Not A Country For Older People

By Dr. Kavita Suri

A little over three weeks ago, a video of a woman ruthlessly beating her old mother went viral on the social media. Shot by a neighbor of this 85-year-old Sikh lady Gurcharan Kaur residing in Kalkaji area of New Delhi, the video sparked an outrage among the people and media forcing the Delhi Commission for Women (CCW) to act and help the old frail lady being abused in the video.

What surfaced was a harsh reality of the modern relationships in transforming India. This 85-year-old mother used to get a regular beating by her 60-year-old daughter. In the video, she is clearly seen abusing her mother, slapping and dragging her and then pulling her inside the house. The DCW chairperson Swati Maliwal who visited the old lady with her team told the media later that the old lady had brutal marks all over her body. The old lady who has five daughters and a son however refused to register any case against her daughter for this abuse.

This incident is indeed is a bitter truth about the modern-day India which is increasingly becoming a country unfriendly to the elder people. This incident is also a pointer towards hundreds and thousands of such elder-abuse cases which occur in all parts of India everyday but nobody speaks up about the issue. Elder abuse, in fact, is on rise world over and impacts the health and human rights of millions of older persons also known as ‘elderly’ or ‘senior citizens’. India, unfortunately, is also not immune to elder abuse which occurs in any relationship where an older person is subjected to physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and financial abuse.

Till few years ago, elder abuse which is now becoming a serious public health and societal issue, was hidden from the public view and considered mostly a private affair. Even though the families do not speak about such an issue openly, however the elder abuse has got an official recognition from United Nations. Every year, 15th June is observed as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations since 2006. Besides, each year, Ist October is observed as “International Day of Older Persons’ by the United Nations General Assembly since 1991. Both the days aim to highlight the issue of elder abuse and aging and also develop an understanding about abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.

Aging and elder abuse has become a major concern world over. Rightly so because in the next nine years, the world population of people aged 60 years and older will be more than double, from 542 million in 1995 to about 1.2 billion in 2025. The incidence of abuse towards older people is predicted to increase as many countries are experiencing rapidly ageing populations.

Elder abuse is a major issue in India too which is the second most populous country after China. Although India will be the youngest country in the world by 2020 with a median age of 29 years, the number of elderly people is likely to increase significantly after that, according to a report entitled “Elderly in India 2016” by Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation Government of India. It says that both the share and size of elderly population is increasing over time. From 5.6% in 1961 the proportion has increased to 8.6% in 2011. For males it was marginally lower at 8.2%, while for females it was 9.0%. As regards rural and urban areas, 71% of elderly population resides in rural areas while 29 % is in urban areas.

Presently, India has also the second largest elderly population in the world after China. The size of elderly population has risen from 12.1 million in 1901 to 77 million in 2001. As per Census 2011, India has nearly 104 million elderly persons (aged 60 years or above) in India; 53 million females and 51 million males. India’s demographic structure is expected to shift dramatically from ‘a young to an aging population’ resulting in 323 million elderly persons, constituting 20 per cent of the total population, by 2050.

The global population of elderly has increased in the past 60-70 years for various reasons including life saving drugs, control of famines, control of various communicable diseases, better awareness and supply of nutrition and health facilities and comparatively better overall standard of living.

Sadly, with the increase in the population of the elderly, there is an increase in elder abuse too. A Help Age India report says that one in every four elderly persons faces abuse in India including beating and forcible sexual contact. They are disrespected, verbally abused, neglected, exploited for property, slapped and beaten. Besides facing abuse from their families, the elderly population also suffers on various health accounts like locomotors disability, hearing impairment, poor eyesight, asthma, arthritis, depression, or diabetes, neglect of other health aspects etc. In the absence of any adequate social security schemes, this big rise in the number of India’s elderly population is going to be a major cause of concern in the days to come.

With the change in social structures in India and the joint family system disintegrating, children migrating to cities for better future, poor economic and social security conditions etc., the elderly population of India is finding itself more vulnerable. Among the elderly population, elder women are worst sufferers as they are not economically independent, have to depend on their husbands or children for money. Those woman who have lost their husbands, find themselves increasingly on the receiving end. They feel left out, neglected, beaten and abused regularly. There are instances wherein the women were pressurized to transfer financial assets in the name of their children and once it was done, they were thrown out of the house. An infamous case discussed informally in Jammu social circles often is about an old lady whose son and daughter-in-law got her to Jammu for the pilgrimage to Mata Vaishno Devi but left here only.  Though the elderly face many kinds of abuse, they seldom complain about this treatment. Things are bad also in the absence of adequate social security schemes for such elderly population.

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Though the Government of India approved ‘National Policy for Older Persons’ for accelerating welfare measures and empowering the elderly in 1999 and adopted ‘Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act’ in 2007, which provides legal sanctions to the rights of the elderly, yet things are not very bright on the ground. Besides, constitutional provisions for old age security, old age pension, establishing old age homes, etc. have also been undertaken but the benefit of such schemes is hardly reaching the people who need them the post. India is hardly sensitive to the needs of the elderly. There is not much going on in gerontology (study of old age). Most hospitals do not have a special geriatric facility. At present most elderly patients are still being treated in general medical wards.  Similarly the nursing and other para-medical staff is not formally trained in providing care for elderly patients. The elderly people are also not aware about the government schemes and provisions.

There is a dire need to take adequate measures to safeguard our aging population. The families should inculcate values of care and respect for the elderly among their children so as to create an age friendly society. The needs of the elderly people including old age security, establishing old age homes, expanding geriatric services etc should be met. Besides institutional care, thrust should be rekindling and strengthening family support where multi-generational families of parents, grandparents and children should be encouraged. Communities can play a big role in engaging the elderly, in fact some skill enhancement or skill building of elderly population can also be done so that they keep themselves busy.

(The author is working as Associate Professor, Department of Lifelong Learning, University of Jammu)

 

 

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