On the night of December 2, 1984, in the central Indian city of Bhopal, a massive poisonous gas leak from a Union Carbide pesticide factory killed 8,000 people. Over the course of 20 years, the infamous disaster has caused an estimated 20,000 deaths, countless birth defects, and a litany of other serious health problems.
Champa Devi Shukla together with fellow disaster victim Rashida Bee are helping to lead an international campaign against Dow Chemical and its subsidiary Union Carbide. In 1999, they and other disaster victims filed a class-action lawsuit against Union Carbide, a case that is still making its way through the U.S. court system.
In 2002, Champa Devi and Rashida Bee organized a 19-day hunger strike in New Delhi, demanding that former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson face a criminal trial in Bhopal. They also called for Dow to provide long-term health care for survivors and their children, clean up the former Union Carbide site, and supply economic support to survivors who can no longer work due to illness. That action has been followed by hunger strikes, protests, and rallies by activists around the world, an outcry that Forbes magazine has blamed for a drop in Dow's stock price.
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.
The pair shared one of six 2004 Goldman Environmental Prizes.