How the Rana Plaza tragedy shaped Bangladesh’s mental health

Photo: STARFILE

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Photo: STARFILE

A man holding a woman. His back arched; a tear of blood running down her cheek. Both bloodied by the debris of a collapsed Rana Plaza.

I still remember the shock, the grief I felt when I saw the photo for the first time. Photographer Taslima Akhter had taken the picture and it was everywhere – on newspaper covers, magazine centerfolds, screaming TV screens.

To be honest, this photo is the only clear memory I have of the tragedy. I had turned 10 a few days earlier. Everything else is blurry when I descend into the past. Only vague memories of adults in the household constantly watching the news and complaining wistfully about labor rights in the country.

However, one aspect of the incident is still not a memory in the lives of many people: the influence of the disaster on their mental health. A 2019 survey by ActionAid looked at 200 survivors of the Rana Plaza collapse and the results of the survey were grim. Twenty-seven percent of survivors were unable to return to work due to poor mental health, and more than 10 percent of survivors were still struggling with trauma.

It’s not just the survivors either. On the sixth anniversary of the disaster in 2019, a volunteer rescue worker who worked at the site of the collapse committed suicide. Friends later confirmed that 27-year-old Nowshad Hasan Himu had suffered from depression and trauma since he was in the field.

Photo: STARFILE

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Photo: STARFILE

What lurks at the other end of the spectrum of mental problems, however, is unfortunately much more prevalent among people, and especially young people these days: desensitization. While many people were reeling from the unimaginable death toll in the Rana Plaza collapse, the steady onslaught of human rights abuses in the years to come numb them to grief. In fact, tragedies are now the way of the world in their eyes. It is like that and they accept it.

This desensitization has spread from the minds of older generations to that of younger ones. Many of my peers look at the Rana Plaza tragedy with dull, dead eyes. Like the ruins of a castle that once stood. They recognize that this is an example of gross neglect of workers and their safety that continues to this day.

Quite terrifying, it evokes no emotion in them. They post about ongoing humanitarian crises at home and around the world, but more often than not they do so without any real feeling or passion for the cause and only because the topic is trending online. They recognize the injustice but cannot really deal with it.

They can’t be blamed, though. The world around us has normalized brutality and unjust hierarchies in their minds and it is up to us to educate ourselves, and them, about desensitization and all the ways to overcome it. After all, we inherit a world plagued by political, economic, environmental and social issues that affect people around the world.

If we wish to leave a healthier world behind us, we need aware and empathetic minds more than anything. Ultimately, no activism is sufficiently effective or sustainable if there is no passion that fuels it.

References

1. ActionAid.org (April 24, 2019). Six years after the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, the health of one in five survivors is deteriorating

2. Yahoo News (April 26, 2019). Bangladesh rescue hero Rana Plaza commits suicide

Write to Fabiha at [email protected]

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