Md Hasnain was only 12 years old when he decided to ease his family's financial burden by working at the ill-fated Shezan Juice Factory in Narayanganj. He left home to take care of his family, but in a cruel twist of irony, his family is now waiting to grant him a proper burial.
An emotional episode unfolded at the morgue of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) on Wednesday as families gathered there to receive the bodies of factory fire victims.
Hasnain's parents Fazlur Rahman, 55, and Nazma Begum, 50, were among the many who were waiting in front of the morgue since morning.
"I wish that Allah almighty took my life instead of Hasnain's. If only I could exchange my life for my only son. He had taken the job only because we were ill. Someone please give me back my son," Nazma Begum said, weeping.
The boy was a third-grader at Kobi Mozammel Haque Government Primary School. His father Fazlur Rahman has been ill for a long time. He had recently undergone a surgery in his throat, which put the family in a debt reaching Tk1 lakh.
Feeling concerned about his family's financial crisis and because his school was closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, Hasnain started working with his cousin Rakib, 17, at the Shezan juice factory one week after the Eid-al-Fitr. Both brothers died in the factory fire on 8 July.
Fazlur told The Business Standard, "I have two daughters. They are married and have their own families. Hasnain was our only hope for survival. I have come to Dhaka several times to receive my son's body since 10 July.
"The authorities have not been able to identify Hasnain's body as yet, and they told us to visit the morgue again next Saturday. I will do everything I can to receive my son's body so that I can give him a proper burial."
Fifty-one people lost their lives and dozens of others got injured in the devastating fire that gutted the Shezan Juice factory in Rupganj area. Authorities had managed to identify the bodies of three people and handed those over to their relatives shortly after the incident.
The rest of the bodies were so badly burnt that the authorities could not confirm identities immediately. Those 48 bodies were then kept at the DMCH morgue.
The Criminal Investigation Department's (CID) Forensic Department carried out DNA tests to confirm the identities of 45 victims, but three bodies still remain unidentified till the filing of this report.
Authorities handed over 24 identified bodies to their relatives on Wednesday, and another 21 bodies will be handed over next Saturday, DMCH sources have said.
A heartbreaking situation
The DMCH is no stranger to tragedy, but the correspondents found a gloomier than usual situation at the morgue since Wednesday morning. Families were bursting out in tears as coffins came out one after another.
Many fainted after being unable to bear the heartbreak of loving a loved one.
One such family member was Sumaiya Akhter, 15, who lost her mother Firoza Begum in the factory fire. Her cries made the air heavy with grief and sadness as she repeatedly kept searching for her mother.
Sumaiya fainted after receiving her mother's body, and her family held her as they left the hospital for their home.
When dreams go up in flames
Jhinuk Akter came to the DMCH morgue to receive the body of her younger sister Rima Akter, 23.
A resident of Narsingdi, Jhinuk said, "Rima took a job at the Hashem Foods Ltd just to bear the cost of her education. She joined as an assistant supervisor (chocolate line) at the company on 24 March.
"My sister dreamt of getting higher education on food, but her dreams have burned to ashes."
After multiple strokes, Rima's father Jasim Uddin now suffers from paralysis and is bed-ridden for the last ten years. The family's financial crisis prompted Rima to get a job so that she can continue her BSc in Food Engineering at a private university.
'Punish those responsible'
Shahinur Begum, 50 came to the DHMC morgue to receive her daughter's body. "I want the people who killed my daughter to face trial. Compensation is not a replacement for my daughter. Bring me my daughter back instead.
"I want the factory owner to be punished. I seek justice from the Allah almighty. Punish those responsible for my daughter's death."
Noyon Mia, father of factory fire victim Tania Akter, was waiting at the morgue since 5am to receive his daughter's body. "My daughter will never return to me. Culprits responsible for the fire must be punished so that no one else suffers my daughter's fate," he said.
Speaking to the media at the DMCH morgue, CID's Additional DIG Imam Hossain said, "The bodies of three factory fire victims – who are yet to be identified – will be handed over their family members after DNA tests.
"The case filed over the incident has made progress. We are very close to unearthing how the fire started, but we currently know that an electrical wire triggered it. We will submit the charge sheet soon."
He added that the local administration has given each of the victim's families Tk25,000 to help them bear the costs of funeral and burial. "More aid will be provided at a later time," he said.