J.R. Gupta leads an organisation that gives the elderly an opportunity to come together
Every morning, between seven and eight, an interesting sight unfolds at New Delhi's Deer Park. As many as 500 senior citizens assemble there to hang out with each other. “Come rain or sun,” one among them is Safdarjung Enclave resident J.R. Gupta. “I try to be a little earlier than the rest,” he says — the reason being that he is the president of the Senior Citizens Council of Delhi, the organisation which facilitates this large daily get-together of of older persons, many of whom have no one to turn to.
As the Council president since 1997 and having spent some more years before that as a member of the organisation, Gupta has seen the gradual growth of the body. No wonder, pride is palpable in his tone when he says, “We have 2500 members with 22 area representatives spanning from Gurgaon to Mayur Vihar. This makes us the largest association for senior citizens in Delhi.” The shed at the Deer Park was made by the city Government some time ago, which Gupta says, is a one-off contribution from the authorities. “Otherwise, we are on our own. We charge Rs.1200 as life membership, which is our corpus. Since we are so large in number, even if we collect Rs.50 from each one, it is a considerable amount. We sometimes do that to organise Council events.”
To cut the overheads, Gupta has turned a room in his house into the Council office. “My children are well settled, I have all the time after retirement,” says the former Central Government employee. With files mounted one on top of another, the office has a busy look. He explains, “We have a lot to do. We regularly write to the authorities about problems faced by our members or issues which affect senior citizens at large. Take the recent rule that those above 75 should not be allowed to drive on the city streets. We took it up seriously; the authorities had to back out.”
From one of the files, he culls out a recent letter to the Government listing a stream of suggestions. They include requests for identity cards to the city's senior citizens, extending the 50 per cent concession in railway tickets to women senior citizens too, and to set up recreational centres for the elderly in each municipal ward.
“We have also written to the Chief Minister to raise the pension given to senior citizens from Below Poverty Line from Rs.1000 to Rs.1500,” he says. In 1999, the Ministry of Social Justice formulated a national policy for older persons. “Till today, nothing has happened, all is on paper,” he rues.
Support and company
But Gupta's contentment springs “from the fact many city elderly today can depend on the Council.” With joint families fast disappearing from our society, he points out that many elderly today find themselves living alone. “Their biggest problem is finding company. Through the Council, they meet every morning and then in groups in the evenings. If a member falls sick, our volunteers take them to the hospital for free.”
The Council also acts as a negotiator if there are issues between the members and their children. “We have taken up even petty issues with their daughters-in-law. We try to tell our members that even young people today have a lot of problems, so we should try to understand each other's problems,” he says. Recently, the Council collected data after interviewing many young Delhiites on whether they want to take care of their parents. With a satisfactory smile, he declares, “Eighty per cent of them said they want to, hamare sanskar abhi bhi zinda hain.”
Yet another Council activity is to take the culturally driven older persons to various ICCR programmes. Gupta was also instrumental in setting up an exchange programme for senior citizens with the Government of Mauritius and Nepal.
With International Day of Older Persons falling on October 1, Gupta is all geared up for a celebratory function. “Among other things, we will felicitate members who are above 90. We will then have dinner together.” The Council has about 20-25 such members. “Since we have a lot of 80- and 70-plus members, at 67, I am a spring chicken,” he says laughing.
(Senior Citizens Council of Delhi runs a 24-hour helpline. The number is: 011-26197771)