Sunita Tomar, 28 the face of India’s tobacco battle, died at her native village in Madhya Pradesh in the wee hours of Wednesday. She was earlier admitted to Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital where she expressed her last wish to spend time with her kids and family.
“She was very weak and we told her she has very less time left. Her family had exhausted their finances for her treatment and the social welfare department at the hospital was funding her treatment,” said Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck oncosurgeon and department head at Tata hospital.
Two days before she died, she wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about her dismay at BJP MP Dilip Gandhi’s statement in his capacity as chairman of Lok Sabha’s Committee of Subordinate Legislations that there are no Indian studies linking tobacco to cancer.
In her letter she wrote: “Recently Dilip Gandhi chairman of a Parliamentary panel wrote to the Health Ministry asking for the notification on bigger tobacco pack warnings to be kept in abeyance. I was shocked that people in such high posts can be so irresponsible. Bigger warnings can probably save some innocent lives like mine. You have started to take people along in your Mann Ki Baat where you recently talked about de-addiction. I hope you will also take up the cause of tobacco,” Sunita wrote to the prime minister before her death.
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“Sunita came to us three days back with breathing difficulty and weight-loss. She had lost 12kg. We were suspecting a relapse. She was just 28 and mother of two young kids. Though she is only one of the 10 lakh Indians who die every year because of tobacco, I am sure her campaign must have saved millions from picking up the habit. She made me promise that we will continue our battle and she also wrote a letter to PM Modi to share her personal tragedy,” said her doctor Pankaj Chaturvedi, head and neck surgeon at Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Hospital, where Sunita was admitted three days ago.
(With inputs from Tabassum Barnagarwala)