Shiv Rawail brings the horrific events that unfolded in Bhopal on the night of December 2, 1984, to the screen with his four-part Netflix Hindi mini-series ‘The Railway Men.’ Stationmaster Iftekaar Siddiqui helms the narrative as he, alongside other railway workers, takes heavy responsibility for people’s survival within a powder keg situation. However, a different story unfolds leading up to the gas leak, one with Union Carbide worker Kamruddin at its forefront.
Despite Kamruddin’s minimal screentime and premature death, the man plays a significant role in the narrative through his courageous undertaking of exposing the company. Although he fails to see the task to fruition, Kamruddin leaves his mark on the viewers through his moving self-sacrifice in ensuring his colleagues and fellow residents’ ultimate safety. For the same reason, Kamruddin’s character leaves the viewers speculating about his real-life origin.
People Behind Kamruddin
Within ‘The Railway Men’s’ narrative, Kamruddin’s character finds numerous plotlines despite his one-episode exclusive appearance. As a higher upper in charge of management in the Union Carbide pesticide factory, Kamruddin is closely knowledgeable about the inner workings of the factory. Consequently, the same means the man knows the factory’s shortcomings better than anyone. As such, the worker is also colluding with local reporter Kumawat, who has a bone to pick with Union Carbide, to expose the company for its unsafe working conditions.
These two narratives also occurred in real life. In Early December 1984, a Union Carbide factory in Bhopal broke down, leading to a fatal toxicity overtaking the night air over the city streets. The same incident becomes the basis for the show. Nevertheless, prior to the incident, malfunctions and minor gas leaks were already running rampant across the factory. In fact, the factory’s persistent negligent practice surrounding safety protocols meant that one leak occurred every month and was routinely detected only after it started adversely affecting the workers’ eyes.
“We were human leak detectors,” said Suman Dey, one of the Union Carbide workers. According to his and numerous others’ testimonies, the valves in the Bhopal factory were “notorious for leaking.” Furthermore, broken gauges and a practiced ease around neglecting to watch temperature had become the norm.
Therefore, the problems eventually built up until a grave accident involving improper pipe cleaning led to the devastating major gas leak on the night of December 2. As such, the part of Kamruddin’s storyline that focused on the lead-up to the Union Carbide Leak has an evident basis in reality, put together through various recounts of different factory workers.
Likewise, Kamruddin’s involvement with Reporter Kumawat regarding his expose about the company is also pieced together through real events. Kumawat’s character harvests inspiration from the real-life journalist Rajkumar Keswani, who worked on numerous articles criticizing the Union Carbide factory’s environment. In doing so, the man received help from two former employees and union leaders at the company, Bashir Ullah and Shankar Malviya. “Interestingly, even as I was searching for a helping hand within Union Carbide, Bashir and Shankar, too, were looking for a friend in the media,” said the reporter. “They were upset that they were not getting proper coverage in the local press vis-à-vis their employer.”
Thus, the duo worked together to help Keswani write his articles about the company. As such, these two men likely served as inspiration for the journalistic aspect of Kamruddin’s storyline. However, despite the numerous points of similarity between reality and Kamruddin’s story, his character is also infused with multiple fictional details. For instance, the man’s climactic sacrifice remains one of the most prominent facets of his character.
Nonetheless, in real life, there are no records of a Union Carbide Factory worker laying down his life in circumstances identical to the ones Kamruddin undergoes in the show. Therefore, constituting fabricated and true details, Kamruddin remains a fictional character who takes inspiration from real-life people and events.