President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday called for measures to enable the elderly to lead a life of “dignity.”

Speaking at a function organised by HelpAge India to mark the International Day of Older Persons, Mr. Mukherjee expressed concern over the growing neglect and abuse of seniors in the country.

Mr. Mukherjee said: “I have to confess my deep alarm and dismay in this context over the findings of the 20 city survey conducted by HelpAge which reveals that one out of three elders have faced abuse. It is even more shocking to learn that those surveyed describe their sons and daughters-in-law as the primary abusers. Many report such abuse as having continued for more than five years and most do not complain to anyone in order to uphold family honour.”

The President pointed to the withering away of family values and expressed hope that the shocking revelations about elderly abuse would serve as a warning.

“We must do everything possible to ensure that our elders can live a life of dignity, enjoying the best of medical attention, economic security as well as emotional stability. Our culture, history, traditions, religion and philosophy all enjoin us to respect our elders and to fill their lives with abundant love and affection.”

To the nation, with a very large young population, the President’s message included a reminder, “…India is what it is today because of the contributions made by our elders in their youth. If those hands steadied you when you learned to walk, then you need to support them when they need help and hope there will be others who will do the same for you when you grow old.”

“It’s just another phase”

“Society and the government should be sensitised to the fact that old age is just another phase of life with its special needs and characteristics just like childhood and youth,” the President said, adding that efforts should be made to provide health care and economic security to the aged.

“The real challenges that lie in the field of health security are accessibility and affordability of medical health facilities. The elderly require special geriatric care… their medical expenses increases with age whereas their income decreases or remains static. Private hospitals are reluctant to provide concessions to the elderly and insurance companies unwilling to insure the elderly,” he said.

“Proud to be an elder”

Earlier, the President made a reference to his own age and urged the elderly to refrain from thinking of old age as an inhibitor.

“I turn 77 a few months from now. Our honourable Prime Minister has just celebrated his 80th birthday. Ms. Lata Mangeshkar celebrated her 83rd birthday a few days back. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer is going strong at the age of 97, intellectually vibrant and deeply concerned about the welfare and progress of our nation. Many more illustrious persons can be added to this list, but I stop here… There is in this audience and all around us a large number of elders who are making extremely valuable contributions to our country and to our society. I salute them and am proud to be one of them, an ‘elder’ leading a productive and fruitful life.”

The President said with advancement of medical science and technology, age is by no means a disabling factor. Quoting W. Somerset Maugham and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the President encouraged the elderly “to get out of a ‘retirement mentality’ and think about old age as a second innings.”

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