Hussein Ahmed, Baldia Town, Karachi

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He says very little. In contrast to the anger-tinged testimony of his wife when she spoke about their son Sirjeel’s death, and the incompetence of the rescue services that may have led to it, Hussein Ahmed neither revealed any emotions, nor gave any hint of what he was feeling inside during the entire time we were together. His demeanor remained calm, and collected, as if disconnected from his surroundings and disengaged from the tragedy. When we had met at his house he had entered through the front door with the tentativeness of a guest; standing to one side until offered to sit, unsure of where to take a seat, looking around as if to know his surroundings better. Hussein had requested a 6 am meeting so that he could sit with me immediately after morning prayers, and be done with the interview in time to open his tailoring shop. He looked tired, with heavy bags under his eyes, a deeply furrowed brow, deeply wrinkled face, disheveled hair, and clothes that had long-lost any sign of being washed or pressed. They look like he had slept in them the previous night.

On September 11, 2012, a fire broke out at the Ali Enterprises Garment Factory, in Karachi, Pakistan. A major industrial operation, Ali Enterprises had just weeks earlier been given a prestigious SA8000 safety certificate by the industry funded Social Accountability International (SAI). The fire led to the deaths of nearly 300 workers, and left many thousands of family members homeless and penniless.

The stories of the families of those killed that night show the precarious nature of the lives of the Pakistani working class. They also give a starting point to understand how the law, legislation and policies of the State have led to creating a vulnerable, and easily exploitable labor force. They show the uses of the law to serve specific economic and planning interests, and weaken worker organization and resistance.

Hussein Ahmed and Kausar Parveen Ahmed’s son, Sirjeel Ahmed, who was twenty years old, died in the fire.

Over cups of tea I tried to speak to him about his son’s life, but his answers are short and to the point, and offered without flourish or emotion. Yes, my son was passing the time at the factory, but his hopes were to land a job with some IT firm in the city. Yes, he had taken a diploma in computer maintenance and was confident that he would find a place to work soon. Yes, I was eager that he get away from this life. A tailor is not something you want your child to be. Yes, we are now living of my salary alone, so things are difficult. No, I don’t think I can go over those days again, please forgive me. He was my son, how do you expect me to feel that he died so young? Soon I become weary of asking any more. I sense his reluctance to take part in the interview, and suspect that he is doing so because of pressure from his family. “Is there anything else?” He asks politely. And just as quietly, and tentatively as he had come, Hussein takes his leave. He stops at the door, and turning back quietly remind his wife that he will not be coming home for lunch.