Sunita Tomar lost her fight against cancer but her memory will linger long for her anti tobacco campaign. There mustn’t be too many Indians who haven’t watched her video while watching a film in a theatre, on TV or in ad campaigns in other media.
In her last 5 years of life, she was more visible than any of our top models – easily so. Because she was not ‘modeling’ anything for money, or endorsing a product. She was brave enough to hold up her life, and her fatal mistake of tobacco addiction, as an example for others. She was a real role model in that sense…of what one must NOT do.
Sunita Tomar sounded a much needed warning. She is among 10 lakh people in India who lose their lives due to tobacco use every year.
Yet after this brave girl succumbed to her malaise recently, leaving bereft her family and her little kids, her husband lamented that they had no received any financial help from the Central Government in their long and costly battle against cancer.
“All she received was a shreefal – a coconut” says her husband Tomar, a driver by profession living in Madhya Pradesh.
Sunita , the face of India’s anti-tobacco campaign, died on Wednesday morning after her cancer which was treated in 2013, relapsed. She was 28.
The mother of two, in a 30-second video campaign, had spoken boldly about how tobacco and the resulting mouth cancer were devastating for her and her family. “Tobacco chewing devastated me financially, physically, and mentally. It ruined my family life”, she had said.
Just two days ago before she passed away ,Sunita Tomar had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which she said “When I started consuming tobacco, there was no warning on its ill effects. I did not know that tobacco chewing would lead to cancer and spoil my life. After being through the pain, I decided to warn other users through my experience.”
The heartfelt letter was written after BJP MP DK Gandhi suspended a proposal that asked tobacco companies to stamp health warnings across 85 per cent of the surface of cigarette packets. He had also declared that India has little independent evidence to link cigarettes and cancer.
“I am shocked that people in such high posts can be so irresponsible. Bigger warnings can probably save some innocent lives like mine” Tomar wrote in the letter.
The 28-year-old was operated for mouth cancer in 2013, but returned to Tata Hospital in Mumbai last week complaining of breathlessness.
“She was breathless and had lost 15 kg. Her cancer had recurred and progressed. We started treating her but within two-three days she said she was missing her children and wanted to get treated at her native place in Madhya Pradesh,” Syed Jaffri of the Tata Memorial Hospital said.
Deepak Sawant, Maharashtra’s Health Minister, told NDTV, “We have to take Sunita’s drive forward. If we convert her fight into a law, it will be a true tribute to her”.
“I am sure her campaign must have saved millions from picking up the habit. She made me promise that we will continue our battle”, said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi who treated Ms Tomar at the Tata Memorial Hospital.
Sharad Pawar too joins Sunita in condemning M.P. Gandhi’s pro tobacco statements
NCP chief Sharad Pawar an ex C.M. of Maharashtra and cabinet Minister at Delhi, is also a cancer survivor., He supported Sunita and ridiculed Dilip Gandhi a, BJP MP from Ahmednagar, over his comment on link between tobacco and cancer, saying “some public representatives who are medical experts, have said tobacco doesn’t have any adverse effects.”
“I am not an expert in medical field. I used to consume gutka so I suffered this (oral cancer). I had to undergo operation. My lower and upper teeth had to be removed,” Mr Pawar told reporters at Ahmednagar.
“I did that (underwent treatment) in time and that is why I came out of this. But i some ‘knowledgeable’ public representatives say this (tobacco) doesn’t have any effect. “It seems these people have a deep knowledge of medical science,” Mr Pawar said.
After he created a controversy with the statement that there is no Indian study linking tobacco with cancer, Mr Gandhi recently also said that tobacco actually improves digestion.