Published:  12:26 AM, 15 March 2019

After Nimtali, now Chawkbazar inferno hell, a crisis of humanity

After Nimtali, now Chawkbazar inferno hell, a crisis of humanity

The inferno started on the night of 20 February last in a building at Chawkbazar, a 300-year-old Dhaka neighbourhood, where chemicals for making deodorants and other household uses were illegally stored. It quickly spread to four nearby buildings where many people were trapped. Hundreds of firefighters rushed to the scene but traffic jams in the narrow streets held them up.

It took almost 12 hours to bring the fire under control, as firefighters went through the blackened floors of the buildings, littered with spray cans, looking for bodies. The horrific inferno claimed about 100and more than 40 others injured people.

The latest tragedy has been the second deadly fire to strike the capital after another blaze in old Dhaka's Nimtali area that ripped about six buildings, killing at least 124 people in June 2010.

Many of the recovered bodies were found beyond recognition after the present blazing at Chawkbazar. Ali Ahmed, Bangladesh national fire chief, said the inferno may have been started by a gas cylinder. The chemicals illegally stored in the buildings only helped speed up the killer blaze through nearby apartments.

Chawkbazar is known as one of the largest trading hubs in the capital, and residents said most of the buildings in the area were used to store goods and chemicals. "We have warned them. But it fell on deaf ears. You can make good money by renting out building floors for chemical storage," said one resident of that area. 

We are living in a heartless artificial society. Shamelessness, malice, hurtful, full of ill-will, and animus not only have eaten up our political arena, but also these disconfirming lineaments have flowed over or covered completely all strata of our society. Humans have now forgotten to love.

Passionate outburst has gone away into oblivion. People have now lacked in feeling, pity or warmth. In the past, compunction centers round many things, but in the present times, it does not stir anybody. If we disregard the crude reality, the nature becomes ferocious to inflict punishment. Ignoring realism is the upshot of old Dhaka's Chawkbazar blazing tragedy.

The event resulting in great loss and misfortune of Nimtali in 2010 should have awakened us long time back. Chemicals warehouses there should have been closed down long back. That didn't bechance both at Chawkbazar and Nimtali areas in Dhaka. The environment directorate, RAJUK, DCC or the ministry of industries or… can't shirk their obligations.

Human beings must not face such a horrific death. Like eminent journalist and columnist Pir Habibur Rahman, Dhaka residents are so deeply moved after having seen this inferno like a volcanic eruption and incapable of being put up with the ferocity of inferno, in an emotional outburst, Pir Habib has written in a recent article "the state can't sleep this way." And one must agree with him because of the magnitude of human loss.

The fire that broke out at Wahed Mansion at Churihatta of Chawkbazar which spread fast as chemicals were stored in the building, said a probe body of Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) formed over the ravaging fire.

"There must have been a chemical warehouse inside the building and there was no fire extinguishing system either," Lt Col SM Julfiker Rahman, a member of the probe body, told reporters after visiting 'Haji Wahed Mansion'. "The powder found here was of chemical substance…the plastic bottles were full of chemicals," said SM Julfiker, also the director of Fire Service and Civil Defence.

Measures were taken to remove chemical warehouses after the 2010 Nimtali fire that claimed 124 lives. "But there was a lack of close monitoring of by the authorities concerned," he said. Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) mayor Mohammad Sayeed Khokon has said no chemical godown will be allowed in the old part of the Capital Dhaka.

A measure of the fury of flames that night was that the fire jumped, vaulting in a cloud of crowning sparks from that area. It was the frightening speed at which the wave of flames, at times leaping higher than a three story building, came tearing towards its prey - a fury when, in the words of one fire fighter, this fire monster came to this place.

Then there is the human factor; lack of fire preventing measures, people not creating defensible spaces around their homes or taking basic fire prevention steps in storing gas cylinders implementing "FireWise" practices that can dramatically reduce the risk of loss caused by unwanted fire havoc.

And the most frustrating aspect of the Chawkbazar inferno is that fewer lives could have been lost, many homes could be saved and the monster could have been curtailed in its tracks a lot earlier and if not halted, at least contained. Nothing but brick and rubble were found there.

How can we turn from Nimtali and then Chawkbazar and live? Have we learnt any lessons from the Nimtali blaze which occurred in 2010? No, not, at all. Philosopher Hagel wrote right, "The one thing one learns from history is that nobody ever learns anything from history" and that's where lies the veridical truth.

Now more than ever, we need the help of people to encourage the gas storage owners to join their local initiative to be taken and spread FireWise awareness so that we can all work towards preventing these devastating, unwanted blazing unchecked.

Through greater awareness, fewer ignitions will result in fewer fires and faster suppression of those fires that will inevitably become a regular feature of life.  We need to control such a dangerous environment to make it less welcoming to fire and far more safe for life.

When the inferno took place, sighs and lamentations and loud cries of people were echoing across the starless air, so that, as soon as we saw it on the TV channels, people wept. Strange utterances, horrible pronouncements, accents of anger, words of suffering, and voices shrill and faint and beating hands - all went to make a tumult that would whirl…

Not only are the lustful business people described with this monstrous blazing, but they are powerless to their feelings of love and lust - as symbolised by their helplessness against the inferno. This indicates a lack of control over their emotions, a lack of rationality to stem impulses like any lust, and thus an inherent lack of humanity. Because of this inability to control their greed, they are considered animal, not human.

I would utter words much heavier than these, because their avarice afflicts the world of Bangladesh: it tramples on the good, lifts up the wicked.As old Dhaka residents incline their heads still more, they see that each, amazingly, appeared contorted between the chin and where the chest begins; those victims had their faces twisted towards their haunches and found it necessary to walk backward, because they could not see ahead of them. Their faces, instead of gazing forward, are reversed on their shoulders so that they must face death sufferings. Their sight has literally been reversed so that their sense of direction. 

We see those business people are infected by the deceit that runs rampant in Hell. It contritely reveals the truth. Their sense of shame, readers feel, is well-deserved because they have fallen to the spiteful level of the sinners. Look at that mighty one who comes and does not seem to shed a tear of pain: shows how the fraud practiced by individual men can come to torture a whole community of people. But the sheer amount of deceit surrounding them darkens their path and warps Dante's vision so we can see only faulty images.

Through us the way into the suffering Chawkbazar area, through us the way to the eternal pain, through us the way that runs among the lost. Justice urged on our high artificer; our maker is divine authority, the highest wisdom, and the primal love.  Before us nothing but eternal things abandon every hope, who enter here. These words - their aspect is obscure - I read inscribed above a gateway…

We have reached a place where every light is muted, which bellows like the sea beneath a tempest, when it is battered by opposing winds. The hellish blaze, which never rests, drives on the spirits with its violence:  wheeling and pounding, it harasses them. 

When they come up against the ruined slope, then there are cries and wailing and lament, and there they curse the force of the nature. We have learnt that those business people responsible for this heavy crime must undergo the torment, because they are damned; because they sinned within the flesh, subjecting reason to the rule of lust.

A killing cascade of fire-flakes! The falling flames are not extinguished on contact with the ground, but their heat is absorbed and radiated by the hot sand, doubling the pain of those who would offend the nature. We saw it, but we could not see within it; nothing was visible but boiling bubbles, the swelling of the pitch; and then it settled… And then in back of us we saw a black demon as the inferno came racing up the crags.

Ah, it was surely barbarous to see!  And how relentless seemed to us its acts!  Its wings were open and its feet were lithe; it had slung a sinner, upward from the thighs; in front, the demon gripped it by the ankles.

Lost their establishments and abodes and everything in it during the recent fires that raged through Chawkbazar, what do you pack if your house is about to burn down? My friend Shahid Hamid found himself living the cliché on 20 February 2019, as he stood near Chawkbazar, temporarily overwhelmed by a state of hysterical calm. But in a moment of clarity, he suddenly knew what exactly happened.

The authorities have ordered a probe into the fire, and a minister said there would be a new crackdown on residential buildings which double up as high-risk chemical stores. "We'll have a permanent solution soon," Obaidul Quader, the road transport minister, told AFP. Some people are doubtful.

A previous crackdown was ordered after an earlier tragedy in 2010. The law enforcers were reluctant to have those chemical warehouses moved from that densely populated area. After the warehouse owners, the city corporation and the law enforcers are mainly to blame.

The dead people were sent using body bags to the hospital morgue - this is a very painful situation. The business people should keep in minds that if the chemicals storehouses are not laid sooner in a safer zone, this dormant time bomb may further cause much gravid scathe to humans. This time, the government must not let these criminal businessmen of Nimtali and Chawkbazar to go off the hook of justice.

The writer is a senior citizen, writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs

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