Wednesday, 11 September 2013

A year on, no consolation for families of the missing dead

A year on, Shahida Akmal, 33, has still not been able to find her husband. Not only did she lose her beloved spouse, she cannot claim the promised compensation also as she cannot identify his body.

Muhammad Akmal, 30, died on September 11 last year in the worst industrial fire of the country, which destroyed the Ali Enterprise garment factory in Baldia Town. Among the dead were 256 others.

Akmal’s body was burnt beyond recognition, says Shahida. The government asked for a DNA identification test of which she never got the results.

Be it the lack of diagnostic facilities of the government’s mismanagement, the DNA reports of 25 aggrieved families are still pending. Without the results, they cannot obtain a death certificate, and hence the compensation promised by government and social welfare organisations.

Shahida has given her DNA samples at the Civil hospital thrice. Once she even took her eldest son Hamza, 9, with her. But the results never came.

“A doctor told me the DNA testing lab in Islamabad is not functioning,” she claims.

Then she heard about the 17 unidentified bodies of the tragic factory fire being kept at the Edhi Morgue at Sohrab Goth.

The first time she went there, she fainted. “There were no bodies,” Shahida says, “just flesh and bones and limbs scattered everywhere.”

But the trips to the morgue did not end. Though the woman stayed back, her brothers visited the morgue a hundred times in the next few months. The bodies were beyond recognition.

This Eid, Shahida’s three sons, Hamza, seven-year-old Mubeen and one-year-old Ahmed threw a tantrum to visit their father’s grave. Nothing she said could console them.

“In the end we took a bus and visited the Edhi graveyard at Mawach Goth. We placed flowers on one of the unmarked graves and acted as if it was Akmal’s,” she recalls.

The Pakistani government, according to a report of the National Trade Union Federation, has not yet completed the procedure of compensating the heirs of the victims.

The government had agreed to provide each victim’s family a sum of Rs900,000. In the first phase, 176 families received the amount while 81 other families got a sum of Rs700,000 each.

For the distribution of the funds in the second phase, a compensation commission was formed under the supervision of a retired judge on orders of the high court. Compensation was to be paid in two rounds, in the first round Rs500,000 were to be given to the families of the deceased. In the second round, a sum of Rs110, 000 had to be paid.

Till now, the commission has distributed cheques to 215 families, while the rest are expected to be handed out by the end of September.

Shahida lives in a single room rented apartment in Ittehad Town, Baldia Town. Her children attend a nearby school. And her monthly expenses are met through charity from relatives, and a few clothes that she manages to stitch and sell.

But one year down the lane, getting the Rs900,000 compensation promised by the former prime minister, chief minister and real estate tycoon Malik Riaz has perhaps slipped down on Shahida’s priority list.

“I only want a grave for Akmal where my children and I can visit,” she says.

Wednesday 11 September 2013


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