What are the consequences of workers' protests in Bangladesh? In any developed society, one would expect protests to be a tool to hold higher powers to account, rather than an excuse to punish the protesters. However, for RMG worker Kanchon Mia, who has been fighting for his life for the past five months, the cost of his protest has been his health and his income, as he potentially faces a lifetime of disability.
On May 10 this year, workers of an RMG factory owned by the conglomerate Ha-Meem Group took to the streets to demand Eid holidays. Instead of meeting their perfectly legitimate demands, law enforcement was called in, and it is now evident that the police used disproportionate force. Kanchon—one of 12 workers who were injured that day—was shot with pellet guns at point blank range. Later, some 101 pellets were removed from his intestines. A large part of his intestines and lower abdomen had to be removed. Now he needs gut reconstruction surgery, but doctors are hesitant to operate due to his severely malnourished condition. The only breadwinner of his seven-member family, Kanchon will not be able to do any strenuous work for the rest of his life.
The culpability of the police and Kanchon's employers cannot be swept under the rug here. The commissioner of Gazipur Metropolitan Police commented that they "never fire shots without provocation," adding that the provocation in question was "blocking the highway."
In a just and democratic society, does it sound fair that the act of blocking a road should cost a worker his intestines, his lower abdomen, his ability to work, and the quality of his life? And why would one of the largest clothing manufacturers in the country deny their workers Eid holidays, and call in law enforcement to take such heavy-handed actions against them?
Kanchon and his family allege that the Ha-Meem Group only paid around half the costs of his initial surgery and treatment, and then began to ignore their calls. When contacted by an English newspaper, the business group blamed it on miscommunication, and promised to pay for his treatment and provide his salary until he was fit to return to work (or arrange compensation if he was not).
While this sounds good on paper, it does not explain why Kanchon's wife has had to sell their last belongings to support his treatment, and is now struggling to pay for their children's education.
Labour rights activists have argued that Kanchon should receive at least Tk 50 lakh to Tk 1 crore as compensation, given that he has been incapacitated for the rest of his life.