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Himanta Biswa Sarma says cancer remark quoted out of context, but apologises

The Assam health minister’s remarks that some people suffer from diseases such as cancer because of sins committed in the past and that it is “divine justice” have sparked sharp reactions.

india Updated: Nov 23, 2017 23:40 IST
Utpal Parashar
Utpal Parashar
Hindustan Times, Guwahati
Assam minister,Cancer,himanta biswa sarma
Himanta Biswa Sharma termed the issue as an unpleasant controversy.(File Photo)

Facing flak over his remarks that life-threatening diseases were a result of past sins, Assam health minister Himanta Biswa Sarma on Thursday said he was quoted out of context and apologised to those hurt by the “absolutely mindless controversy triggered by few political desperados”.

His remarks that some people suffer from diseases such as cancer because of sins committed in the past and that it is “divine justice” have sparked sharp reactions.

Issuing a statement, Himanta, who handles several important portfolios in the state’s BJP-led government, termed the issue as an “unpleasant controversy” caused by “blatant distortions” of his speech.

Addressing a group of newly appointed schoolteachers on Tuesday, Sarma had said: “No one can go unpunished in god’s court if a member of his or her family does some injustice. Some people suffer from cancer, some die in accidents. This is all because of sins”.

The statement, which was widely publicised in national and international media on Wednesday, attracted derision and anger and many social media users accused the minister of being insensitive to cancer patients.

In his statement on Thursday, Sarma said his speech on divine justice and karmic deficiency was quoted of context. He said the intention of his speech was to urge teachers not to neglect poor students and asked education officers not to harass teachers.

Accusing a section of media and Congress party of playing up the statement, Sarma, who had lost his father to cancer, said he was pained at the agony caused to cancer patients and their relatives.

“A philosophical discourse designed purely to help poor students is being misused…..However, if owing to the blatant distortions, it has caused any anxiety and problems to anyone, I hereby offer my unconditional apology for the pain,” the statement read.

Some cancer patients said they were saddened by the health minister’s remarks at a time when it is an established medical fact that there are scientific reasons and various other parameters responsible for the disease.

BB Borthakur, the medical superintendent at the state- run Dr B Barooah Cancer Institute, seeking to downplay Sarma’s remarks told PTI: “I don’t think the minister made the remark on scientific basis but in a social context. I don’t think it is a matter to be made into a controversy. It is not a matter to be given so much importance.”

In his statement, Sarma also said: “I still believe divine justice will catch up with each and every one of us for trying to cash in on someone else’s pain to gain political mileage and cheap publicity.”

“Detachment from life, karmic action and rebirth are some of the core principles of Hindu philosophy developed over last 5000 years. Western thought process can never dominate or dilute the spirit and eternal meaning of our philosophy,” he reasoned.

Continuing with his defence, Sarma said, “Science has not been able to give answer to many of our perennial queries and therefore at our last moment, we are asked to pray GOD.”

“While I am not against science, I strongly believe there is strong merit in spirituality and teachings contained in Bhagvad Gita as well as those of our ancestors. The purity of the philosophy and its essence help us in bringing sanity and balance in life,” he said.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: Nov 23, 2017 23:07 IST