For Anna (name changed), this Tuesday, the International Day of Older Persons, was a day of mourning. Though she has got used to the death of fellow residents in her 22 years at an old age home in the city, a sense of loss affects her every time one of the familiar faces passes away.
“I try not to get too close to anyone here. I spend most of my time in prayers,” she says.
Unlike many at the home, she came here on her own will. She likes being at the home as there is a church in the same compound. “I used to stay at my son’s house in Bombay and in some other relatives’ houses too once in a while. They all cared for me very well. But I wanted a little more freedom without being a burden on anyone and ended up here. They all still visit me and I visit them on special occasions,” says Anna.
But as per the amended version of the Kerala Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, Anna wouldn’t have been allowed into a care home and probably would be staying with her son now. With the amended Act coming into force earlier this year, care homes have been instructed not to take in senior citizens having relatives. Exceptions are allowed only in select cases, after high-level deliberations on the genuineness of the request.
Section 4 of the Act provides that a senior citizen or parent file an application for maintenance against one or more of his/her children, and in the case of a childless senior citizen, against the relative who, under law, would inherit his property.
“Since the Act came into effect in 2007, more than 50 parents have approached us. We also have made use of our suo motu powers. We have observed that most such cases happen in well-to-do families. All the cases have been settled with the children agreeing to take care of the parent. Our officers continually monitor whether they have gone back on their word. In four cases, we had to summon the children again,” says Jose Kumar, District Social Justice Officer.
Sister Sushma, the caretaker of a care home at Plamoodu, says that she gets a number of enquiries from children and relatives.
“We can accommodate a maximum number of 25. So we have to turn them away. Also, after the implementation of the Senior Citizens Act, old people having relatives are not taken in. The person should also be able to walk when he or she is brought here as there is a tendency for some children to admit parents with serious illnesses to care homes,” she says.
The Vayomithram project which was launched two years ago has been a boon to various care homes with doctors attached to the project visiting all care homes once in a month and supplying all the required medicines. Its volunteers also take destitute senior citizens to the safety of care homes.
“We have rehabilitated more than 40 senior citizens at care homes in the past two years. We have been concentrating on the 9th ward in the General Hospital where many are destitute,” says M. Sharlet, co-ordinator of the Vayomithram project.
Meanwhile, migrant workers have made their presence felt in the care homes too with a majority of the caretakers in some private homes hailing from Odisha and West Bengal.
Heirs are legally bound to take care
of their aged parents under the Kerala Maintenance
and Welfare of Parents and Senior