‘A Bangladesh tragedy with universal resonance’

Zara Hayes introducing "Clothes to Die For", with Jennifer Leaning and Ruth Barron.

Zara Hayes introducing “Clothes to Die For”, with Jennifer Leaning and Ruth Barron.

I wrote this piece recently for the Harvard South Asia Institute after attending the screening of a documentary film on the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh, “Clothes to Die For”. The screening was followed by a discussion with the filmmaker, Zara Hayes whom I’d assumed was Bangladeshi but turned out to be British – “I get that all the time,” she told me. 

It’s a powerful and sensitively made film. I was glad to connect her to Film South Asia in Kathmandu and to Voices Breaking Boundaries in Houston, so that the film can also be screened there. “It’s already paid for so we’re not looking for money,” she said. “I’m just happy for more people to see it and become aware of the issues involved… A lot of people know about the Rana Plaza incident, and think, ‘Oh I know all about it’. What I tried to do with this film was to People may think they know everything there is to know about the Rana Plaza tragedy.’ What I sought to do with this film was to tell the story in a way it hadn’t necessarily been told before.”

She does this by letting the survivors of the industrial disaster tell the story. Beyond the tragedy and corruption and greed behind it, the film highlights the resilience, insight, wit, courage and intelligence of workers and journalists.

From the stories of trauma and pain emerge those that give courage and resilience, hope and inspiration. Kazi Monir, a young volunteer rescue worker who had to amputate a woman’s arm, talks about how the experience changed him. “My dreams of a big house with swimming pool and flashy car disappeared,” he says. He started a worker-owned cooperative garment factory named Oporajeo – invincible, or undefeated. Many of the survivors work there – happy and secure in the single-storey building where working conditions and pay are good.

The discussion focussed on other ways of moving on, with Harvard professors Jennifer Leaning and Ruth Barron adding to Zara Hayes’ emphasis on the need for memorialisation — the acute traumatic stress that a community undergoes after such disasters, the importance of strengthening the community and bringing survivors together, for instance (More at my blog post for HSAI).

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