A perplexed Barman asked him, “Where? What fire?”
“Why? A big fire is raging in Central London. It is being shown on television here. We too, are baffled and watching. How come such a fire can occur in a country with so many of health and safety regulations? It could be believed had it occurred in a third world country like ours. Do you remember the lectures given by the western media when that Bangladesh garment factory collapsed, that they were bent on profit and had no care about human lives?” he went on.
“Wait. I will first watch the news. After knowing what exactly has happened, I will call you back.” Disconnecting the line, Barman went directly to the television in the living room. “Oh, God! What is this? Surely, this is a terrorist attack. Or else, how could an entire tower block be on fire.” At that time, more than 200 firefighters and over 40 fire tenders were trying to extinguish it. One hundred and twenty five families lived in the Grenfell Tower. At the time of the fire, at least 600 were inside. Barman kept watching the TV without batting an eyelid.
A worried London fire service commissioner said she had not seen such a big fire during her 29 years of service. She has strong suspicions about the fire. First, it was suspected someone had intentionally caused the fire. In Sri Lanka in the past, every terrorist act was blamed on the Tigers, or the JVP. Today, Europe too, is pointing its finger for everything at the IS, which it has nurtured.
Now, the true terrorists who caused the fire are coming to light. Followed by the Westminster attack in March. Then, the Manchester suicide attack. The London Bridge, Borough Market attack. Now, the Grenfell Tower fire. But, this is different. The best definition was given by Labour MP David Lammy. He said it was ‘corporate manslaughter.’ That is 100 per cent correct. The housing complex was renovated at a cost of 10 million Pounds a year ago. But, the recommended sprinkler system had not been installed. That would have cost 200,000 Pounds. The wealthiest borough in England, Kensington and Chelsea council officials have saved that money. The work was done below the budgeted expense. More than 100 lives were lost, but the council saved 200,000 Pounds.
As usual, the London Pub was opened on Wednesday afternoon, but none of those there were in a jovial mood. It being a weekday, most of our Sri Lankan customers did not come. The now retired doctor Bernard Helakumara and Priyantha, the ex-BBC, came to the pub. With them, Barman went to the upper floor of the pub and watched the Grenfell Tower which is still burning. A long time later, Dr. Helakumara said, ‘It’s a terrible tragedy,” while Barman and Priyantha tearfully looked at the pyre of more than one hundred of people. That brought to the Barman’s mind the terrorist attack on the Kolonnawa oil storage about 21 years ago. How, he had gone to Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra’s home with two of his friends and with him, went to see the burning oil tanks, jumping over the dead bodies. Barman waited for some time at the body of a Sub Inspector from Maharagama police he used to know. He was called by ‘Thani Aliya’ by the people of Maharagama, so called because he went for raids alone.
Climbing down the stairs, Priyantha said, “This is the darkest monument in London. Barman did not voice the pain in his mind.
Chelsea and Kensington is an area where wealthiest people of the world live. Most of the Arabian, Russian, Chinese, African oligarchs, the very rich business leaders with a great deal of political influence, live in South Kensington. This happened in North Kensington. Grenfell Tower was surrounded by super luxury apartments, whose prices start from one million Pounds. Among them live the poor in places such as Grenfell Tower. The Kensington Palace of Great Britain’s crown prince, the Duke of Cambridge William, and Duchess Kate and their children George and Charlotte too, is located nearby.
What is unbearable is that most of those living at Grenfell Towers were those who had come to England from various countries with hopes for a better life. Most were political refugees. The first body to be identified was that of a Syrian youth, who had fled the civil war in his country in 2014. He had been studying to become an engineer. Most were Muslims. A Muslim girl told the BBC, “They took revenge from us.” That was a very extremist remark. Muslim extremists have another excuse in it to cut the throats of hundreds of more innocent people. Extremism is fueled by extremism.
In the past year alone, around 220 people had lost their lives in fires. The main reason is that the building material used in England is highly inflammable, such as plaster boards, cladding etc. in order to keep the insides warm during winter. In Sri Lanka, such extreme fires do not occur due to the bricks and concrete. The British boast of their 21st century building regulations and health and safety regulations. Had such an incident taken place in a third world country, the export quotas of that country could have been cancelled saying the safety measures had not been followed. The whites do not practise what they preach to us. A year ago, a refurbished housing complex burnt to ashes within two hours along with more than 100 lives. It was officials of Kensington council who signed off that the building had fulfilled all the regulations. Every box in the health and safety form has been ticked off. This is fraud. Is this development? Is this a developed country? Is it development to allow the poor to die like cats and dogs? It is really true that this was corporate manslaughter.
Ghanaian Alfred Auha who lives in a similar tower block nearby told Barman while having a pint, “Labour spent, spent, spent. Conservative cut, cut, cut”, which is the reality in British politics in a few words.
From 2010 onward, Britain is being governed by the Conservative Party. Throughout history, Conservative rules saw social inequality. The recent London fire is just one dark spot of that social reality.