Sabuj Mia, a bus driver, has been lying in anguish at Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery in Dhaka for over a week. He is the main provider for his family, who now rely on help from others since he cannot work. Everyday, his family is consumed by worry, wondering when Sabuj will heal and return to work.
He is not alone; five other people with low incomes are also undergoing treatment at the same hospital, having suffered burns in arson attacks on buses during blockades called by the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami as part of their antigovernment movement. Like Sabuj, the other victims’ concerns are equally grave.
Their families say that they are struggling to cope with the medical expenses, and neither the government nor has any other organisation stood by them.
The institute has so far admitted six patients with serious burns due to petrol bomb attacks, said Tariqul Islam, a resident doctor at the institute.
They are stable now, but some of them require surgery, he said.
The others are Abdul Jabbar, a rickshaw-puller; Mahmudul Hasan, who works in a garment factory, Shakhawat Hossain, a bus supervisor, Biprajit Bhawali, a mechanic, and Rabiul Islam Robi, a bus driver’s assistant.
The doctor said Jabbar suffered burns on 20 percent of his body, Mahmudul 11 percent, Sabuj 28 percent, Biprajit 7 percent, Shakhawat 10 percent, and Rabiul 17 percent.
On Oct 28, political tensions escalated around the antigovernment rallies organised by the BNP and the Jamaat. Criminals began to conduct arson and petrol bomb attacks on vehicles. According to the fire service, about 138 vehicles were set on fire from Oct 28 until Sunday evening.
In a fatal bus fire, a transport worker lost his life. Early on Oct 29, miscreants set an Asim Paribahan bus on fire while it was parked at the Deilla station in Demra. Naeem, the bus driver's assistant, died while sleeping inside. Rabiul, a colleague, was also injured in the fire.
On Nov 11, an Anabil Paribahan bus in Jatrabari was also set on fire, injuring Jabbar and Mahmudul. They were immediately taken to the hospital.
Zikrul Islam, Jabbar's elder brother, said Jabbar worked as a rickshaw puller in Rampura but struggled financially. He lived in Nilphamari with his wife and four kids. On the day of the fire, Zikrul moved Jabbar's family to Narayanganj to help them find jobs.
After finishing his work, Jabbar got on an Anabil Paribahan bus to visit his brother in Narayanganj, but the bus was set on fire by arsonists in Jatrabari.
"We are a poor family, already struggling to make ends meet. And now, my brother has been burnt in this incident. I'm borrowing money from relatives to pay for his treatment," said Zikrul, appealing for government assistance for his brother's medical care.
Mahmudul, another victim from the same bus fire, worked as a machine operator at Monira Knit Apparels in Narayanganj's Police Line area, and his family resides in Cumilla's Homna.
He recounted that he had been to Bashundhara City shopping mall to buy a mobile phone for a friend and was returning to Narayanganj. It was a normal day without any blockades. He was sitting in the middle of the bus as it entered Jatrabari.
"Suddenly, I saw flames erupting beneath my feet. I managed to escape through the window, but not before my legs and right arm were severely burnt," he described the harrowing experience.
On Nov 5, Sabuj, a Ramjan Paribahan driver, was on his way to duty in Meradia’s Bashpotti area when the Asim Paribahan bus he was in was set ablaze in that area around 7:15am.
His wife, Rusheda Begum, said they live in Merul Badda's Ananda Nagar.
She mentioned the driver attempted to drive the bus into a nearby pond to contain the situation, but Sabuj was injured in the fire.
On Oct 28, during the BNP's general meeting, arsonists set an Asia Paribahan bus on fire near the Islami Bank Hospital at the Kakrail intersection in the capital. This bus was being used by the police. Bus supervisor Shakhawat from Cumilla’s Chandina Upazila was injured in the fire.
His brother Alkas Mia, who works in a bedding shop, is looking after his medical care.
Alkas said the hospital is providing the treatment for free and will also cover the cost of any medications purchased externally upon presenting the receipts. Yet, the daily expenditures, encompassing food and medicine, have been averaging about Tk 2,500 daily since Oct 28.
Meanwhile, Biprajit and Anwar suffered burns when a covered van was torched in Gazipur's Kaliganj in the early hours of Nov 8. Initially, they were taken to the DMCH burn unit. Anwar, identified only by his first name, received first aid and then went home. Biprajit was subsequently moved to the Sheikh Hasina burn institute for further treatment.
Biprajit, a mechanic working for a private company, explained that he had been in Bogura to address an issue with one of their company vehicles. He was on his return journey in a covered van of the company when around 10 individuals halted them in the Kaliganj area, vandalised the vehicle, and then set it ablaze. He was burnt although he exited the van almost immediately.