Dhaka Fire: Blaze takes all of family but one
12:00 AM, February 24, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 08:33 AM, February 24, 2019

Blaze takes all of family but one

Their family was a happy one -- mother and father with their two healthy children.

On Wednesday night, the brutal fire that blazed through Chawkbazar reduced their perfect family of four to just one, while the rest looked on from behind a photo frame that managed to survive the hellish flames.

The only member that now survives is Rameem.

Now orphaned, Rameem, 12, suffers alone with burns on his face, hands and legs. A student of class-V at the Birshreshtha Munshi Abdur Rouf Public School and College, the only question Rameem now asks is “Where are my parents and brother?” even though he knows they have been resting at the Azimpur graveyard since Friday.

Rameem is now haunted by fresh memories of how his other family members were burnt to death when the four were on a rickshaw just in front of a community centre located at Churihatta area in Old Town. They were there to attend a programme.

Rameem was sitting on the rickshaw between his father Rashedul Islam Mithu and mother Sonia Islam, while his younger brother Sahir was on his father's lap.

As Rameem is now at his aunt's home in Lalbagh, he was lonely even amongst people.

Speaking to The Daily Star yesterday, he recalled when he last saw his family. “Suddenly, I saw a wave of fire. I jumped towards the back. I could just see my father and brother, not my mother. I wanted to pick them up [away] from the fire. The fire again threw me away and some people picked me up.”

Rameem was then taken to a nearby clinic and from there to Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn And Plastic Surgery. After primary treatment, doctors suggested that he be taken home.

Three days after the chemical blaze, which killed at least 67 and caused burn injuries to over a dozen, Rameem finds himself orphaned and alone -- his family gone, his grandparents too had died long ago and his uncle, his only blood relative, suffers from mental illness.

Rokhsana Begum, 55, used to live at Rameem's residence. Since the tragedy, she went to her daughter's residence nearby with him. 

“Managing Rameem has been challenging. He is always crying and asking about his parents and brother. How would I console him?” Rokhsana asked.

Rameem is a very bright student and his parents would take good care of his education, Rokhsana said. “His mother used to take him to school every day and a maternal aunt and uncle would help him with his studies as his father, an employee of a sanitary product shop at Hatirpool, did not earn enough to provide for private tuition.”

“Rameem's mother dreamed to have Rameem highly educated. Would the dream get lost because his parents are no longer alive?” she asked, immediately adding how they would manage the fund for his schooling was a concern now.

The death of Rameem's parents caused immense pain to his father Rashed's friends, as they are worried about their friend's lonely son.

Jamal Hossain, Chanchal Hossain, Noor Islam and Nasir Suman yesterday went to the burn unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) to consult doctors about Rameem's condition.

“Rashed was one of the 15 childhood friends in our area. We always hung out together. He is gone today. The matter of most concern is his son Rameem. How will he live now?” said Jamal.

While this was the case of how one family was shattered, and this tragic story can be applied to almost every single life that the Chawkbazar fire took away.

Similar to the Nimtoli fire in 2010, also in Old Dhaka, that claimed 124 lives, the authorities and even the businesses were again not alert enough to ensure the safety of the localities.

Zafar Ahmed, 45, a trader in Old Town, was also burnt to death Wednesday night when he went to have tea at Chunirhatta. He has four sons and a daughter between five and 18. His eldest son Raju used to work with him while the others would attend school.

“We were almost completely dependent on my father's income. How would we run our family now?” Raju asked in tears as he went to the DMC morgue to find whatever remains of his father.

It is unfortunate to realise that until the authorities take strong safety measures in Old Dhaka, where warehouses containing chemicals and other flammables are present in large quantities, tragedies that come with cries and questions like that of Raju and Rameem will continue. It was the presence of these warehouses that contributed greatly to the spread of fire in both Chawkbazar on Wednesday and Nimtoli in 2010.

Raju, who had been looking for his father since the recent fire, claimed to have identified his father's body at Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College mortuary yesterday.

Meanwhile, HM Salauddin Monzu, senior assistant commissioner and executive magistrate of Dhaka, said the body of one Anwar Hossain Monju was identified yesterday and the district administration handed it over to his relatives.

Another Anowar Hossain of Old Dhaka claimed he identified his brother Ahsan Ullah's body at Mitford Hospital mortuary yesterday after cross checking with the CCTV footage captured at a shop where he had gone to deliver bags on the day of the fire.

Asked, Salauddin Monzu said the forensic medicine department was investigating the matters of two relatives who claimed they could identify their relatives' dead bodies. If they find it to be accurate, the bodies will be handed over, he added.

Meanwhile, Nusrat Yasmeen, assistant DNA analyst of the CID, said they have collected DNA samples of all the 20 unidentified bodies and of their 34 relatives. In many cases, siblings of the dead gave samples, but the CID prefers DNA samples from parents or children of the unidentified bodies.

“The CID's forensic lab will be open for the Chawkbazar victims. I request the parents or children, who had been missing their relatives, to provide DNA samples at the CID lab in Malibagh from Sunday,” she told The Daily Star yesterday.

Dr Samanta Lal Sen, chief national coordinator for Plastic Surgery and All Burn Projects, said nine people with burn injuries from the Chawkbazar blaze were still under treatment at the burn unit of DMCH. Of them, the situations of five patients are critical, he added.  

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