‘After Rana Plaza’ Gives Instagram a Fresh Perspective on the 2013 Tragedy
In April 2013 the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people and injuring nearly 3,000 more. Though the disaster focused the world’s attention on the dangerous working conditions widely prevalent in the fashion industry, it was one of the worst industrial disasters in history and hardly the type of catalyst for change that those making our clothes for a meager wage had hoped for.
Images of bodies being removed from rubble, survivors—many missing limbs—being pulled from the wreckage, and the families of victims devastated by the loss of their loved ones flooded media outlets. The politically connected owner of the factory had illegally added two floors to the top of the building, filling them with manufacturing equipment, to rent more space to Western brands and ignored reports the previous day of cracks in the structure, forcing workers to return to their posts.
Much of the world has moved on from the tragedy. Not the people of Dhaka, who will forever be haunted by the disaster.
Ismail Ferdous, a Bangladeshi photographer, is giving a voice to the victims and rescue workers with his “After Rana Plaza” Instagram series. The project offers an image of, and a perspective from, one person affected by the collapse on every day between the 2015 and 2016 anniversaries.
“The stories of the people haven’t been told that much, not as much as they should be,” Ferdous says. “Instagram brings this issue into your back pocket. I’m shooting sometimes every day—meeting new people, interviewing and photographing them.”
Finding 365 people to tell their stories may seem daunting, but, Ferdous explains, victims, survivors, and volunteers still congregate at the collapse site daily. Coming together is essentially their only emotional support.
“It’s very raw, all of this trauma,” he says. “There’s no counseling. I would say 99 percent of the people didn’t get any counseling. It’s not only victims who are affected by PTSD; it’s also the rescue workers. The story I posted on the second or third day of the project, it’s this boy who is 14 years old and he cannot talk. He’s carrying the same feelings [he held] two years ago.”
Although Ferdous is attempting to include the stakeholders’ stories in his project, they are unwilling to talk to him. (The building’s owner and 13 others were charged with murder on June 1.) He says industry conditions on the whole are improving and salaries are rising, though many faulty factories continue to exist. Still, the Bangladeshi people want the work.
“I was interviewing a victim last week who lost his leg, but he was saying if we didn’t have the garment industry, people would die of hunger,” Ferdous says. “It gives people an income source. If you’re not educated, you can get a job in the garment industry. Also, for women, it’s so important. It totally changed the country. Since the garment industry came, women have more chances in their family because they have financial power. They can make decisions in their families, especially women in the rural areas. They used to work in the farmland, but now they’re coming into the cities and making money. They’re the decision makers.”
With more Bangladeshi women working, the age-old custom of the wedding dowry is dying down somewhat. They can choose their partner, and the woman’s family no longer has to worry about the financial stress.
“The change is going slowly, but I think it’s important to put the pressure always onto the producers and the consumers,” says Ferdous. “Slowly, consumers are getting into their heads about what they’re buying.”