The character of Jagmohan Kumawat in Netflix’s series The Railway Men is based on the real-life journalist Rajkumar Keswani. A considerable chunk of the Netflix’s series is based on articles and reports written by Mr. Keswani before and after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. He was the first journalist to report the deadly effects of the toxic gas methyl isocyanate (MIC) and tried to raise the alarm, but alas, no one really listened to a feeble voice on the streets. In the aftermath of such ignorance, the Multinational Corporation, Union Carbide, turned the entire city into a graveyard. It was too late to make amends, as the toxic gas kept scarring the residents for decades to come. It not only killed hundreds of people but also crippled thousands for decades. The resilient journalist tried to put up a fight against Goliath like a true Davidian hero, but in real life, he didn’t see any mythical outcome. The Railway Men series begins with Jagmohan Kumawat watching Warren Anderson leave India, thereby underscoring the fact that he had already lost the battle and that the innocent people who became the victims of the Bhopal Gas tragedy would never get justice in a country like this one.
But how did Mr. Keswani find out about the unscrupulous practices of Union Carbide? In The Railway Men series, we came across a character named Imad Riaz (played by Babil Khan), who informed Jagmohan Kumawat about MIC, the toxic gas that took away the life of his dear friend Mohammed Ansari (real name: Mohammad Ashraf). Before going forward, it is important to point out that Babil Khan’s character is entirely fictional. In real life, it was Mr. Keswani’s friend, Ashraf, an employee of the treacherous chemical plant, who inhaled the toxic gas due to a leak and died on December 25, 1981. According to the reports, Ashraf died because of the manager’s careless mistake. Ashraf’s duty time was over on the night of December 24, but the manager asked him to open a valve that hadn’t been opened for over 3 years. Before opening the valve, Ashraf confirmed three times with the manager whether there was poisonous gas inside it, which the manager denied consistently. But as soon as it opened, the phosgene gas leaked from it and came directly into contact with Ashraf’s body. He was kept in the factory dispensary and was later sent to the hospital, where he took his last breath.
Soon after Ashraf’s tragic death, Mr. Keswani started looking into the company’s records and its practices. He found out about several cases of negligence that raised an alarming threat to the residents of the nearby areas. The report on safety measures that were shown in The Railway Men series is also real. In order to warn the public and the government, he published several articles in his weekly Hindi newspaper, “Rapat.” But unfortunately, no one really paid any attention. For the locals, the Union Carbide chemical plant was a considerable source of income and employment. And the government wasn’t really bothered about carrying out an investigation until the big players sent their timely gifts to the ministers. As Jagmohan Kumawat rightly said in the Netflix series, no one spends a sleepless night over finding the truth until they or their loved ones have personally faced its consequences.
The character of Kamruddin is also based on Mr. Keswani’s close friend, Bashirullah, who helped him get his hands on the company’s confidential documents. These reports became the foundation of Mr. Keswani’s newspaper articles that highlighted the lack of safety standards. It was true that Union Carbide was suffering from huge losses during that period of time, but that doesn’t give anyone the excuse to put their workers and the residents’ lives at risk. As correctly shown in the series, the workers lacked proper training and the availability of proper safety gear at the time of the gas leak. Several pieces of safety equipment were missing from the factory, and even the pipelines were in shambles, but due to their cost-cutting strategy, the company didn’t bother replacing them so as to protect their own people. They neglected their responsibility until it was too late to make amends.
Mohammad Ashraf’s wife has also been portrayed in the Netflix series, whose real name is Sazda Banu. She was the same woman whom Babil Khan’s character had promised to receive from the Bhopal Junction. On December 3, 1984, the woman arrived at the station through the Lucknow-Bombay Express late at 1:30 a.m. At that time, she had her two kids with her, Arshad and Shoeb, who quickly came into contact with the toxic gas along with their mother. Sazda fainted on the platform, only to wake up in the hospital with her children missing. Later, she found out about the demise of the elder kid, while the younger one was crippled for life. Earlier, she had lost her husband to the same poisonous gas, but she was never compensated for her losses. A woman’s entire family was lost to the tragedy, and there was no one who fought for her justice.
As correctly portrayed in The Railway Men series, Mr. Keswani was present at the Hamidia Hospital on the night of the tragic disaster. However, as per our research, the character of Kamruddin’s wife might be fictional. But the photos of the victims that we saw in the series are the original photographs that Mr. Keswani took during his visit to the hospital. It was only after the tragedy had taken place that people realized the value of Mr. Keswani’s articles and the warnings that he had been trying to convey for a long time. Only if the general public and its government had paid heed to them earlier could a horrible tragedy have been averted and millions of lives would have been saved.
After the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, Mr. Keswani was awarded numerous awards in journalism, and the man continued serving the population. He stayed in Bhopal until he took his last breath on May 21, 2021, at the age of 70, leaving behind his son Raunak and wife Sunita. As per the reports, Mr. Keswani developed some complications after coming into contact with the COVID-19 virus. It is true that the Bhopal gas tragedy affected the immunity of the entire population of the city, because of which their bodies became susceptible to the virus. Whatever the case might be, Mr. Keswani was an unsung hero who tried his best to prevent a disaster. His endeavors would be remembered till the end of eternity.