The socio-economic conditions of our country have made female labor very cheap to obtain. And therefore there is an overwhelming presence of women workers in the garments sector of our industry. There are more than 4,500 garments factories comparing to that of handful in the 1980’s. There are about 3 million workers working in this sector alone; of them 95% are female workers. Their hard labor brings in the much needed foreign currencies. The remunerations that are awarded to the workers are highly incompatible compared to the hard labor they put in every day. They are forced to live a life faced with extreme hardship. Therfore, misery is evident.
The majority of the female workers, in this sector, are poor people coming from the rural areas in the hope to earn a better living. Their abject poverty forces them to do these low paid jobs. These women deem working in this sector is much more prestigious than working as maid servants or construction workers or be engaged in an informal sector. In our society women are disregarded; it is perceived their aspirations should be limited to cooking, giving birth to children and to serve their husband. And when they fail to please their in- laws adequately they face abuses ranging from lewd taunts to physical torture. Most of these tortured women take up jobs in the garments industries to break free from their violent domestic lives. Disappointingly, they face the same abuse and exploitations in their work place that sometime include very unpleasant incidents of sexual harassment!
Adding to the amount of their sufferings there is no certain limit on daily work hours; it depends on the amount of work in that industry. On average each worker has to work for 12 to 14 hours per day. Even after toiling very hard for such long hours they don’t get a proper salary and worst of all, often don’t get paid on due time. There is a lack of rules and laws which would help them enjoy the basic rights of a worker like maternity leave and the weekly holidays and also about festival leaves. They don’t get festival bonuses and as they don’t have any rights of establishing trade union; they can’t organize themselves to raise the issues of their sufferings. For example, a worker is deprived of two-days’ pay by the employers if s/he is absent for a day due to illness. However, the employers aren’t satisfied with that only, they also physically abuse workers as punishment from which many of them have died succumbing to their injuries.
The Case of Beauty Akhtar
Recently, one such incident has occurred in Mirpur. A female worker has died while on duty in an industry. Poor Beauty Akhtar, who like many other women looking forward to improve her living conditions joined the garment industry; has been brutally murdered. Initially, it was thought that Beauty was killed after the 19 year old had been pushed from the ninth floor of the factory. But many workers have alleged that she was murdered by the administration of electric shock. The people who witnessed the incident said that there wasn’t much blood on the spot where she fell from the roof. This phenomenon actually raises suspicion that she was actually killed inside the industry before she was thrown out of the roof top. The post mortem report said that her bones in her right arm and both legs were broken. Beauty’s co-workers in Vertex garments factory have termed her death as a murder and they have held demonstrations demanding the punishment of five people including the person in charge of that floor. During the demonstration the workers had fights with the police and ransacked inside the factory. Beauty’s parents Abul Kalam and Hasina Begum have lodged a murder case accusing five people: the In -charge of the floor Jhorna Begum, the PS Mithu and the chief of line Zakir Hossain and the cook of Vertex garments factory Rokeya Begum. The police have arrested two of the accuesed, one of them is Jhorna Begum and the other is Zakir Hossain. Jhorna Begum has been taken for a three day demand by the police. During the remand Jhorna begum claimed that she didn’t rudely treat beauty rather, treated every worker in the same manner! She said “this is my job if I don’t treat them that way they don’t work as per management’s directions. I am paid to treat workers like this”?
Beauty’s father reported that both he and his wife are physically unwell, “our family survived on our daughter’s salary. In fact, Beauty was only fourteen years old. In order to get the job she wrote down the fictitious age as she would be denied a job as she was under-aged. She used to draw a salary of Tk. 5000 including overtime. This was the only source of our income; I want justice for my daughter”. The owner of the Vertex garments factory has assured me of assistance and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has handed over a cheque of Tk. 1 lakh to her family as compensation to the injustice that has been done.
Thousands of women workers undergo such unbearable environment in the garments sector. Along with low pay the workers are harassed by the ill treatment by the employers. The incidences of verbal, physical and sexual abuses have become routine occurrences in the lives of the workers. It was the same story with Beauty also. The person in charge of the floor Jhorna Begum verbally abused Beauty and kicked her. Moments after the incident it was found that Beauty has died falling from the roof. This doesn’t leave much scope to imagine what has actually happened in the case of Beauty. To prevent such incidents from taking place in work places the law should be instilled to convict those involved in the criminal act enforcing justice to the workers by indicting those responsible for such occurrences as a story like this is the same as murder one and the criminals should be tried and most importantly the government should take matters like these where people are getting away with abuse, murder and sexual harrasement. Those involved in such criminal activities must be brought to justice before society is tainted violence that extends to criminal offences.
Both government and non-government agencies should take these matters seriously and file suits against the companies in which such criminal activity takes place. The Constitution of the country states that every person has the right to law. Therefore, it is the duty of the government to investigate and take firm action against such cases especially those that lead to murder. These murderers must be brought to justice and the victims should receive compensation not in the form of only money but relief in the form of justice. Or else, civil society will not remain civil too long but in the control of powerful businessmen getting away with ultimately, murder! According to the Fundamentals of State Policy it is the duty of the government to take care of its citizens and the injustices prevailing in society by any means. What are the police doing? Why are they not acting rigorously cases where first and third degree murder is taking place? It is the duty of the state to ensure its citizens with the protection of law, which is a Fundamental Right, Part III of the Constitution. This is a matter of the enforcement of fundamental rights of the people and if this cannot be taken in control the State as a legitimate body will have failed to operate in accordance to their duties and this will finally lead to overall mass corruption and not only a failed State but a failed government Regime that is incapable of dealing with such human atrocities of the most violent kind!
We demand a fair trial in the Beauty murder case and proper compensation of her life and the exemplary punishment of the people found guilty.
[Report prepared based on report in Bangla by Shahinur Begum, Srama Bikash Kendro]