Old, Harassed and Abused: Story of the Indian Elderly

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It has been almost seven years since Mamata Prasad (75) has last met her family members--son, daughter-in-law and nine-year-old granddaughter. The septuagenarian, an inmate of an old age home in New Delhi has only one wish left in her life, i.e., to hug her family members before she dies.

Mamata, a widow, was forced to stay in the old age home after her son and daughter-in-law started harassing her over "petty issues".

"My son and daughter-in-law used to constantly fight with me over petty issues. They told me that they cannot look after me anymore. I have no other option, but to leave my home of almost 50 years and stay in an old age home. I have not met my family members for last seven years," said Mamata as tears welled up in her eyes.

Elders Day

Mamata is not alone in her plight.

Suren Choudhury, an octogenarian from Jorhat in Assam, has also a similar story to share.

"My wife has died some eight years back. Both my sons are settled in European countries. They don't come to Assam. Neither do they call me. I am leading a lonely life," lamented Suren (82).

Suren said that it was very hard for him to conduct his day-to-day activities.

"I am old and suffering from several ailments. Moreover, I have financial problems too. I have no one to look after me," cried Suren.

Stories of Mamata and Suren are reflection of our times. Is the younger generation too busy to share love and time with their old parents or grandparents?

Old and their angst

Activities working for elderly population of India say that greying population of the country has nobody to look after them. Not only they are forced to lead lonely lives in their sunset years but are harassed and abused by their family members. What happened to traditional Indian ethos, known for showing special reverence to their senior people?

Figures reveal some shocking realities. One in every three senior citizens is abused in India, states the latest report by HelpAge India, a voluntary organisation, working for the elderly people.

The report by the NGO further says that 50 per cent abuse cases come from within the family. In 56 per cent of the cases, sons were the chief abusers while in 23 per cent cases, daughters were the culprits.

Some of the abuse are as brutal as severe beating of elderly people by their own sons, daughters and daughter-in-laws.

"The study throws some shameful facts. Most of the elderly people don't report abuse against them to protect family honour," said a member of HelpAge India.

Who is a senior citizen?

In India, a person above the age of 60 is generally considered as a senior citizen. Government of India has given various tax benefits, travel and health care facilities specially meant for its elderly people to help them lead a normal life.

Old and their numbers in India

India is a young country with a massive 51 percent of its 1.2 billion population younger than 25 and two-thirds below the age of 35. But the number of elderly people is also growing with 113 million Indians expected to be older than 60 by 2016, up from 81 million now. That figure is seen swelling to 179 million by 2026.

World and its elderly population

Every ninth person in the world is aged 60 and above and their numbers will increase to one in five by 2050, numbering two billion elderly, said a latest report by UN released on Monday, Oct 1.

Those over 100 years of age too will witness an exponential 10-time growth from 316,600 in 2011 to 3.2 million by 2050, the 'Ageing in the Twenty-First Century: A Celebration and A Challenge' report said.

In the report, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) as well as other UN entities and international organisations like HelpAge International said the population of the world's aged was growing steadily, leading to increased concern over their income security. The world population in 2012 is just over seven billion.

UNFPA and Help Age International says India will beat China - the world's most populous nation - hands down in the number of centenarians.

By 2050, India is all set to have around 1.51 lakh and 6.2 lakh centenarians.

Reasons behind the rise in numbers of elderly people

Giving reasons for the increase in the ageing population, the UN report pointed out that life expectancy rose substantially in the recent years.

"Life expectancy at birth has risen substantially across the world. In 2010-2015, life expectancy is 78 years in developed countries and 68 years in developing regions. By 2040-2050, it will increase to 83 years in developed regions and 74 years in developing regions," the report said.

Old and their problems

Gerontologists say old people suffer from varied problems. Right from health related issues to psychological and sociological problems, elderly people are in need of immediate help. However, the most urgent problem is the economic crisis faced by the senior citizens.

Although exact figures are not available, Radha S Murthy, managing trustee of Nightingale's Trust, a Bangalore-based NGO says that large numbers of elderly people are in need of jobs to secure their financial status. The NGO has organised several job fairs, specially meant for the elderly, to help them find jobs as per their skills.

Laws protecting the old people

In Dec 2007, a law was passed by Parliament, according to which Indians who neglect their ageing parents could be jailed. The government said that the law was passed as a large number of elderly are mistreated in the country.

The Government of India approved the National Policy for Older Persons on Jan 13, 1999 in order to accelerate welfare measures and empowering the elderly in ways beneficial for them. This policy included the following major steps :
(i) Setting up of a pension fund for ensuring security for those persons who have been serving in the unorganised sector,
(ii) Construction of old age homes and day care centers for every 3-4 districts,
(iii) Establishment of resource centers and re-employment bureaus for people above 60 years,
(iv) Concessional rail/air fares for travel within and between cities, i.e., 30% discount in train and 50% in Indian Airlines.
(v) Enacting legislation for ensuring compulsory geriatric care in all the public hospitals.

In spite of several laws in place, the reality is that elderly people are the most ignored and harassed ones in the society. On International Day of Older Persons also known as World Elders Day, which is observed on Oct 1 every year, there is a need to sensitise the younger generation to love and respect their elders.

Is it asking for too much?

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