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September 12, 2019

Seven years on, Baldia factory fire victims still fighting for justice

Karachi

September 12, 2019

Very hot and humid conditions on Wednesday and the sight of the window of the factory from where he escaped death along with nine of his co-workers in the Ali Enterprises fire seven years ago forced Muhammad Hanif to go back home and take his medicine, because he started having troubled breathing – one of the symptoms he has been carrying since the incident.

“I took rest for while [and] now I am fine,” he stammered, standing in front of the burnt structure of the Ali Enterprises garments factory on Hub River Road in Baldia Town. “We broke the iron grill on that window on the second floor and jumped outside,” he said, pointed towards the window.

Hanif is among a few dozen survivors of the massive fire that killed 260 of their colleagues on September 11, 2012. He is 25-year-old now and unwell. “I cannot do much work now, I catch heavy breathing soon, got a paralysis attack earlier and cannot pick weight with one of my arms,” he said.

Before the fire, he was a healthy, fun-loving teenager and an avid dancer. “I was fond of dancing, danced at family and friends’ weddings and people would make my videos,” he said with a wide smile on his face. Did he also dance on his wedding? “Friends pushed me to but I didn’t,” he chuckled.

Hanif married a girl whose father was killed in the fire. “We got Rs1.5 lakh in compensation through the Sindh High Court which we were to spend on the sister’s wedding, but my mother said ‘yours will be done together,” he said. It was an arranged matter. “I got to know it later,” he smiled.

They are living happily together. Since he is unable to take on some hard work because of the health complications caused by the fire smoke, they worked together at home. “My wife stitches clothes and also together we do sequence work on wedding cards,” he said.

Every year, dozens of families of the victims of the fire gather outside the factory to mark the anniversary of the incident. Among their long pending demands is implementation of the health and safety measures at workplaces.

Recalling the recent fire incident at a godown in Shershah, Saeeda Khatoon, who is the chairperson of the Ali Enterprises Factory Fire Affectees Association, said, “When I heard about it, I started calling all the people I knew to inquire about it more. On TV, they were not telling much about it and if someone was inside or not.”

Khatoon had lost her only son in the fire. She is practically leading the victims’ struggle for justice here and abroad. She and three other victims, including Hanif, filed a lawsuit against the German clothing retailer KiK, which procured its merchandise from Ali Enterprises. They, however, lost.

“Though it is a painful and tiring process, we are hopeful to get justice,” she said, adding that her motivation came from her surroundings. “When I look at the people affected by the fire, I tell myself that I should never stop,” she said, hoping that their struggle would meet success one day. So does Hanif. He said: “We may be slow and feeble but we are committed.”

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