At a moving ceremony at the American Public Health Association, Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla were honoured with the Association’s Occupational Health & Safety Award.
Rashida and Champa were, predictably, articulate and passionate. Many among the audience were moved to tears. No surprise, commented our correspondent, given that those present were people who had committed themselves to working with the most neglected sections of the working class.
Many individuals offered the Bhopalis whatever support they, as public health professionals, could deliver and discussed the possibility of working together to deal with the ongoing medical nightmare in Bhopal.
Our poor correspondent (hello Nity, please give Apa and Didi a big Bhopali hug from all of us) was himself too overcome by emotion to write more, but the following account comes from Agence France Press.
“I wanted to jump out of the plane because the headache was so unbearable,” said Champa Devi Shukla, still in pain after inhaling toxic fumes in the world’s largest industrial disaster in India 20 years ago.
“The painkillers and sleeping tablets helped me make the flight here,” said the 52-year-old woman, recalling her long journey from the central Indian city of Bhopal, where she leads a campaign to seek justice for survivors of the toxic gas leak from a pesticide factory that killed more than 14,000 people.
Shukla and Rashida Bee, 48, another Bhopal survivor and co-leader of the campaign, came to the United States to receive an award Tuesday from the American Public Health Association.
After each received a plaque from the largest US organization of public health professionals, the two physically frail and diminutive women vowed to continue their fight against American giant Dow Chemical, the current owner of Union Carbide, which ran the ill-fated plant.
“In the 20 years that have passed, there has not been a single day when the victims have slept without taking medicine to sooth their pain,” Bee said after receiving the award to mark the 20th anniversary of the December 3, 1984, chemical disaster.
“Despite all the medicine, their health keeps falling,” she lamented. “For the drug companies this is a silver lining but for us it may be just slow, painful death,” she said through an interpreter, as tears welled in her eyes and Shukla’s.
The duo have “lit a fire” and catapulted the issue onto the global stage, said the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, a global coalition of nonprofit groups and individuals seeking justice for survivors.
“I have worked in the field of occupational and environmental medicine for over 25 years and this is clearly one of the worst tragedies that has occurred,” Barry Levy, a physician specialist, at the award ceremony told AFP.
“Not only do we need to recognize this but we also need to recognize the tragedies that go on in smaller numbers day in and day out throughout the world through chemical exposures,” he said.
Agence France Press
Meanwhile the ICJB have issued a press release reiterating demands for the extradition of Carbide ex-CEO Warren Anderson. Please see the full article.
BHOPAL ACTIVISTS DEMAND ex-UNION CARBIDE CEO’S EXTRADITION
10 NOVEMBER 2004, WASHINGTON D.C. —
Members of the Association for India’s Development-Maryland and the International Collective for Justice in Bhopal today held a peaceful demonstration outside the Indian embassy in Washington D.C. They pressed the Indian Government to expedite the extradition of former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson and deliver piped drinking water to Bhopal communities that are currently drinking water contaminated by poisons leaching from Union Carbide’s toxic wastes that lie strewn in and around their factory site in Bhopal.
The demonstration was led by Champa Devi Shukla and Rashida Bee – two women trade union leaders and gas victims from Bhopal – who received a prestigious international award from the American Public Health Association on 9 November in Washington D.C.
Warren Anderson and Union Carbide Corporation are wanted in India to face criminal trial on charges of manslaughter for his role in exporting an inherently unsafe factory to Bhopal, and authorising cost-cutting measures that compromised on safety. These two factors were key in causing the disaster. Despite assurances given by Anderson and Union Carbide that they would honour court summons from India, both parties have failed to appear in court to face trial. In fact, they were both declared fugitives from justice in 2002.
Public pressure from the Bhopal survivors and their supporters forced the Indian Government to send an extradition notice in May 2003 for Anderson 12 years after the court directed such action. Earlier this year, the US Government returned the extradition notice for Warren Anderson sent by the Government of India in 2003. “The Indian Government should have the courage to challenge the US Government and demand the extradition of Anderson. It is shameful that the US and Indian Governments are protecting a known fugitive and a person responsible for the world’s worst industrial disaster,” said Shukla.
The demonstrators also urged the Indian Government to ensure the clean-up of the toxic wastes and contaminated groundwater in and around the Union Carbide factory site at the polluter’s cost. They have said that neither Dow Chemical – Carbide’s new owner – nor the Governments of US and India would be allowed to rest easy until the Bhopal issues are resolved.
On December 3, the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, people and organisations around the world are expected to take action against Dow Chemical. More than 100 groups have already signed on to www.bhopal.net indicating their plans to take action on or around December 3.
For more information, contact: Diana Ruiz – 415 999 9064. Visit www.bhopal.net