Her name was Laboni

by Claudio Montesano Casillas 1 year ago
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A photo essay by Claudio Montesano Casillas

I met Laboni’s family at the Rana Plaza site earlier this year. The entire world had seen pictures of the victims of the garment factory’s collapse in 2013, which killed more than 1,100 people. I had seen them too. But they did not match the feeling of seeing a family grieve the loss of a loved one. I thought about Laboni’s life and how it was much more than just a tragic death. How she was a smart young woman with many dreams, who wanted to work hard to get herself and her family a better life. I wanted to unravel that history.

I visited Laboni’s village, Mohira Para, with her father and her little sister. Located in Ishwardi, in the Pabna District, this is where she grew up before searching for a better life in the capital, Dhaka. I photographed these places and collected old family photos.

The ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh is worth 24 billion dollars. An alternative to the restrictive and tough agricultural sector, it provides jobs to many unskilled workers, especially women who travel to the country’s capital in search of independence in the shape of formal income. Every year, millions of people migrate from rural areas to the urban zone hoping for a better life. But though the salary of a garment worker may be higher than that of a farmer, the living and working conditions can turn city life into a nightmare.

Laboni was born in February 1993. In 2006, she migrated from Ishwardi to Savar, Dhaka District. This is her story.

Laboni in Bengali language means “GRACE” Between India and Myanmar lies Bangladesh, a country that is comparable in size to the State of Wisconsin (US). Its population is larger than Russia. Today Bangladesh counts approximately 160 million and in the next 50 years this may increase up to 250 million people. Bangladesh is characterized by a green country side providing the source for its main economic sector: agriculture. Bangladesh is also characterized by its mega capital city Dhaka. Dhaka counts an estimated 15 million people ranking 3rd as most densely populated city in the world. Greater Dhaka provides many alternative job opportunities to the agriculture sector. The biggest one being the ready made garment (RMG) industry. Many man and women migrate from the rural areas to the urban zone hoping to obtain a better life. The salary of a garment worker may be higher than that of a farmer, the living and working conditions may turn daily city life into a nightmare. The RMG sector provides jobs to many unskilled workers, because the work does not require much intellectual thought and technical knowledge. For this reason, women are easily attracted forming the biggest part of the workforce. Laboni was born in February 1993 in a village named Mohira Para, Ishwardi in Pabna District, Rajshahi Division of Bangladesh, four hours away from the capital, Dhaka. In Ishwardi, like other rural areas, women are centered on traditional roles with limited mobility and freedom. Women are responsible for most of the post-harvest work, for keeping livestock, poultry, and small gardens. In 2006, Laboni migrated from Ishwardi to Savar, Dhaka District. This is her story.

From the family archives (2004), Laboni at the age of 11 posing in front of the Shah bridge and the Padma river in Bangladesh. When she was young Laboni used to hang out here a lot with friends and family. The Padma river bank is a great place for picnics

« The view from the Lalon Shah bridge over the Padma river. This road bridge allows cars to cross the Padma river between Ishwardi and Bheramara, Padna District, Bangladesh. This is the green environment where Laboni grew up »

The view from the Lalon Shah bridge over the Padma river. This road bridge allows cars to cross the Padma river between Ishwardi and Bheramara, Pabna District, Bangladesh. This is the green  environment where Laboni grew up

« A classroom inside the school named after the first president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman founded in 1995. Laboni attended this school in Ishwardi for four years from sixth to tenth grade. After she stopped school »

A classroom inside the school named after the first president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman founded in 1995. Laboni attended this school in Ishwardi for four years from sixth to tenth grade. After she stopped school

« The view on Ishwardi (Bengali: “God’s place”) a Western village of the Pabna District in Rajshahi Division, Bangladesh. It has a population of approximately 350’000 inhabitants »

The view on Ishwardi (Bengali: “God’s place”) a Western village of the Pabna District in Rajshahi Division, Bangladesh. It has a population of approximately 350’000  inhabitants

« Auntie Morzina, 55, mother of Shanta, 26, says she was a second mother to Laboni. Morzina owns a large property in Savar where she is renting out nine rooms. While Laboni was staying in Dhaka with Morzina she met her future husband Shahin. Shahin rented one of Morzina’s rooms »

Auntie Morzina, 55, mother of Shanta, 26, says she was a second mother to Laboni. Morzina owns a large property in Savar where she is renting out nine rooms. While Laboni was staying in Dhaka with Morzina she met her future husband Shahin. Shahin rented one of Morzina’s rooms

« A garment factory in Savar, Dhaka District. As a married woman Laboni could also start working. At the age of 17 she joined her husband in the same garment factory. Part of her salary was given to support her family»

A garment factory in Savar, Dhaka District. As a married woman Laboni could also start working. At the age of 17 she joined her husband in the same garment factory. Part of her salary was given to support her family

« Laboni and Shahin at a celebration. They got married when she was 15 years old and Shahin was 20. At first her family opposed their wish to get married »

Laboni and Shahin at a celebration. They got married when she was 15 years old and Shahin was 20. At first her family opposed their wish to get married

« A label “Made in Bangladesh” found at the Rana Plaza site. Until today, it is still possible to find all the labels of the international brands that produced their clothes in Rana Plaza. Laboni produced clothes mostly for the UK market»

A label “Made in Bangladesh” found at the Rana Plaza site. Until today, it is still possible to find all the labels of the international brands that produced their clothes in Rana Plaza. Laboni produced clothes mostly for the UK market

« As Laboni’s biological father, Minto Sheikh, did the DNA test in May 2013 hoping to identify his missing daughter »

As Laboni’s biological father, Minto Sheikh, did the DNA test in May 2013 hoping to identify his missing daughter

« Shahin, 28, survived the accident and remained 10 hours inside the building after the collapse. He was hospitalised for 16 days. After the incident, Shaini decided to leave the crowded city and find shelter back in his village for financial reasons. He is not working anymore due to a post-traumatic stress disorder and a permanent spinal injury »

Shahin, 28, survived the accident and remained 10 hours inside the building after the  collapse. He was hospitalised for 16 days. After the incident, Shaini received his compensation and decided to leave the crowded city and find shelter back in his village. He is not working anymore due to a post-traumatic stress disorder and a permanent spinal injury

« Laboni’s grave in Jurain, Old Dhaka. She is identified by the number ‘155’. Jurain is located 50 km away from Savar »

Laboni’s grave in  Jurain, Old Dhaka. She is identified by the number ‘155’. Jurain is located 50 km away from Savar. Minto Sheikh’s DNA matched with one of the 300 unidentified victims buried in Jurain grave yard, Old Dhaka. It took six months to have the results from the DNA test in order to know what happened to his beloved daughter. Due to the lack of infrastructure at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, the US Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI) made DNA tests possible

« Minto Sheikh and Asma sitting outside their provisory house in Savar. In 2013 they moved from Ishwardi to Savar to chase a compesantion for their loss. In Ishwardi Minto used to work as a bus ticket controller, he now is a rickshaw puller »

Minto Sheikh (42) and Asma (35) sitting outside their provisory house in Savar. In 2013 they moved from Ishwardi to Savar to chase a compesantion for their loss. The compensation money would secure Laboni’s two sisters’ future and allow them to get an education. In Ishwardi Minto used to work as a bus ticket controller, he now is a rickshaw puller

« Boishakhi, inside her house with Laboni’s school diploma at hand. Boiskakhi does not remember her eldest sister well, she was too young when left Ishwardi »

Boishakhi (8), inside her house with Laboni’s school diploma at hand. Boiskakhi does not remember her eldest sister well, she was too young when her sister left Ishwardi. Asma hopes that none of her children will ever work in the garment sector again, she prefers her children to pursue school

 

Claudio Montesano Casillas is a documentary photographer born in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Mexico. He established his roots in three separate cultures, Mexican, Italian and Swiss, and he has developed an ability to both recognise and capture the richness of people, cultures and their respective evolution. Currently, he is based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. See more at his website, or follow him on Instagram.


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