The furore involving the comment of State Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma regarding dreaded cancer, linking it with bad karma and divine justice — is very much in line with some politicians purveying their peculiar gyaan on public platforms, however unscientific and unrealistic it may be. While speaking at a teachers’ meet, Sarma while delivering homilies to teachers to carry out their responsibilities honestly and sincerely, went so far as to comment that the sins of past lives can visit people, inflicting them with incurable diseases like cancer or fatal accidents. Needless to say, such a bizarre comment from a minister entrusted with the Health portfolio has hurt the sentiments of more than 18 lakh cancer patients across the country. They will be left wondering what misdeeds they or their forefathers committed in this or earlier lives. This sort of karmic logic can have no end, leaving people perplexed and dispirited. For cancer specialists seeking to inspire their patients that a positive mindset and never-say-die spirit can contribute much towards effective treatment, such a fatalistic comment threatens to undo all their good work. It is also strange that Sarma said these words in a gathering of teachers whose prime motto should be to promote scientific temper among students. However, Himanta Biswa Sarma is not alone. In May this year, Tamil du Dairy Minister KT Rajenthra Bhalaji contended that consuming milk produced by private companies can cause cancer. According to him, private companies adulterate milk with various chemicals so that it does not get spoilt for days, but these chemicals end up ‘giving cancer to children’. When asked what proof he had to make such a claim, the minister said he was collecting information and planned to sue such companies. This January, the country was regaled by Rajasthan Education Minister Vasudev Devni’s comments on the usefulness of cows. According to the good minister, the cow is the only animal that inhales as well as ‘exhales’ oxygen, its dung can neutralise radioactivity, and its close proximity guarantees relief from cough and cold. Devni happens to have a BE in electrical engineering, and has stoutly defended his comments to be based on research studies!
In August last, Bihar Health Minister Mangal Pandey tied himself up in knots when he asserted that a ‘virgin’ is a girl “who is unmarried”. The controversy arose over a marital declaration form issued at the government-run Indira Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences in Pat, asking recruits whether he/she was a ‘bachelor/widower/virgin’; there were also questions as to how many times recruits have been married, whether a married male recruit has ‘only one wife living or more than one wife’, and whether women recruits were married to a person ‘who has a wife’. In April last, BJP’s former Rajya Sabha member and president of India-Africa Parliamentary Friendship Group Tarun Vijay, had a foot-in-mouth moment when asked in an Al Jazeera show about racist attacks on African tiols in India. In reply, Vijay said: “If we were racist, why would we have all the entire South (India) which is… you know Tamil du, you know Kartaka and Andhra… why do we live with them? We have black people all around us”. These are but some of the outrageous comments by politicians and ministers this year (excluding more controversial issues like rape). In earlier years, there have been proposals like the one put up by Madhya Pradesh Animal Husbandry Minister Kusum Mehdele, seeking a law to allow people to keep lions and tigers as pets, so as to aid their conservation! Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been no stranger to controversies with her penchant for bizarre comments — once responding to a question in the assembly over rising incidents of rape in the State by pointing out that Bengal’s population ‘is also swelling’, and then observing: “There are more cars now. Shopping malls are increasing. Young boys and girls are becoming more modern”.
Such statements drive home the fact that ratiol thinking which should be the benchmark of any vibrant and healthy society appears to have taken a backseat in this country. Mixing up pseudo-logical thinking with mythological/philosophical/religious allusions is a dangerous cocktail. Across the world, many countries are witnessing such trend, that too in this 21st century when science and technology are expected to unveil many exciting new vistas. Islamic fundamentalism is one such scourge, perpetrating deadly onslaughts on free thought. When political leaders and persons occupying important public posts make comments that fly in the face of ratiolity and scientific temper, there is all-round dismay. This is particularly so in India, but is hardly surprising, considering the ridiculous lengths of superstition some politicians go to when filing nomitions to get elected, letting astrologers determine when they will take oath of office, or vaastu experts to plan their office layout. In this context, many educationists agree that quality education is the need of the hour, so as to create a proper ecosystem for ratiol thought and action. Developing scientific temper, humanism and spirit of enquiry and reform is enjoined by our Constitution as a fundamental duty for all citizens. Sadly, a section of our political leaders are failing to set an example here.