Tag Archives: Chingari Trust

"Right to Live" dharna: parents of babies born malformed due to Carbide's poisons demand the children should receive free medical care

Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha
Bhopal Group for Information and Action
Bhopal Ki Aaawaaz

February 25, 2007
At a press conference in Bhopal today, parents of 14 children born with congenital abnormalities attributable to exposure to Union Carbide’s poisons demanded free medical care for their children and monthly pension of at least Rs. 1000 per month from the state government. 10 of these children had been successfully treated by the Chingari Trust set up by Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, leaders of survivors organisations sitting on dharna for the last five days demanding medical care, economic and social rehabilitation and protection from Union Carbide’s poisons from the state government.
Chromosomal aberrations have been found among the people exposed to Union Carbide’s toxic gases giving rise to apprehensions of birth defects among children of gas exposed parents. Several scientific studies by government and non-government agencies have confirmed the presence of several birth defect causing pesticides, chemicals and heavy metals in the ground water in and around the abandoned Union Carbide factory.
Studies by the MP Pollution Control Board have shown that pesticides such as endrin, dieldrin, carbaryl, methoxychlor and others that can cause birth defects are present in the ground water samples collected from the area. International environmental organization Greenpeace reported finding tetra-, penta- and hexa- chlorobenzene as well as lead and mercury in soil and ground water samples, all of which can cause birth defects.
The Chingari Trust was set up with a fund of Rs 56 lakhs that Rashida Bee and Champa Devi received with the Goldman Environment Prize awarded to them in 2004 for leading the campaign of the survivors of the Union Carbide disaster. Last year the Trust identified 100 children with different kinds of birth defects in the gas and contaminated ground water exposed affected communities. 65 of these children were seen by medical specialists from New Delhi and Bhopal at a health camp in December 2006.
The specialists found that an unusually large number of children suffered from cerebral palsy that causes total disability. The doctors also found children with cleft lip and missing palate and with disabilities related to vision, hearing and mental functions. According to them a large number of these children could significantly benefit from surgical treatment and counseling.
Rashida Bee and Champa Devi have so far organized treatment for 10 children with limb deformities, cleft lips and missing palates in New Delhi and Bhopal. Last month they apprised the Minister of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation about the findings of the health camp and have urged the state government to arrange for medical treatment of children born with malformations due to Union Carbide’s poisons.
The four organisations that are determined to continue with their dharna till the state government concedes to the demands of their “Right to Life” campaign have called for medical treatment of children with congenital malformations and monthly pensions to their families. They are also demanding monthly pensions for women who were widowed by the disaster, persons who are too sick to earn a livelihood, survivor families living below the poverty line and those above 60 years with no family to depend on.
Rashida Bi, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
94256 88215
Syed M Irfan,
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha
93290 26319
Shahid Noor
Bhopal ki Aawaaz
98261 82226
Satinath Sarangi, Rachna Dhingra
Bhopal Group for Information and Action
98261 67369
Contact : House No. 60, Near Cold Storage, Union Carbide Road, Chhola, Bhopal
Please visit www.bhopal.net for more information on the campaign for justice in Bhopal

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Chingari Trust to provide medical aid to gas victims' children

The Chingari Trust will back livelihood-generation projects for women victims
BHOPAL: The Chingari Trust, a non-government organisation devoted to the cause of Bhopal gas victims, announced on Saturday that it would be setting up a programme for inviting specialist doctors from all over the country to the State capital to identify children of gas or contamination-exposed parents with congenital abnormalities and suggest the best course of their treatment.
Chingari Trust was formed with the donation of $ 125,000, which was received as prize money by Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, president and secretary of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karmchari Sangh (BGPMSKS).
They were awarded the Goldman Environment Prize in 2004 in recognition of their leadership and ability to charter the course of the struggle for the cause of the gas victims of Bhopal.
The prize of $ 125,000 or Rs. 58 lakhs was given personally to the two leaders.
Though both women were the sole bread earners in their families, they chose to donate the entire prize money to set up the Chingari Trust.
Chingari is a non-profit, non-political registered charitable organisation working on various issues linked with the Union Carbide disaster of 1984.
It was set up in March 2005 with an all-woman Board of Trustees to promote activities that uphold the rights of the people poisoned by Union Carbide and through contamination of ground water.
The Chingari Trust Chairperson, Suroopa Mukherjee, and the two Managing Trustees, Rashida and Champa Devi, announced here on Saturday that besides working for the children of gas-exposed parents, who are suffering from congenital abnormalities, the Trust will also support livelihood generation projects for and by women victims.
The Trust has also instituted an award of Rs. 50, 000 to be given every year to a woman who has successfully fought corporate crime at the grassroots level.

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Rashida and Champa win "Nobel Prize for the Environment"

Rashida Bee and Champa Devi have been announced as the winners of the prestigious Goldman Prize. The prize, given annually “for sustained and important efforts” by six ‘heroes of the environment’ worldwide, entails a “no strings attached” award of $125,000 – the largest and most highly regarded award in the world for grassroots environmentalists.

Champa and Rashida have decided to donate the entire sum of the award money to a trust that will provide medical assistance to Bhopal children born with deformities, run income generating projects for women survivors and institute an award for ordinary people fighting extraordinary battles against corporate crime in India. They received their awards in a ceremony at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco today. They will also travel to Washington, D.C., for a presentation at the National Geographic Society. Other activities include meetings with relevant leaders and organizations, for example the U.S. Congress and the World Bank. One World Bank official told the BBC today, “We are very supportive of the Goldman Prize winners because they demonstrate exceptional courage and commitment, often working at great risk to protect the environment and, ultimately, life on Earth.”

The award cited Rashida and Champa’s “courage and tenacity… Despite their poverty and poor health due to toxic gas exposure, Bee and Shukla have emerged as leaders in the global fight to hold Dow Chemicals accountable for the infamous 1984 Union Carbide gas leak.” Rashida’s reaction was modest: “When I learnt that sister Champa and I had won this huge award our first response was that of a long silence. We knew a few individuals who had won awards. They were all educated people, spoke english and had email ids. ‘Has there been a mix up?’, we wondered.” We fancy that reaction was mirrored in Dow’s boardroom this very day.

“Every day more and more people are lending support to our struggle”, Champa said. “We are sure that we will soon have the support we need to bring Dow to its knees.”

“This award,” Rashida adds, “it affirms our struggle and makes the issues we are raising credible. It brings out the truth in our campaign. Dow has been trying to portray us as a fringe group with unreasonable demands. This award nails that lie, and shows that our campaign and demands are based in truth.”

You can download an MP3 audio file from the video of today’s ceremony here DOC1 – warning, BIG file.

Selected press coverage:

Associated Press article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer

San Francisco Chronicle

Tri-Valley Herald

News24.com (South Africa)

NZoom (New Zealand)

New India Press

BBC first and second


Agence France-Presse

Interview with Rashida in Grist Magazine.

From the Goldman Prize website:

The Bhopal Chemical Disaster: 20 Years Later
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Union Carbide gas leak that killed more than 20,000 people in Bhopal, India, the world’s biggest industrial disaster. Today, two generations of victims continue to suffer the consequences, but they’ve found new hope in Rashida Bee, 48, and Champa Devi Shukla, 52, two Bhopal activists who have ignited the international campaign to seek justice for disaster survivors. Bee and Shukla’s courage and tenacity have galvanized the grassroots in their own country and abroad. In the process, they’ve drawn low-income, illiterate women like themselves from the margins of society to the center of a closely watched showdown whose endgame is to hold chemical companies accountable for the gas leak and its deadly legacy.

The “Hiroshima of the Chemical Industry”
On Dec. 3, 1984, more than 27 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 have found mercury, nickel and other toxins in the local groundwater and dangerous levels of toxins including lead in the breast milk of women who live near the factory zone.

“We are still finding children being born without lips, noses or ears. Sometimes complete hands are missing, and women have severe reproductive problems,” according to Bee, who suffers from respiratory and vision problems from gas exposure.

Roots in Labor Activism
Bee and Shukla first met as employees at a stationery factory in 1986 where they founded an independent union to fight for better labor conditions and wages (traditionally male-dominated unions would not accept them). In 1989 the labor battle culminated in a 469-mile march to New Delhi. More than 100 women, many of whom had sold their jewelry and other valuables to be part of the march, presented a petition with their demands to the Prime Minister. The campaign eventually won them a wage raise and other important concessions.

“Beat Dow With a Broomstick”
Invigorated by their organizing victory, Bee and Shukla leveraged their union’s new-founded political power to seek justice from the chemical giants responsible for the gas leak disaster. Since 1984 Bee has lost six family members to cancer. Shukla, who has one grandchild born with congenital deformities, lost her husband and her health. Ten years after the incident, most survivors had received less than $500 of Union Carbide’s $470 million compensation payout, which has been mired in Indian bureaucracy and other delays. Dow Chemical, which merged with Union Carbide in 2001, maintains to this day that it has no liability in the industrial disaster.

In 2002 Bee and Shukla fought back by organizing a 19-day hunger strike in New Delhi to underscore their demands:

1. The extradition of Union Carbide Corporation officials and its former Chairman CEO Warren Anderson on criminal charges to face trial in Bhopal;

2. Long-term health care and monitoring for survivors and their children as well as the release of information on the health impact of the gases that were leaked;

3. The clean up of the former Union Carbide site and the surrounding area;

4. Economic and social support to survivors who can no longer pursue their trade because of illness or to families widowed by the disaster.

Their protest coincided with a month-long “relay” hunger strike in front of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. More than 1,500 people from 10 countries took part in what would become the first global hunger strike in solidarity with Bhopal survivors.

The women stepped up their efforts later that year by presenting brooms to Dow officials as part of their Jhadoo Maaro Dow Ko (“Beat Dow With a Broomstick”) campaign. In 2003 Bee and Shukla confronted Dow officials at their offices in Mumbai and the Netherlands with hand-delivered samples of toxic waste. A tour of more than 10 cities across the U.S. led to a passionate protest at Dow’s shareholder meeting in Michigan and a 12-day hunger strike and rally on New York’s Wall Street. Students from 25 colleges and universities organized nationwide rallies and thousands of people joined protests in the United Kingdom, China, Spain, Thailand and Canada.

Two years after purchasing Union Carbide, Dow stock prices dropped 13 percent. While the company has faulted the general economic slump, Forbes magazine has credited the “Indian-bred tort litigation” and “ruckus” raised by the series of demonstrations over the past two years as contributing factors in the decline of Dow shares.

Taking the Campaign to the Next Level
On the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, Bee and Shukla are ready to raise the stakes yet again. On May 13 they plan to attend Dow Chemical’s shareholders’ meeting in Midland, Michigan (the company’s headquarters) for the unveiling of a new resolution introduced by a socially responsible management firm. The resolution warns of the “reputation risk” to the company if it continues to ignore Bhopal survivors’ demands. International protests and coordinated actions targeting Dow’s bad corporate citizenship around the globe are also in the works.

“We have been fighting for many years now. Every day more and more people are lending support to our struggle,” Shukla has said. “We are sure that we will soon have the support we need to bring Dow to its knees.”

Fighting Dow in Court
Bee and Shukla have also taken their battle to court. In 1999 they joined other disaster victims and advocacy organizations in a class action lawsuit against Union Carbide seeking a clean up of the factory site and damages to cover medical monitoring and costs incurred from years of soil and water contamination. (Earlier, an appeals court judge rejected the plaintiffs’ request for damages stemming from the 1984 disaster but ruled that they could pursue damages unrelated to the disaster). In March the plaintiffs won a significant victory when a U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals judge ruled in their favor and against Union Carbide’s motion to dismiss. Eight U.S. members of Congress, including Reps. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) and Pete Stark (D-CA) filed an amicus brief supporting the suit; 18 other members of Congress have publicly called on Dow to provide reparations to Bhopal disaster victims.

The suit mirrors efforts to hold Dow accountable for environmental health disasters here in the U.S. In Midland, 300 residents so far have signed onto a suit against Dow for allegedly contaminating the Tittabawassee River with dioxin. The suit will seek class action status in April. Current and former residents of a predominantly African-American trailer park community in Plaquemine, Louisiana have filed suit against Dow for allegedly covering up the fact that vinyl chloride, a carcinogen, had seeped into their groundwater.

Mahila Shakti – Woman Power
The leadership of these two physically frail and diminutive women has lit a fire under the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal and catapulted the issue onto the global stage once more. In their journey from disaster victims to grassroots activists, Bee and Shukla have had to overcome the enormous stigma of their poverty, their status as women in a male-dominated society, and, in Bee’s case, illiteracy. They have also had to struggle with chronic health problems that can intensify on the campaign trail. During their 2003 hunger strike in the U.S., both women had to be rushed to the emergency room.

In the face of these challenges, they’ve been able to draw strength from each other’s skills and talents. Bee’s “big picture” vision and oratory passion make her a natural “front woman” while Shukla’s quiet diligence and strength make her a formidable organizing powerhouse. The women’s partnership is all the more remarkable because Shukla is Hindu and Bee is Muslim, religious factions with a long history of conflict in India. Together, they have made the struggle for justice for survivors of Bhopal a powerful validation of women’s role on the frontline of India’s civil society.

“A woman’s life involves discarding relationships that she has known from infancy and adopting strangers as her own,” according to Bee, referring to the cultural tradition of brides leaving their families to marry into those of their husbands. “If she can face the world outside at such a fundamental level, then why should any other struggle for empowerment scare her?”

Honoured by the international community: Rashida Bee and Champa Devi
Rashida and Champa with the Goldman Prize

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