Champa Devie Shukla (left) and Rashida Bee pose with their award during a reception in honor of the 2004 Goldman Environmental Prize Winners, 21 April 2004, at National Geographic in Washington, DC.
Long-term fighters for justice for Bhopal and survivors of the
worst chemical disaster, Rashida and Champa have won the Goldman
award for leading a trade union struggle for the livelihood rights
of more than 80 women survivors, and rehabilitation and justice for
all victims of the disaster. They have mobilised thousands of
survivors from the slums of Bhopal by making them aware of their
rights and the pending liabilities of Union Carbide, which is
currently owned by DOW Chemical Company (2).
Rashida and Champa Devi's have travelled the world to gain wide
support and to bring attention to the ongoing tragedy of Bhopal
(3). "This prize will go a long way in helping reconstruct the
lives, jobs and health of people devastated by Union Carbide/DOW.
In addition, we will use a portion of the money awarded to set up
our own national prize in India for those people, who are also
fighting against corporate crime", said Champa Devi.
In the course of their struggle and campaigning, both women have
faced strong pressure and harassment. They have been threatened
with lawsuits and arrested by the police during protests (4). "The
Goldman Award for Bhopal puts Union Carbide's legacy squarely in
DOW's face. The world is awakening to the crimes in Bhopal and this
award shows that DOW can no longer ignore the Bhopal liabilities it
has acquired. The longer DOW stalls in meeting their liabilities,
the worse it will be for the company and its shareholders",
On December 3rd, 1984, more than 40 tons of poisonous gases
leaked from a storage tank at a Union Carbide pesticide factory
into the heart of Bhopal city, immediately killing 8,000 people.
Since then, more than 20,000 deaths have been attributed to the
disaster. Survivors and their children continue to suffer long-term
health effects ranging from cancer and tuberculosis to birth
defects and chronic fevers.
Multiple studies, including a Greenpeace environmental
assessment in 1999 at the disaster site, have found mercury, nickel
and other toxins in the local groundwater and dangerous levels of
toxins. Many of the people, who continue to live in the vicinity of
the factory, including survivors of the deadly gas leak, are left
with no alternative but to use groundwater contaminated with toxic
pollutants. Greenpeace and the International Campaign for Justice
in Bhopal -ICJB (5) urgently demand DOW Chemical to take full
liability for this disaster.
"This celebration today is a clear recognition for their
struggle that has been going on for the past twenty years to reach
justice. It is a struggle that will continue until corporates like
Union Carbide and DOW are held responsible for their crimes," said
Casey Harrell, Greenpeace US campaigner.
Greenpeace is also calling for international agreements to be
established to hold corporations criminally and financially liable
for industrial disasters and ongoing pollution.
Notes: (1). Goldman Environmental Prizes are awarded for sustained and important efforts to preserve the natural environment, including, but not limited to: protecting endangered ecosystems and species, combating destructive development projects, promoting sustainability, influencing environmental policies and striving for environmental justice. Each year six grassroots individuals from six regions of the world are recognized as "environmental heroes". Rashida Bee and Champa Devi were awarded the environmental hero of Asia. (2). In February 2001, Union Carbide became a full subsidiary of DOW chemicals. (3). Rashida Bee went to Johannesburg in August/September 2002 to bring her case forwards to attendants of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, where she also opened a photo exhibition on the ongoing Bhopal tragedy by the Indian photographer Raghu Rai. During 2002, Rashida, Champa and other survivors travelled on various occasions to Europe to bring their case forewords to DOW managers, politicians and other decisions makers and to show solidarity with other victims of corporate crimes. In May 2003 Rasida and Champa campaigned in the US where they - finally - had a face to face meeting with the DOW CEO to discuss the case of the Bhopal tragedy and ongoing needs of the survivors. (4). Arrested along with 65 other activists under charges of Criminal Trespass into the DOW-Carbide premises on November 25, 2002, when a clean up of the premises was attempted by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. Subsequently, the Chief Minister of the State of Madhya Pradesh announced that he was dropping charges against all those who were arrested that day.(5). The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) is an umbrella organisation of all the groups who have joined forces to campaign for justice for the gas survivors of Bhopal. The ICJB is spearheaded by survivors (the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh) and long-time supporters like the Bhopal Group for Information & Action