Over 300 dead and the roar of deafening silence escalates

Published at etribune blog: http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/13860/over-300-dead-and-the-roar-of-deafening-silence-escalates/

 

At this moment, Pakistan is featured in all international news channels and papers due to two unfortunate incidents of fire that took place in factories in Lahore and Karachi.

The fire in the shoe factory in Lahore left 24 people dead, including the owner of the factory, and various injured while officials have confirmed that over 200 lives have been lost in the fire that took place in a garments factory in Karachi.

Both fires broke out accidently and workers were trapped inside. In both cases, the buildings and occupational safety measures were said not to have been up to the standard described in law.

The Karachi incident wreaked more havoc as there was a much larger population stuck within the building on fire because it had only one escape exit. In both cases, however, controlling the fire was extremely challenging for the fire brigade (showing lack of capacity and the dire need for investment) and it took hours before the fires were controlled – during which individuals charred inside the factories-screaming out for help.

The rise in death toll of the Karachi fire incident will put it down in history as being one of the worst industrial fires since the Kader Toy Factory incident in Thailand that killed 188 individuals and injured over 500 in 1993.

Pakistan’s  Factories Act 1934, though outdated and less inclusive of the informal workforce, clearly outlines measures for fire safety, over crowdedness and other elements we deem ‘unimportant’ in day to day life.

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Over 300 dead and the roar of deafening silence escalates

September 14, 2012

Both fires broke out accidently and workers were trapped inside. In both cases, the buildings and occupational safety measures were said not to have been up to the standard described in law. PHOTO: REUTERS

At this moment, Pakistan is featured in all international news channels and papers due to two unfortunate incidents of fire that took place in factories in Lahore and Karachi.

The fire in the shoe factory in Lahore left 24 people dead, including the owner of the factory, and various injured while officials have confirmed that over 200 lives have been lost in the fire that took place in a garments factory in Karachi.

Both fires broke out accidently and workers were trapped inside. In both cases, the buildings and occupational safety measures were said not to have been up to the standard described in law.

The Karachi incident wreaked more havoc as there was a much larger population stuck within the building on fire because it had only one escape exit. In both cases, however, controlling the fire was extremely challenging for the fire brigade (showing lack of capacity and the dire need for investment) and it took hours before the fires were controlled – during which individuals charred inside the factories-screaming out for help.

The rise in death toll of the Karachi fire incident will put it down in history as being one of the worst industrial fires since the Kader Toy Factory incident in Thailand that killed 188 individuals and injured over 500 in 1993.

Pakistan’s  Factories Act 1934, though outdated and less inclusive of the informal workforce, clearly outlines measures for fire safety, over crowdedness and other elements we deem ‘unimportant’ in day to day life.

 

The question is who will claim responsibility for the incident?

I have followed the television news updates from different sources and have succumbed to the fact that alas even after the mass losses in the accident – little or nothing will change. State representatives condoled all day long – with no mention or acknowledgement of state negligence. Other politicians condoled and criticised the already unpopular state; police representatives emphasised how justice will be served once people responsible are caught. During all this, the families of the victims, in sheer desperation and helplessness, visited mortuaries and hospitals unguided (and far worse misguided) by the state.

Not a lot moved forth in terms of how accountability will be ensured.

At the rate media has grown, the culture of transparency, and open information has bloomed (as proclaimed by various news sources) we should be seeing or hearing state representatives admitting that they were negligent, apologising and then explaining what measures – preventive and reactive, will be taken to avoid such situations in the future.

We should hear the police representatives and social activists say it out loud- we should be able to hear them as loud as the screams from within the building, how solely the state and the owners are responsible for not protecting the workers right to life.

Today, advantage of the poor was taken, their financial handicap was taken as leverage for the faulty conditions in which they were made to work in. The law was undermined and the poor could not have done anything.

What price should the state pay for its negligence? So far, I have not heard about anybody getting sacked or suspended for not fulfilling their duties on part of the State. Is accusing the owner for murder enough?

Whether we admit it or not fire safety is not very high up on our list of priorities. Even in literate circles, how many of us have actually undergone training on how to use fire extinguishers in emergencies in our schools, colleges, organisations etc? How many of us have ever checked to see if our workplace even has a fire extinguisher??

Do you know where those red cylinders which we see here and there are actually placed or where exactly the emergency exits are?

Our ignorance is one of the reasons fire safety ranks low in the list of state priorities as well. A state, unable to cater to the basic needs of its citizens, will have a thousand excuses for not having an adequate budget, resources or personnel.

The committees formed to investigate will present their reports in a few days but there is a silent precedent to which all such incidences fall prey – committees investigate, if they find offenses, directives for taking action are issued – which obviously has go up the bureaucratic hierarchical ladder, never to be seen again!

The government needs to become pro-active. A set number of law enforcement officers should follow up on whether factories and businesses are abiding by the laws set out in the Factories Act, including those on fire safety clauses provided in chapter three of the Act.

Labour laws need to be enforced thoroughly; they are there for good reason. Safety measures need to be abided by, law enforcing bodies need to ensure implementation and activists and the media need to follow up on this until the people responsible are held accountable.

Over 300 innocents lost their lives due to sheer negligence. If we want to avoid incidents like this from happening again, justice needs to be served.

Anti Islam Video Protests and Aftermath

Published in The Daily Times as VIEW : Anti-Islam video and its aftermath — Yusra Qadir

 

A public holiday for expressing love for the Prophet (PBUH) is a different league of a holiday: are we bound to express our love just that day?

The context for this article is the foreground in national and world news: the anti-Islam video clip, the protests, differential stances of the protestors, Pakistan government and the US, the ban on YouTube, incessant cataclysmic protests all over the country and everything that led to the day off on September 21. This is more of an opinion that seeks to understand the outrage on the streets, the government’s stance and the Friday holiday.

Blasphemy has always been the raw nerve of Muslims and lately, somewhat of a hot debate in Pakistan as it has periodically witnessed minorities accused of blasphemy, entailing reported blasphemy, protests and outraged masses, involvement of human rights groups, political stances, execution or withdrawal of punishment and always severe consequences including assassinations and destruction. This has formed the basis for the recent discussion or the hushed whispers about reconsidering and ameliorating the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.

Pakistan today can be summed up as: the masses are outraged: the US has invested some $ 70,000 for running ads denouncing the anti-Islam film; YouTube has been blocked for days; and a public holiday was announced to express love for the Prophet (PBUH). And as usual, the political arena in Pakistan boomed with point scoring and preparations for party-led protests, focused on organising bigger and better protests than other parties as well as inhibiting the outrage.

My first observation while monitoring news channels for how protests were being carried out and the way protestor-police clashes continued was that protestors comprised of a certain socio-economic class. Then it occurred to me that if these protestors were to be sat down across a table and asked about the name of the person whose video had offended them or even what exactly featured in the video, they would most probably not be able to answer, let alone exhibit any understanding of how the US was involved and what stance the US had taken over the issue. This means that the protestors who were so angry that they just wanted to break and burn all in their way to reach their ultimate target, ‘the nearest consulate’, may not be people directly offended by the video in question. They are either the snowball effects of others who have been offended, or members of religious groups who have said labbaik to the call of their group without fully scrutinising the issue and understanding the associated whats, hows and what nots. Or it is just the ‘aam aadmi’ (common man), stricken by hunger and disease and clutched by poverty that aggression is coursing through his body with his blood and he has jumped forth and joined in something (anything) that would channelise his aggression. That said, it does not in any way intend to demean the emotional hurt inflicted by the offensive material; however, this does highlight how well the angry mobs knew their cause.

The US is almost always the subject of such attacks, partially because the offenders turn out to be housed therein and because it takes so long for the US to decide whether a certain action is exercising freedom or provocation, which results in denouncing and condemning acts when people are already on the street with the anti US placards in their hands. The $ 70,000 spent on running ads on Pakistani TV channels are another question in the US about how government funds are being disbursed on ad campaigns and diplomatic relationships. The intent of the US, without doubt, is that it wants to tone down the whole affair that has propelled way further than it had anticipated it would. The problem is that while a moderate Pakistani may be willing to accept that the US had nothing to do with the video and how the latter believes in religious tolerance — as Hillary Clinton stresses in one of the messages — that message will not reach the protestors, as it is highly unlikely that they would have access to that information, though frequently aired on all channels. Secondly, they would not want to listen to the US president and the Secretary of State and thirdly, if they would actually understand that the state is not accountable for the offender.

Similarly, my ideological disagreement with the YouTube ban is that it has not and most certainly will not inhibit the rage of the masses, as the masses do not use YouTube like many other fellow citizens who have better things to do in using this site than to search and watch the blasphemous content. Pakistan’s stance on blocking YouTube clearly violates the freedom of information. Blocking offensive links was understandable but blocking the website wholly has disrupted access to positive religious content too. Understanding the state’s position on blocking YouTube is a knotty task that I so far have not been able to accomplish. In the Pakistan we live in, ‘everything goes.’ There is virtually no accountability so that the state is free to do whatever it wants and the citizens happily follow in the footsteps of the state. You see examples of the state contributing to ‘everything goes’ in their so-called progress and social welfare, while you see citizens displaying their everything-goes talents while driving or lately while protesting — stones, mud, sand, bullets — everything goes.

Finally, Friday the public holiday; all right, I know the state can declare public holidays; I mean who does not like waking up late and lazing around all day? A public holiday for expressing love for the Prophet (PBUH) is a different league of a holiday: are we bound to express our love just that day? Can we not express love on other days? Why was a public holiday necessary? Why Friday? Can we afford such holidays? Do we wonder what daily wagers would be doing and what their children would be feeding upon while we express love in this state’s allocated free time? Oh, maybe, they would just work off their hunger and frustration and form a part of the protest. If it absolutely had to be a public holiday solely dedicated to condemning the video and protesting, I think it could have been better named by the state, but since ‘everything goes’, it is justified.

The whole day, mobile signals were jammed in various cities, protestors flocked the streets already turning to mobs, and the police was ready with rubber bullets and gas shells to disperse the mobs if things turned ‘more’ violent. The battle within the state was most likely to intensify post-the Friday prayer and that is what happened.

The cherry on top is that political parties are busy in point scoring and blaming each other for the situation on the ground, which works well as it enables us to refer to the entire country as anarchic.

There is nothing wrong with protesting. One should protest when offended — it is a fundamental right. But the way in which these protests had been organized, we are guilty of more hate speech than that which offended us. We are making headlines across the globe with images of fellow countrymen burning and damaging public and private property, making it justified for us to be labelled as extremists. It is said that one can choose how to be depicted. My question is how, when on turning on the television, I see images of fellow citizens, which I do not think represent me at all. But deep down I know that this is exactly what I would be perceived as next time I introduce myself to someone as a Pakistani.