Sunita Tomar’s last piece of advice to her sons was exactly what she had been preaching for a major part of her short life — don’t chew tobacco.
The woman from Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind, who shot to prominence as the face of an anti-tobacco campaign, died on Wednesday, aged 28, after a long battle with cancer in a hospital in Gwalior.
According to family members, Sunita often counselled her sons — 13-year-old Dhruv and 10-year-old Kuldeep — not to chew gutkha or tobacco and never bring it for anybody from any shop if anybody asked them to do so.
Residents of the locality said that Sunita got furious whenever she saw any child or woman chew tobacco. She used to slap the children in particular, take them to her home and make them to take a resolution that they would never touch tobacco.
Sunita’s husband Brijendra Singh Tomar said, "We were bearing expenses for Sunita's treatment. In the past one-and-a-half years, we have spent about Rs 6.5 lakh. I have taken loan to meet the expenses. During the treatment at the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital, an NGO approached my wife for the advertisement. She did it to save others' life."
Talking to Hindustan Times, a resident Jagdish Singh said, "Sunita knew that she was dying but even in her short life after she was diagnosed with the disease, she managed to get many persons including children and women to give up their habit of tobacco chewing."
Many of the people in her locality — Bhimnagar in Bhind — treated her as their daughter-in-law.
Another resident Pranitesh Bhardwaj said, "We didn't know that she was a campaigner. We saw her as a passionate woman who was suffering from a fatal disease like cancer and wanted to save others from the disease."
He said Sunita not only wanted her sons but also those women who gave up the habit of tobacco chewing after her counseling, to carry on her anti-tobacco campaign.
A woman neighbour of Sunita said her family mainly her in-laws felt much embarrassed whenever anybody talked to them about the disease. That's why she mostly confined herself to her home.