It was the early hours of 14th December, 2010. Everyone was deep asleep in Hatirpool, one of Dhaka’s busiest localities. Moshrefa Mishu had just returned to Dhaka to her sister’s house from Narsingdi, on the 12th and had been really exhausted after attending various programs and rallies. She had declined an invitation to attend a program and wanted to rest for a few days before resuming work on the 16th. She along with all other members in her sister’s family were in deep slumber when they heard a loud knock on the door. Her sister opened the door only to find a group of armed policemen outside. They asked for Moshrefa and rather forcefully took her into remand. All the pleas of the family members went unheard and they were not even shown an arrest warrant.
She was accused of participating in acts of Vandalism and also to have links with Jamaat-e-Islami. All the charges were fabricated to justify the arrest as she was not even present in Dhaka when the so called ‘Acts of Vandalism’ occurred. Her only crime was that she spoke for the cause of the people never spoken of-the garment workers. The garment workers’ had waged a long struggle to demand for just wages and had finally made the government agree to a stipulated amount of 3000 taka from a formerly fixed amount of 1662 taka. The garment workers actually had to fight for about 12 long years to bring the amount to 1662 taka per month from just about 900 taka, which still was the lowest in the world. Thus, they assessed and concluded that 5000 would be a decent wage structure and started fighting for it. But an amount of 3000 taka was agreed upon and it was agreed that the new salary structure would come into effect from November. But it was not implemented and instead of taking initiatives in that regard, the Bangladesh government rather chose to arrest the leader of the garments worker, Moshrefa Mishu for demanding the implementation of the new wage structure.
Moshrefa Mishu has been actively engaged in advocating for the rights of the workers and democracy in Bangladesh since the early 90s. She is currently the president of Garments Workers Unity Forum. But the advocacy and speaking for the cause of the worker have come with a cost; with the latest, she being arrested without a warrant on the 14th. She has been severely injured before in rallies and is today constantly on medicine. But she was not even allowed to take her medicine when she was taken into which has led to serious complications to her health and she is presently in hospital. Other activists who have engaged with her in the struggle informed that she had developed major problems with health, as she was not allowed to take any medicine for complete 24 hours. And she being an asthma patient severed her condition and also the police tortured her in every possible manner, only short of physical torture.
Off late, the world has witnessed a dramatic rise of ‘workers’ militancy’ in the garment sector in Bangladesh. But it has not risen without a reason. At present, more than 3 million workers work in almost 500 garment factories in Bangladesh. The garment sector has emerged the single largest export industry in Bangladesh and the government earns most of its revenue from it. But when it comes to the wage, they are most exploited and also most lowly paid, which is even lesser than what is paid in conflict ridden Afghanistan. Only in December, 60 different cases of workers attacking factories were reported which clearly indicated that the workers had no other means to get their voices heard but to resort to violence.
The garment workers movement in Bangladesh has been criticized to be disorganized from different quarters. Sporadic workers violence has been reported from various places without any co-ordination or banner. The only motive that moved them has been that; they had been tired of waiting and had come out to the streets. Many activists also told me that the movement has seen a presence of an ideological vaccum. The issues of the labourers have only been of the workers and have not been able to attract the attention of the so called ‘academicians’. They of course, blame that the ‘middle class’ consisting of academicians and scholars are all sucked in by the social sector in Bangladesh and comfortably spend their lives by serving as ‘consultants’ to the second largest sector (NGO) in Bangladesh. Thus, there is a big need of organizing the garment workers under a political ideology.
The government of Bangladesh has taken a fascist stand against the workers and has banned trade unions. Any attempts of organizing and mobilizing the workers are suppressed with an iron hand. Moshrefa Mishu was one among the very few people who had taken an active role in organizing the garment workers. It may also be noted that along with Mishu, another 21 thousand workers were also accused of vandalism and charge-sheet was filed against them on the same day. Other like minded individuals and workers organization have been continuously putting pressure for her release.
(Please Note: Special thanks to Altaf Parvez for his very important inputs.)