Mumbai: People working with cancer patients slam Assam Health Ministers cancer, karma remark

Updated: Nov 24, 2017, 19:08 IST | Hemal Ashar | Mumbai

City professionals working in cancer space slam Assam Health Minister's cancer, karma, divine justice link

The Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma's remarks that some people suffer from life-threatening diseases such as cancer because of sins committed in the past are 'divine justice' continued to simmer through the day yesterday. A tremendous bollocking on social media resulted in Sarma telling people to look at his remarks in context.

The XYZ Foundation presenting Super Hero awards to cancer survivors. Some of the foundation's donors are in the background.
The XYZ Foundation presenting Super Hero awards to cancer survivors. Some of the foundation's donors are in the background.

No words
Sarma did say though, "God makes us suffer when we sin. Sometimes we come across young men getting inflicted with cancer or young men meeting with accidents. If you observe the background you will come to know that it's divine justice. Nothing else. We have to suffer that divine justice." Professionals working in the cancer space, even the most eloquent, struggled to come up with reactions to these statements by a Minister of Health.

YK Sapru, chairman CPAA, honoured ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas for his contribution in raising funds for cancer at a function in the city.
YK Sapru, chairman CPAA, honoured ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas for his contribution in raising funds for cancer at a function in the city.

Dismiss them
A senior cancer surgeon in Mumbai dismissed requests for a reaction simply saying that, "these comments need to be treated with the contempt they deserve." Goa's Dr Shekhar Salkar, president of the National Organization for Tobacco Eradication (NOTE) has a message for the Minister' "Sarma heal thyself.' Like most doctors, Salkar, an onco-surgeon says, "these sentences stem from ignorance. A man at the helm of health affairs cannot afford to be so ignorant. If this is divine justice, then shut all the hospitals for cancer care. Why have them at all?" Salkar asked getting worked up now and adding, "the cancer afflicted need empathy and support. Not irrelevant nonsense. On this premise, close all hospitals and have only religious institutions then." The doc, signed off with, "when you are in power you must know how to speak."

(From left) Himanta Biswa Sarma, Dr Shekhar Salkar, Anita Peter and Hoshang Gotla
(From left) Himanta Biswa Sarma, Dr Shekhar Salkar, Anita Peter and Hoshang Gotla

Show compassion
Cancer caregivers, those who have tears brimming continually on their eyelids as they watch their loved ones battle on, are appalled at the insensitivity. "These opinions are those of individuals but are outrageous and classically insensitive," says Mumbai's Dr Manish Agarwal. This consultant orthopaedic oncologist, added, "As doctors our job is to allay the suffering of the afflicted, the divine justice is in taking care of them, the injustice is in not doing so."

Hoshang Gotla, founder XYZ Foundation, a city non-profit working for different causes, just had a dance competition for youngsters, "where they raised Rs 10 lakh for cancer afflicted this year through donor passes and advertisements." Hoshang says, "it is very sad and unfortunate really that a Minister of such repute should make a statement. It is dreadful too for the relatives and friends of those suffering from the disease. It would have been far better if he had shown some compassion," said Hoshang, whose foundation felicitated young cancer survivors recently.

Emotionally broken
Mumbai's Dilnar Chichgar who used to work in the anti-mobile tower radiation space, (activists against mobile tower radiation do cite cancer as a prime concern) has one word for the Minister's statements, "disgraceful."A senior doc termed them as, "unbelievable and would be hilarious if they were not so hurtful." For Anita Peter, Executive Director, Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA), a 49 year-old organisation, providing aid to cancer patients, "Look at the parents of children who have this disease. They are financially and emotionally broken. Statements like these do nothing to help them. You are adding guilt to their burden, because they will think: is my child suffering because of what I have done?' Instead of these ludicrous words, do something for cancer patients. Take a round of Tata hospital and do something for the patients lying outside," finished the director.

The comments however they may be couched are shocking coming from a health minister. A doctor said simply, "he needs to pack his bags and go home." Another senior surgeon said, "Divine justice is when God gives him some wisdom, so that he stops making such statements."


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