Elderly women, especially those who are over 80, are the most vulnerable group — often poor, widowed and categorised as mere recipients of dole

In a country where youth power is increasingly fêted, this bit of hard fact just can’t be wished away. The number of the oldest old (80 years and above) is the fastest growing segment of the world’s population and is increasing more rapidly than that of older persons (60 plus), leave alone the general population. It’s the case in India too. But our policymakers seem far from realising this. The Status of Elderly Women in India — A Review’ (Gyan Publishing House), just brought out by the New Delhi-based Guild for Service — is a warning bell for our policymakers.

Veteran social activist V. Mohini Giri, chairperson of Guild for Service, points out more details from the book she has edited. “The reality is, a vast majority of the 80 plus population live in our rural areas which have the least facilities. And among the oldest old, women constitute an especially vulnerable group being widows, being women, being poor and having longer years to live than men.” And that is one of the reasons why the 250-pager focuses particularly on elderly women.

Ms Giri says serving as the chairperson of the committee that drafted the National Policy for Older persons was an eye opener for her. The committee submitted its report to the Central Government nearly two years ago — and is still awaiting implementation of its recommendations. The book is rich in documentation of people on the cusp of coming into the ‘oldest old’ bracket. “I thought it would be a good idea to document insights of some eminent people whom I interacted with while drafting the National Policy. It is an attempt to present the collection of articles to all those who are senior citizens now, many of those who are going to become senior citizens, and the youth who need to respect silver,” says Giri.

With a foreword by the late Justice J.S. Verma, the book speaks of an assorted aspect of the life of elderly women including their human rights, safety and healthcare. It addresses the stereotypes associated with ageing and examines the impact of the National Policy on them.

“In India, family still provides support to an overwhelming majority of older persons. The National Policy should go beyond acknowledging the family support and take concrete measures to facilitate and reinforce the continuation of this system. Public-private partnership model should be devised to deal with the care and other aspects of this challenge,” writes veteran activist in the field, M.M. Sabharwal, a Padma Shri awardee who also got an OBE from the British Government for serving the cause.

Padma Seth, former director of Bal Bhavan, long associated with the cause of women empowerment and child rights, says “Today, more than ever, the country needs knowledge and services of their aged to rejuvenate and infuse faith and confidence into the despondent youth who are confused in the fast changing ethics of today. Our national economy is far from being robust and our Government’s commitment to education and health policies remain unfulfilled for want of good educators, committed complement of doctors, nurses and auxiliary forces in all areas of study and work.

Added to this, there is no National Policy for the aged except to look at them as recipients of doles.” Among other contributors are artist Anjolie Ela Menon and dancer Shovana Narayan, veterans in their respective fields. While Ms Menon talks about being “compelled to paint” at age 72, Ms Narayan expounds on how age and experience add to a dance form. To prove a point, the Guild for Service has also brought out a booklet titled “Ageing Spirit” where it has featured 35 prominent elderly women from various fields who have successfully defied age to live life to the fullest and inspire others to do so too.

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