Old-age policy requires a paradigm shift where the thrust is towards active and productive involvement of older persons and not just their care

Indians take pride in having always revered elders, and see it as a social duty to take care of them. This view was incorporated into the Indian Constitution by way of Article 41 of the Directive Principles of State Policy, which called upon the State to secure the right to work, education and public assistance in case of unemployment, old age, sickness, disablement and undeserved want. Article 47 directed the State to raise levels of nutrition, standard of living and public health.

But between the spirit of the law and the reality of policy, what is the truth?

According to the 2011 census, 96 million Indians (8.2 per cent) are 60 years and above. Of them, 64 to 70 million live Below the Poverty Line, fighting unemployment, ill health and lack of opportunities to advance. A significant proportion of elders is forced by circumstances to work — to take care of themselves and their families. All they need is support from the State and society to live in dignity.

Government policy, however, tends to look at the elderly as a drain on resources, as a group that is economically non-productive and has no contribution to make to national development, including social development, and growth. The thrust of policy has been to prevent vagrancy and destitution amongst the elderly. Even in this, the government is both callous and parsimonious — it has fixed narrow limits on the number of elderly who will be supported.

Nor has there been meaningful sensitivity to the special needs of the elderly in transportation, health, accessing pubic services or food supplies. Despite these systemic problems, however, old people in India continue to contribute directly and indirectly to the economic growth and prosperity of their families, community and the nation.

Old-age policy requires a paradigm shift, away from the more limited view of looking at the problem as one of ‘welfare’ and ‘destitution’ prevention to a wider perspective aimed at creating a humane, age-integrated society where the thrust is towards active and productive involvement of older persons and not just their care. The elderly should be seen as key resources to nation building and crucially, as knowledge transmitters — of cultural values, historical traditions, skills and professional competencies — from one generation to the other.

The writer is the Director, Centre for Law, Policy and Human Rights Studies & Supreme Court-appointed Adviser for Tamil Nadu on Food Security

Photo contest

The Hindu, in association with Birkbeck, University of London, and the Centre for Law Policy and Human Rights Studies, Chennai, is holding a national photo competition, The Working Elderly.

This is your chance to get involved in making the work of elderly people visible. Let’s get them the recognition they deserve by showing them in a positive light. Submit pictures, vote for the pictures you like and share them on social media. Encourage everyone you know to participate with photo entries or as voters.

The prize money is Rs. 20,000, Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 5,000 for the first, second and third places respectively. Three runners-up will receive commendations. The Most Voted Picture will receive Rs. 5,000. The judges are Aruna Roy (social activist), Rajiv Menon (filmmaker and cinematographer) and D. Krishnan (Photo Editor, The Hindu)

Entry closes at 11 p.m. on July 21. For details and to view photos, visit www.thehindushutterbug.com.