Madurai leads the way in implementing The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act in Tamil Nadu

Palabhishekam, a retired Audit Officer, recalls the day his relative Krishna Thevar, an elderly man was assaulted with sickles in his Thirumangalam farmland, by a gang allegedly set up by his own daughters and sons-in-law. “They went for this extreme step just for property ,” says Palabhishekam. “The daughters demolished the house the old man was staying in and they are still on the lookout for him. There is threat to his life from his own children.”

Such cases sometimes get reported in the media. There are many more that don’t see light. Elders are easy targets for both family members and outsiders. They form a vulnerable section of the society, living their twilight years, physically drained and mentally fragile. “Old people are harassed by family members for their pensions and properties. Young sons and daughters start to see their aging parents as a liability,” says Alagarsamy, a former tahsildar.

Almost 45 retired officials gathered at the office of the District Superintendent of Police, for a meeting convened by Helpage India and the Police. Under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act that was passed by the Central government in 2007, a set of guidelines have been formed to monitor and control rising crimes against old people in every district. “We are roping in retired officials to be volunteers in every police station so that they can help the police in solving cases of elders being harassed, threatened, robbed and murdered. This is the first time in the state that such volunteer groups are being formed at the district level,” says A.Mayil Vahanan, Additional Deputy Superintendent of Police, Head Quarters, Madurai District. “The Act also calls for proper respectful treatment of aged parents by their children. The first step in implementing the Act is to collect and maintain a database of old people in police stations. And the neediest of the lot will also be listed out and monitored regularly. Deserted and neglected old people will be given extra attention by the volunteers.”

“The volunteers have been identified and suggested based on the positions they held in the past,” says B.Udayakumar, Development Officer, Helpage India. “The problems of the elderly can be better understood by these volunteers and they would act as a liaison between the police and the victims. Regular meetings will be conducted at the station and district levels.” A total of 119 volunteers have been suggested for the 49 police stations that fall in the rural district.

The volunteers at the meeting, pointed out that majority of the crimes against elders are perpetrated by the family members. Assaulting, robbing and murdering oldies are often done by people known to them. “Elders who stay alone are the most gullible. Even neighbours, who help them, take advantage of their situation and strike,” says C.Sundararaman, retired police officer. “Our culture says that one should take care of their parents, but these days the values are deteriorating. Madurai is listed among the districts that are most unfriendly towards elders.”

Volunteers urged that elders entering police stations to lodge complaints should be treated with respect and regard by the Sub-Inspectors and Inspectors. “Most times, our complaints are not even paid heed to. Often elders are made to wait for a long time in police stations and certain times, the officials use disrespectful lingo,” says Karmegam, a retired DSP, one of the volunteers.

V.Balakrishnan, Superintendent of Police, assures, “We have taken note of their apprehensions and a separate orientation programme will be organized for the staff and a list of rules will be issued to them on their conduct towards elders who come to police stations.”

Cases registered under the Act, cannot be taken to the police station directly and can only be enquired by a tribunal consisting of the Superintendent of Police or City Police Commissioner, Social welfare officers, members from NGOs working for the rights of old people, a judge and a legal advisor. “The next step is to set up the tribunal. Once the volunteers identify cases and refer them to the stations, the tribunal will start enquiring,” says Udayakumar. “NGOs like us will counsel the family members and sensitize them towards the elderly. Otherwise, the next resort would be to threaten them citing the Act and the possible punishments it can incur.”