A dignified life for elders

With sons and daughters at their side they live a good long span of years, both decked with precious gold.– Rig Veda VIII 31, 5-9

There was a time, long ago, when the old did not have to worry about old age, because they had hands to hold, people to listen to them, and take care of them. That was the time, when in India, people lived in a Joint Family. When, people believed that it was their duty to take care of their parents who had given them their precious life. When people believed in fulfilling their duties because they were on the path of Dharma. However, with the present generation believing in the concept of Nuclear Families, the elderly are finding themselves all alone at a stage in life when more that the financial needs, one has emotional requirements.

Old age today

In a country where 2/3 of the population is below the age of 30, it must seem strange bringing up the topic of old people and the problems they face. However, if the statistics were brought to light, it can be seen that in India there are 81 million senior citizens. Unfortunately, the statistics also show that an estimate of 40% of these senior citizens, living with their families, are reportedly facing abuse of one kind or another. Withering of Joint Family system has contributed to the challenges faced by elderly. Once the children move out of the house, the elderly are forced to live alone and thus face problems ranging from financial to emotional.

The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, which punishes children who abandon parents with a prison term of three months or a fine, was enacted in the year 2007. However, it can be seen that the situation is still grim for elderly people in India. The elderly are still being evicted out of their own house by their own children. Sometimes, they are made to sell their property and none of the income from it goes to them. With no other place to go, these elderly citizens head for the old age homes. Unlike abroad, where the state run old age homes are good, here the government run old age homes are in a dilapidated state with no proper sanitation or health care services. Not all the elderly in India are in a position to afford the state of art private old age homes.

A new concept has also come to light. These days, since both the husband and wife are working, they bring in their elderly parents into their homes as caretakers of their children. It can also be seen that the elderly living alone become victims of crime like burglary and murder. It is indeed a sorry state of affairs for the old in India.

An Unprotected and a Bleak Future

Unlike abroad, where children are expected to take care of themselves, financially, and are no longer the responsibility of the parents after the age of 18, in India, parents are responsible for their children till the time they get settled in life. Settling down age varies from 22 to sometimes 26 years of age. All this while the parents give both emotional and financial support to their children. And the young take it for granted. Most of them do not feel any moral obligations towards their parents once they walk out of the house.

Sadly, while the parents are busy taking care of their children, they fail to realize that they need to think of a future for themselves which is financially sound. They do not realize that health is the first to leave when old age sets in, and in India it can be seen that most of the old have not obtained a health insurance at the right time when they are younger.

A citizen at the age of 60 and above is considered to be a senior citizen and once this age sets in, the premium on health insurance is too steep.  And thus when the old fall sick, they are unable to fend for themselves and have to look for help from their children. Unfortunately, the young forget that these are the same hands which took care of them financially and emotionally when they were sick as children and either turn away their face or act as if they are an unnecessary load to their responsibilities.

A Time To Fight Back

The elderly should not lose the most important part of a human life and that is Dignity. They need to know that the Government of India has introduced various schemes for their benefit. Some of them being-

  1. The National Housing Bank – has introduced a ‘reverse mortgage’ scheme under which a senior citizen owning a house in India can avail of a steady monthly stream of income against mortgage of the house. The senior citizen remains the legal owner and occupies the house throughout his or her lifetime, without repayment of the loan. Regulations are to be initiated for creation of mortgage guarantee companies.
  2.  Exclusive health insurance schemes for senior citizens offered by select Insurance Companies.
  3. The Maintenance of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill of 2007 – This bill facilitates care for the maintenance of aged parents, establishment of old homes, provision of medical care and protection of life and property of senior citizens.

The elderly should once again educate themselves, this time about the rights and privileges that they have.

Conclusion

A quote in Hindi by Munshi Premchand comes to mind which says “Budhapa Bachpan Ka Punaragaman Hota Hai “, which means, old age is like the beginning of a new Childhood. And leaving the elderly all alone to fend for themselves, even with financial assistance, is like leaving a child alone. After all they have dedicated their lives for us. Can we not give a few moments of our lives to them?