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Instead of talking about past life, let us fix air pollution and chemicals in food and water

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Himanta Biswa Sarma, Assam Health Minister has kicked up a storm with his comment that people develop cancer and other life-threatening diseases because of their sins. The minister called these illnesses ‘divine justice’ at a time when there are 25 lakh people living with cancer in the country and over 7 lakh new patients who are registered every year.

ThePrint asks: Sins cause cancer: Has Himanta set off a religion vs science debate?

Most people do not know much about cancer except for being frightened of it.

Scientifically speaking, the normal cells in the body are all programmed to be born, perform a function and die. Before dying they divide into two new cells which perform similar functions and the cycle carries on this way, the medical term for this is ‘apoptosis’.

A cancer cell is a cell which is created either due to a genetic defect that a person is born with or a genetic defect that is caused by exposure to environment such as lung cancer and smoking or multiple sexual partners and cervical cancer. An external factor causes a genetic defect in the body and the cells stop apoptosis and start producing cells which don’t die. These cells which have immortality written on them, they continue to produce more and more of their own kind of cells. This cell that doesn’t die is called cancer.

In our knowledge of science so far, we have managed to figure out what genetic defects are and what defects are caused by the environment. Of course, we don’t know everything. The more we find out, the more we realise how much we don’t know, and the quest for greater knowledge continues.

Instead of talking about past life, something should be done about the pollution in the air and the chemicals in food and water. A generation ago, cancer was unheard of because of organic food; less hectic pace of life and no technology to emit immense amounts of radiation.

The government should make sure substances that cause cancer are banned. It is like living in the Middle Ages, instead of putting up defences they just wait for the next disaster.

There is no scientific basis for this comment. The esteemed health minister should talk to concerned experts in his state like AIIMS or the Tata Memorial who might be able to educate him a bit better.

Sidharth Sahni is a Surgical Oncologist at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi.

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  1. If a persons claims to be Hindu, he can not question law of Karma and Re-Birth. Every suffering is somehow linked to some past deed though it’s manifestation can be scientific, social or else. In the same vein it does not mean that those who suffer should not be cared. Rather if we do not do it, we will be doing wrong according to same law. So stop ridiculing the statement and face the fact.

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