How could anyone forget December 2, 1984—a day that sent shivers down India’s spine? More than 15000 people, men, women, and kids, lost their lives in just 48 hours because of the infamous Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Imagine a ton of methyl isocyanate (MIC) let loose into the air, all because some officials decided to play fast and loose with regulations. This invisible monster in the air didn’t spare anyone and affected an area of 100 km. Now, Netflix’s latest series, The Railway Men, takes a dive into the chaos of that tragic day to bring us face-to-face with the downright horrors that went down. The Railway Men isn’t just about the Bhopal horrors but a homage to the bravery of those railway employees who became much more than saviors that day.
How Was Union Carbide Heading Toward The Disaster?
Netflix’s The Railway Men begins with scientists at the Central Institute of Toxicology Research finding out that a chemical factory in Bhopal was planning to plonk three MIC tanks in the middle of the city. MIC was no joke; it was a dangerous chemical. When it reaches the wrong temperature, it transforms into a degraded form loaded with hydrogen cyanide. They didn’t warn people; they thought that the Indian government wouldn’t take chances with the people’s lives. Some wanted to warn others, but they were told to keep quiet. Union Carbide footed the bill for the test; they owned the results, they said.
The factory was the biggest chemical plant in the city and provided jobs to more than 2,000 workers. Union Carbide manufactures chemicals for crops, like pesticides. The main ingredient in these pesticides was MIC. Earlier, the factory didn’t manufacture it locally. They brought it from America on giant ships. Since the cost was enormous, the executives decided to install MIC tanks in India. For a couple of years, everything went well. Then, the executives started ignoring the safety measures. Refrigeration had stopped on the MIC tanks. The employees weren’t given masks and safety clothing. Those who protested against it, including Imad (Babil Khan), were dismissed and forced to hunt for another job.
Why Did Union Carbide Fire Imad From The Job?
Imad used to work at Union Carbide as a trucker and was earning good money. His role was to transport chemicals from the port to the factory. A few months into the work, he found out that the factory didn’t give them safety kits. Since he handled chemicals, a safety kit was a must. He asked his seniors about it, but they, too, said they weren’t given any such kits. Imad took this to his managers, but he was fired. However, Imad’s friend Ansari was still working for the factory. Unfortunately, he died while stopping a chemical leak. Ansari was like a brother to Imad, and he was deeply affected by his death. Since then, Imad has been working and gathering evidence to expose the corruption in the company. This was why he met with the reporter and told him everything he had seen in his last job. Imad’s mother, on the other hand, was against it. She believed Imad was digging too deep and would end up becoming a scapegoat. The reporter was good friends with Kamruddin, one of the workers at Union Carbide. He had been secretly searching for the paperwork that could prove that the company was disregarding every safety measure.
How Did The Gas Leak? What Happens To Kamruddin?
December 2 started out just like any other regular day. Workers got out of their beds and headed to Union Carbide to earn their daily wage. Things started to escalate when the MIC started reaching dangerous temperatures. It was also leaking in small concentrations, and if the pressure weren’t controlled, it would obliterate the tank. Kamruddin (Dibyendu Bhattacharya) and Ahsan tried to lower the temperature by using scrubbers and flare towers. But none of the security measures were working. Kamruddin had put in the request for repairs but hadn’t heard back. Also, due to the cleaning, water had been seeping into the MIC tanks for hours. There was a procedure that stated that the technician must place slip disks around the pipe while cleaning. This was done to ensure the water didn’t enter MIC tanks. Unfortunately, the company didn’t think it would be necessary to train people for this procedure. Ehsan and his juniors were responsible for cleaning the pipes, but they were never told about the slip disks.
Knowing they were hours away from disaster, Kamruddin told his workers to flee the factory. Since the factory didn’t even house gas masks, Kamruddin had to wet his handkerchief and wrap it around his nose. Kamruddin manually tried to lower the pressure but eventually died after inhaling too much gas. Soon, the leaking gas reached the population. People began to throw up, cough, and collapse in the middle of the road. Those who were young endured, while the elderly, infirm, and physically weak were the first to succumb. It didn’t take long for Imad to figure out what was happening. He tried to help whoever he could. Imad told people to get as far away as they could from the factory. But he, too, knew it wouldn’t do them any good. Soon, the gas reached Bhopal Station, and the sight there was much more terrifying. People were dropping like flies, and the station master couldn’t understand the reason for all of this. Kids, women, and the elderly were all being swallowed by the noxious gas. He gathered whoever he could and told them to seek shelter in the waiting room.
While some were trying to save lives, others were trying to wash the blood off their hands to avoid lawsuits and scrutiny. Union Carbide stated that the gas leak was the result of a disgruntled employee, not because of the factory’s negligence. Madsen, the manager of Union Carbide, shamelessly assured the officials that MIC wasn’t harmful and the symptoms could be treated with saline and eye drops. Like Union Carbide, Madsen, too, didn’t want to shoulder the blame for all those lives lost. Since there was no antidote, why create unnecessary panic? Madsen figured. The effects of MIC on people weren’t just limited to irritation and vomiting; it could lead to death and, at the very least, permanent lung damage and pulmonary edema.
Did Iftekaar And Imad Stop The Gorakhpur Express?
Iftekaar (Kay Kay Menon), the station master of Bhopal Junction, knew this was a great task, but he had no other choice. He wanted to send a message to Itarsi Junction to stop the Gorakhpur Express that was heading to Bhopal. If the train hadn’t stopped, the gas in the area would certainly have killed everyone on board. Imad and Iftekaar’s biggest challenge was the faulty communication line. Iftekaar asked Imad to head to the other side of the station and find the repair crew. Iftekaar hoped that maybe the repair crew would be able to fix the faulty communication. Time was of the essence, and Imad agreed. What Imad and Iftekaar didn’t know was that the Gorakhpur Express was dealing with another serious issue. Some rioters had boarded the train and were looking for any Sikhs on board. For those who didn’t know, 1984 was the year of great turmoil. This was the same year when Indira Gandhi launched Operation Blue Star to capture Bhindranwale. The terrorists had taken refuge inside the Golden Temple, and Indira Gandhi had no choice but to give orders to fire on the temple. As a fallout, Indra Gandhi was killed by her Sikh bodyguards. This gave birth to nationwide riots, and people started massacring Sikhs. More than 5000 Sikh families had to leave their houses and flee overnight. Imad reached the technicians, but they had already died. But before the leak, they had fixed one line. This could be a blessing in disguise, as it would allow them to use block phones to contact other stations. The plan was to inform the last station of the situation, which would then relay the information to another station and stop the train. Rati Pandey (Madhavan), GM of Central Railways, tried his very best, but the train had crossed Sukhi Sewania station.
What Are Rati And Rajeshwari Planning To Do? Is There An Antidote?
Bhopal Station was running out of water, and the toxins in the air were slowly sucking the life out of everyone. The only way to survive was to leave the station and go to a secure area. The problem was that there was only one engine, without a passenger compartment. Iftekaar and Imad figured they could attach the engine to the compartments of a freight train and use it to flee Bhopal Station. Meanwhile, Rajeshwari (Juhi Chawla) was doing everything she could to get help to Bhopal, but her superiors were less than interested. They said, Why risk any more lives by sending a rescue force? They rerouted every single train heading towards Bhopal, be it a passenger, special, or freight. Unlike them, Rajeshwari and Rati weren’t going to sit idle and let those people die. Rajeshwari was willing to risk her job and disobey every direct order. Rati was no different; he, too, was too impatient to wait for the chain of command to launch a rescue mission. He gathered everyone he could find. With ample help and supplies, he boarded a train and headed towards Bhopal. Rajeshwari also found out about an antidote: sodium thiosulfate. However, it only worked when it was administered early. Thankfully, Alex Braun (Connor Keene), who was in India in 1984, had connections with many pharmaceutical companies and suppliers. They were already preparing vials to send to Bhopal. Alex urged Rajeshwari to get it to people as soon as possible.
How Did Imad, Iftekaar, Prasad, And Rati Save Thousands Of Lives?
Gorakhpur Express was just a couple of miles away from reaching Bhopal station, or, in this context, the “jaws of death.” But Iftekaar saw this as a chance to save everyone. He figured if they could couple the compartments with the Gorakhpur Express, they could get everyone to safety. The plan worked, but during the commotion, many died, and many were left behind. But those on the train weren’t out of hot water just yet. The relief train from Itarsi was heading towards Bhopal Junction. The relief train was on a direct collision course with the Gorakhpur Express. Fortunately, Imad was at the right place at the right time, and he switched the tracks. Unfortunately, both Imad and Prasad lost their lives while getting everyone to safety. Rati took charge as soon as the relief train stopped on platform 1. Thanks to the joint effort of the railway staff and healthcare specialists, thousands of lives were saved. Everyone tried their very best to stop Rati, but his willingness to risk his own life for people he had never met inspired many. Like him, many threw their orders in the trash and left to help those in need. As a result, a relief train left from Jhansi while supplies and medicines arrived from Jabalpur and Indore.
Even though the scenes of The Railway Men were fictional and dramatized, they brilliantly shine a light on the atrocities suffered by the people of Bhopal. The Railway Men was also about those brave railway men and women who risked and sacrificed their lives to save those in need. Imad, Iftekaar, and Kamuruddin were all fictional characters created for the sake of telling the story. But they were inspired by those brave souls who saved thousands of people from certain death. Many attempts were made to stop them. They were bribed and threatened, but they chose to do the right thing. People like Rati, Iftekaar, Imad, Rajeshwari, and Prasad were real heroes. Many of them choose to sacrifice their lives so others can have a chance to live. While these brave men were fighting to do the right thing, those with actual power and authority to make a big difference were busy looking for a scapegoat. At the end of The Railway Men, we saw the railway minister trying to make Rati his scapegoat and pin every blame on him. People like him are a curse to society, while Imad, Iftekaar, Prasad, and Kamruddin are real blessings. Just imagine what would have happened if Rati, Iftekaar, and Imad had chosen to look the other way. It’s frightening to even think about it. Bhopal and its citizens will always be in debt to these brave railwaymen.