in Bangladesh in a beautiful City called Sylhet, surrounded by tea gardens and beautiful mountains.

In my country, half the population is poor. I grew up with these very hard-working people. I have seen their struggles since childhood, and my respect for them grows every day.

Today, my heart aches for my people of Bangladesh – for those who have lost their lives and the loved one and orphans who are now looking desperately for their parents’ and relatives’ dead bodies.

The horror that I speak of began on April 24 when an eight-story, concrete-and-glass building that housed at least five garment factories, near Dhaka, collapsed.

More than 500 died, mostly young women my age, crushed by the bricks and, stabbed by metal sticks. (Editor's note: By May 10th, the number of dead victims had surpassed 1,000.) Days before the disaster, the workers had noticed major signs that the structure was unsafe, but their concerns were ignored. As a result, they were forced to work – some at gunpoint.

After the horrific incident, fire fighters, construction workers, army and the police officers rushed to rescue the survivors, and in the process, many limbs had to be ripped apart to save the people. More than two weeks have passed and rescuers are still looking for dead bodies. Workers say that the odor of the dead bodies is unbearable.

One pregnant mother was trapped while she went into labor. Fortunately the mother and child survived. But another pregnant mother and child died in the catastrophe.

For what? The beautiful outfits that are perfectly stitched by these workers earn them about one dollar a day for 10 hours of work. Name brand stores like Gap, Forever21, Wal-Mart, Old Navy, sell these outfits for $60 or more.

These evils make me sick to my stomach. For my people, it’s as if they are still living during the dark days of the Industrial Revolution when human lives had no value. I ask myself, did slavery really end?

As long as humans are being exploited, as in Bangladesh, slavery has not ended. We live in an era of dehumanization where the poor classes are still oppressed by the rich. We need a revolution, but who will start it?

One idea comes to my mind: We can start out by boycotting the retail stores. Until they guarantee absolute safe working conditions for all the workers, we will not buy one single item from them.

Jannatha Chodhury is a student at the Murphy Institute in New York City. She is interning in the 1199SEIU Education and Leadership Development Department.