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Sarma’s bizarre philosophy

Assam Health and Finance Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has made an unpardonable statement. He has rationalised cancer suffering as divine justice for sins committed. It is true that a government cannot do very much to relieve the suffering of cancer patients. But a Health Minister, irrespective of which party he belongs to, cannot blame cancer patients for their suffering and on non-medical grounds. Sarma has refused to take back his irresponsible comment and on the contrary quoted from Hindu philosophical doctrines to attribute cancer suffering to punishment for karma. In these circumstances, disease is mystified and even vaccination comes under attack. Very often politicians blame victims of crime such as lynching by cow vigilantes and assault on women. The failure of governments to uphold the rule of law is thus justified. Sarma’s statement can be taken as a rationalisation of Assam’s failure to look after public health. Cancer, according to Biswa Sarma, is said to be the result of sins committed in past life. Public health service is then deemed to be tantamount to disrupting the course of divine justice. In such a case, Biswa Sarma does not have to take his office as Health Minister seriously.

A recent study reveals that cancer has caused a much higher percentage of deaths in the 40-69 age group in the North East compared to other backward states. Assam has the lowest life expectancy and highest disease burden. Biswa Sarma himself has regretted the lack of adequate treatment facilities in his state. As Health Minister, it is he who is responsible for remedying this state of affairs. Cancer sufferers may be blamed if smoking causes the illness. But not karma as Biswa Sarma has done.


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