Rana Plaza Tragedy: The Drama of Reshma’s “Miraculous Rescue”

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Investigations by Amar Desh reveal the ‘miraculous rescue’ of Reshma from Rana Plaza 17 days after the building collapsed to have been a staged drama.

Reshma, the widely known young garments worker lady [‘saved’ alive from the Rana Plaza rubble on the 17th day of the collapse], had in fact been saved from the disaster during rescue operations on the very first day of the Rana Plaza collapse in Savar. Slightly injured Reshma had even taken treatment from a hospital in Savar. Newspaper, Amar Desh, was informed of this by a lineman of New Wave Style Garments, which was housed in the building and was the factory where Reshma worked also. The lineman, Enamul, is a close colleague of Reshma who had also come out of the rubble with her on the first day.

Throughout Bangladesh doubts had been cast upon the story of Reshma, who was said to have survived on 4 biscuits and a bottle of water, and was also seen to have been rescued in completely new and fresh clothes. Amar Desh went on to investigate the facts behind the story.

It has been known from first hand investigation at the scene of Savar, at Reshma’s home village Ghoragath of Dinajpur and at a few other areas – that Reshma was saved injured from beneath the building rubble on the very first day of the collapse of Rana Plaza on 24th April. Then 17 days later she was claimed to be have been rescued from the rubble.  It wasn’t only the local media but even the international media which went into a frenzy with regards to the ‘rescued’ ‘miracle girl’.

Amar Desh’s investigations have found the rescue of Reshma was a staged drama. Why was this drama set up?

Analysts have commented that this set up was done to cover up various government failures  and misdeeds that had peaked during the time; the mass-murder at the May 5 and 6 Hefazat Rally, the oppression on the opposition party, the international outcry after the Rana Plaza collapse and the subsequent failure of the government during the rescue operations.

In exchange for her part in the drama, the literate and hand-to-mouth earner Reshma was offered to choose either to go to the United States or take up a job at a top-notch organization within the country that would pay her BDT 60,000 monthly, bringing an end to her difficult life. She has already been appointed at a five-star hotel paying her an alluring wage.

Reshma at a press conference after being 'saved' 17 days after the collapse of Rana Plaza.

Reshma at a press conference after being ‘saved’ 17 days after the collapse of Rana Plaza.

To understand what had actually happened behind this ‘rescue’ Amar Desh spoke to her mother Jobeda; her sister Asma; her neighbour at her home village; the landlord-couple of her home in Savar; her neighbor in Savar; her close friend Ruma; the lineman of the 3rd floor New Wave Style Garments in Rana Plaza, Enamul; the owner of the canteen beside the collapsed building, Alom; a number of guards of Rana Plaza; a number of workers of the 3rd and 7th floor of New Wave Style Garments, including Raja, Moyna and Joshim; many local people who tok part in the rescue operations and a number of residents and small business-owners of Mojidpur (just beside Rana Plaza).

It had been claimed that Reshma was rescued on 10th May from the rubble of the collapsed Rana Plaza. This news sent shockwaves across the globe. In the immediate moments after the ‘miraculous incident’ – thousands of people across the globe were overwhelmed with the news. The tragedy of losing at least 1,127 lives was forgotten by the victory of saving one. There was excitement everywhere.

This excitement went on for a short period and the emotional haze quickly went away among those who are self-aware. They analyzed the whole incident of the rescue operation. After an in depth analysis of all the facts, news began to spread in the virtual media on the ‘set-up drama of Reshma’s rescue’. It was stated that this ‘rescue’ was done to erode the sad memories of 1100-deaths in the minds of the emotionally volatile Bangladeshis. A lot of people had brushed aside this doubt that had been cast. However, a few important questions had not been answered. Amar Desh began this investigative reporting to find the answers to those questions. And this paved the way to discovering an array of sensational revelations.

The rescued girl – is she Reshma, Joya or Fatema?

Confusion has arisen even with the actual name of Reshma. The mother said her name in the ID of New Wave Garments was Joya. The sister said her name wasn’t Joya but that her ID bore the name ‘Fatema’. The lineman of the workplace said her name is ‘Joya’. The landlord of her home knows her by the name of ‘Reshma’. The rescuers of the army said her name was Reshma. But her mother and the people of her village said her actual name is ‘Joya’.

When asked how the name Reshma came about her mother replied that it was her nickname. However, after the collapse of the building the mother and sister had gone to look for her in Savar by printing her actual name (Joya) on the cardboard. Amar Desh also collected the card that bore that name. However, the owner of the rented house at Savar Bank Colony, Nur Miah and his wife Hajera Begum, knew her by the name of Reshma.

Reshma’s older sister Asma, who had brought her to Dhaka and was the one who sought out her job at New Wave Style, told Amar Desh that Reshma had taken up the job in the name of Fatema. Her name was not Joya there according to the sister. The reason she stated was that the garments required birth certificate which Reshma didn’t have. So she took up the job at the garments factory taking up another person’s name.

But mysteriously no one mentioned the actual name of Joya nor the Factory entry name Fatema.

The list of injured people from 24th to 26th April had a person named Fatema. The name was entered at the very beginning section of the list.

Reshma had come out of Rana Plaza along with Enamul on 24th April

Enamul of Noldanga under the Upazila of Shadullapur of Gaibandha district worked as lineman of the same company (New Wave Style Limited) of the 3rd floor of Rana plaza where Reshma worked.  Enamul informed he had contacted the landlord immediately after. He was slightly injured in the collapse. After being under treatment in Savar’s Enam Hospital for two days – he went off to Gaibandha. Enamul couldn’t be brought to Dhaka to seek information with regards to the ‘Rescue’ on 10th May even after repeated efforts. Even after trying to speak to him from various phone numbers under various names, it wasn’t possible. At last, after claiming to be ‘the sister of the missing Reshma of Rana Plaza’, Amar Desh spoke to him several times. During this communication (Cell: 01778000334) he became convinced and went on to speak about a lot of issues.

At one point he began giving information regarding his rescue along with Reshma’s. He said he knew only one Reshma. Her actual name is ‘Joya’ (who was rescued 17 days after the collapse). Enamul acknowledged that the same Reshma had in fact come out of the building following him on 24th April. Reshma had also been admitted in Enam Hospital. But Enamul could not find Reshma after he was released from the hospital. He then contacted Reshma’s landlord. The landlord confirmed to Enamul that he had found Reshma at the hospital. During the conversation with Enamul, he informed that Reshma was at the hospital for two days. She had gone off to the army cantonment from there. He had no contact with Reshma after that.

However, Enamul hung up when subsequent questions were put forward with regards to this issue. He became angry when he was contacted repeatedly. During the initial phases of the conversation Enamul had claimed he had an affair with Reshma. But she refused him after she became aware that he was married. Amar Desh has a full record of the conversation with Enamul.

Reshma was rescued from the intact ground floor

The ground floor of Rana Plaza was intact from the very beginning since the building collapsed. It was only covered by rubble. That’s why on the very first day, the owner Sohel Rana was rescued from that floor by breaking the R S tower window. It has been claimed that Reshma was rescued from the same place 17 days after.

Eyewitnesses inform that among the whole nine stories, eight of them did not collapsed at the same time. Up to the 3rd floor was intact for few days. So it was not possible for anyone to drop from 3rd floor direct to ground floor. Even the channel that links the Mosque was also completely closed so no one was able to go there. So the suggestion that someone came down via the stairways to the ground floor is completely unbelievable.

Not only that, as the ground floor roof was intact at the time of rescue, a tunnel was built along both sides of RS tower and storeroom to the ground floor. But right after Reshma was rescued it was said that she was rescued from the basement mosque. It was also said that while the building collapsed, Reshma was in the 3rd floor, and after the 3rd and 2nd floor collapsed she was in the ground floor.

However, the workers of varies organization in Rana Plaza and those who took part in the rescue from the very beginning including local resident and worker Raja, Alam, Robiul, Joshim, Milon and many others informs that the ground floor didn’t collapsed. So there were no way to drop from the 3rd floor to the ground floor. Reshma was also claimed to have been rescued from the RS tower.

Three days prior to Reshma’s ‘miraculous rescue’, unannounced curfew in place around Rana Plaza

From the three days before Reshma was rescued, there was an unannounced curfew in place around Rana Plaza. No one was allowed to go close to the plaza.

Local residents and witnesses said that many officers of RAB (Rapid Action Battalion), BGB (Border Guards Bangladesh) and military members surrounded that place. They knocked all the houses around that area and instructed inhabitants to close the doors before evening and not leave under any circumstances.

In front of Rana Plaza (north side) is Dhaka-Aricha highway. On the east and west side there are markets and shops and on the south is the Masjidpur residential area. On May 10 at 4.30pm Reshma was rescues, but from 7th May the east-west side shops and market were made to close before evening. The south side residents who lived close to Rana Plaza, including Hosne Ara and others, were evacuated from their houses at 7th May evening. The owners of those houses informed that the law enforcement members ordered them to leave the place without explanation for 5 to 6 days. So they left the houses. They returned 2 days after Reshma was rescued. They were not given any opportunity to know why they were evacuated from their houses.

Three hundred yards from Rana plaza, two military members were guarding the front of many houses, issuing orders that residents close the doors and stay inside.  On May 8 and 9 things remained the same way. But from May 10 after Reshma was rescued there were no more security activities in that area.

This information were  confirmed by the owner Kashem Mia of “Kashem Tea stall” in Mashjidpur, Canteen owner Alam, the residents of Hosne Ara’s building and many others. They said, they thought such behavior of the law enforcement group was in order to remove corpses in the dark hidden along with the rubble which were removed [such that death toll figures could be reduced]. This was felt because after the Shahina tragedy at Rana Plaza, there was no evidence of the rescue of corpses in the day time. All the corpses were removed in the darkness of night.

The scars on Reshma’s hand is due to her husband’s beating

After Reshma was rescue many used the pictures of AFP to claim that if her miracle was a staged drama then why does she have scars on her hands. They claimed these scars occurred because her hand was crushed under the rubble.

To know about this, a local journalist along with three correspondents of Amar Desh went to Reshma’s house on May 22 at 10am in Dinajpur district, Ghoraghat area, Ranigange port, Kashigari village. Her house was made of mud wall and hay roof in front of which Reshma’s mother Jubaida Begum, her aunt and many other local men and women were seated. A day before, that is on May 21 Reshma’s mother returned from Dhaka. Reshma’s mother Jubaida Begum explained how Reshma’s husband used to torture her daughter.

Before that in savar bank colony, Reshma’s house owner, Nuru, informed that Reshma divorced her husband Razzak due to his inhuman torture on her. He stated the scars on Reshma’s hand are from the burns of her husband’s cigarate. Nuru’s wife Hazera informed that Reshma has a long one hand length scar, which was also due to Razzak’s torture. The description of Reshma’s mother and Nuru’s wife regarding her husband’s torture was alike. During the press conference, there were old burn scars evident on Reshma’s hand.

According to reshma’s mother, Razzak’s house was in Dinajpur, birampur area, mondoppara village. Razzak was not found when Amar Desh sought him there.

There was no shop in the basement

To explain away reshma’s new dress at the press conference, the military officials said that there were some food and dress shops where she was grounded. After 17 days under rubble, Reshma’s dress was torn, so at the time of rescue she took a dress from there and wore it herself. But the guard of Rana Plaza Robiul, Abdul Mojid, security guard of 7th floor Mir Deb, canteen owner Alam, Store worker Sarowar and many other surviving workers said that there were no shops in the basement. There was a car park, electric transmitter and mosque. After visiting many other high stories building in Savar, it was understood that there is no trend of keeping shops in the basement. Alam informs that his canteen was there since Rana Plaza was constructed.

Moreover, according to Reshma, when she was on the 3rd floor, there was an approximately 10 inch vacant space in front of her. So it was possible for her to change into her new and matching dress. Yet there were no shops in the 3rd floor either. There were only garments factories, where such dresses were not made as only western export clothing was made.

The rescuers attitude changed after the failed rescue of Shahina

After failing to rescue Shahina, the security force was under huge criticism from the media and local residents. It was first declared that as there is no possibility of anymore lives, the rescue will be stopped. But under special consideration the rescue went on and after 108 hours a worker name Shahina was traced alive. After 29 hours of trying, the rescuers failed to rescue her alive. Due to the failure, clashes occurred between the local residents and the security force. There were even incidents of throwing stones from both sides. Local rescuers informed that after that incident the security force’s attitude change completely. They didn’t allow anyone to come near the disaster site anymore. They even sent back the fire service members.

Without any explanation they blocked off the tunnel from the store room to Rana Plaza, and locked the store room’s door. Hundreds of residents claim that Reshma was entered from the storeroom. That depicted it as a survival and brought out from RS tower. They planned the drama in secret earlier so that no one can see Reshma. In the meantime no journalist was allowed to go close to Rana Plaza. They had to take pictures and footage from a distance.

After Reshma was rescued, many local residents commented to this reporter that the security force staged this drama to compensate the grief inflicted due to the failure of Shahina’s rescue attempt.

The anger of local people for rescuing in the dark of night only

After the Shahina incident, the government rescue team did not carry out any rescue activities during the day time. The local people were angry that the rescue activities were now being carried out in the dark of night. In suspicion of something else going on under the curtain of rescue activities, they searched cars of the law enforcement. But due to unannounced curfew that was implemented from 7th may, they were not able to search anymore.

Government wants to send Reshma to America

Known from the sources, government has become desperate to send Reshma abroad so that the drama does not leak. Her Family also does not want to miss this opportunity. But they want to move the full family. However the government wants only to send Reshma alone. This information has been confirmed from her family members.

Here are the exact words of Jubaida Begum: “after the rescue, the Prime Minister gave 50 thousand taka in Reshma’s hand.  They also gave her 2 sarees and a shawl. The garments owner gave her a further 50 thousand taka. Many others also gave her money (she could not tell the names). The head of Rana Plaza rescue team (GOC) told Reshma that the Prime Minster asked her whether Reshma wants to go to America or wants to work in the hotel which is in the cantonment (hotel Raddison)? Reshma said, she do not want to go to America. She wants a job in that hotel. If she works in that hotel, the literate Reshma’s salary will be 35 thousand taka and after adding all other facilities her salary will be total 60 thousand taka.” After asking what her family wants, reshma’s mother replied:- “ We said, Reshma will not go alone. If she goes she will do so with her family. Reshma also said the same.”

After asking about Reshma’s education her mother said: “she studied up to class two. My daughter did not get much education.”

Reshma’s reaction

On June 6 2013 at a press briefing for her joining at the Westin hotel, she was questioned regarding emerging from Rana Plaza on the first day with lineman Enamul. Also that she was in Enam medical college.

The question astounded her. She took a few seconds and then yelled back, ‘what did you say?’

She was again asked, ‘the garments you use to work for, you do know the lineman Enamul, isn’t it?’ Reshma did not reply yes or no. But she also did not deny about lineman Enamul. Later Reshma said, ‘Where I was, you were not there. So you have no idea how hard I endured. You are wrong.’ Reshma did not say anything after that.

The Westin officials requested the journalist not to ask any personal questions.

Discrepancy in the very first picture 

After the rescue of Reshma, it was seen in the picture taken by AFP that Reshma’s finger nails were trimmed; they should have been much longer if it was left for 17 days. As per medical science, long hours in the darkness make the eyes adjusted to darkness itself. And so to bring the person into an illuminated area the person needs to be blindfolded and gradually the eyes begin adjusting to the light. Otherwise there is the fear of damage to the sight. A person’s eyes are susceptible to damage if kept away from light for 72 hours at a stretch. Then why was Reshma pulled out without a cover over her eyes after 391 hours? TV footage shows she was looking inquisitively around her after she was pulled out in the stretcher.

Army’s statement

An army officer was contacted regarding the issue of Reshma’s rescue. Without revealing his identity, he confirmed Reshma was taken away from the army cantonment to Westin by a Westin authority who was a Bangladeshi-Australian by nationality. The Government had offered her to be taken to the United States or to take up a job at Radisson. However, after Westin authorities’ consistent lobbying, the Government agreed to let them take Reshma in.

When asked whether there was an unannounced red-alert during the secret drama set-up of the rescue operation, the army officer replied that he didn’t know exactly what happened, but there was an unannounced red alert due to some technical issues.

The reason he thought that way – is that the regular rescue workers wanted to drill a hole for furthering the rescue which could have been harmful for themselves. And so a red alert was issued to start the second phase of the rescue operation with heavy equipment. And there were exaggerations during that time.

Major Tawhiduzzaman, the army officer who led the media relations wing of the rescue operations including the press conference during the rescue operation and after the rescue of Reshma, told Amardesh that they didn’t allow general people into the scene for the safety of these general people. They even handed Reshma to Westin authorities only when Reshma was cured. They didn’t keep any responsibility of Reshma to themselves after that.

Source: translated from Amar Desh