What on earth is the matter with our national capital of ancient heritage? Everything seems to be going wrong with it. Girls seem to be in frequent danger of being raped. Students get beaten up. Racism leads to murder. Corruption is rampant. Corrupt Ministers are named and the Chief Minister claims he is an anarchist. And now, a daily The Free Press Journal (January 28), reports that a study conducted by two Delhi University professors show that 86 per cent of the senior citizens of the city, abused by their children, are finding it difficult to approach the police or courts due to their “insensitive nature”.
According to the report, 98 per cent of the elderly who face abuse “do not file any complaints against their perpetrators as they are not aware of their rights or unable to communicate their plight due to their physical conditions.” As many as 75 per cent of the surveyed people reportedly said the reasons for children not taking care of their parents are “change in the social fabric, influence of western culture and increase in individualistic approach towards life.” Are conditions in this context representative of conditions everywhere in India or is Delhi unique? Here are some facts as reported by SK Kulkarni in his recently published book The Art of Ageing. As many as 47.3 per cent elders are abused by their own children. There are 70 million 60 years plus elderlies in India and the number is expected to touch 177 million by 2025 and 326 million by 2050. Spouses follow the next at 19.3 per cent, other relatives and grand children follow at 8.8 per cent. Only one in six cases gets reported according to a report, released on the eve of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day by Helpage India.
The survey found that 83 per cent of senior citizens silently faced abuse mainly due to “family honour”. All this is frightening enough. Worse still is the fact that elders also are victims of “outsiders and anti-social elements” who rob, sexually abuse and even murder elders without leaving evidence of their actions behind. It is not that there is no law to help the aged and helpless.
A Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007 exists which is largely unknown to aged parents, especially among the poor and lower middle classes. The problems of the aged in India are attributed to two major facts. One, the break–up of the ancient joint family system in which elders enjoyed respect and good care from the youngsters and two, loss of respect towards elders who are seen as more a ‘burden’ than a responsibility.
In recent times, notably in the last three decades, old age homes have become the fashion where parents, especially if they don’t have friends, can be dumped. Today, especially among the well to do it is not a shameful thing to place their parents in Old Age Homes, except that there aren’t too many of them. What is not to be forgotten is that, even if more such Old Age Homes are available, the need is so great that even a hundred Old Age Homes won’t suffice the genuine need felt in each State. And then, of course is the emotional aspect that is not taken note of, the reluctance of the aged to be literally dumped into such homes. But what are the options in today’s rapidly developing world? One theory is that it is better for an aged couple to live in an Old Age Home then to be left uncared for in their children’s residences, abused and constantly made to feel unwanted.
The truth is that India is passing through a transitional stage and time alone will tell what is socially acceptable and what is distressing to the aged.