Jamtara in Jharkhand has earned notoriety for being the hub of cyberthugs with raids by police forces from across the country in some area or the other in connection with some cybercrime.
However, the district, on the border of Bihar and West Bengal, is slowly but steadily challenging and changing its profile. Thanks to an initiative by the district administration which has set up an elders’ club in all six blocks of Jamtara. All sexagenarians are “automatic members” of the club and a visit to the club gives them mental, emotional and medical support, at no cost. It is a novel initiative by the district administration with people and public participation.
“During the second wave of COVID-19, ageing people started visiting us with symptoms of loneliness, depression, mental disorder and even family dispute. It was during that time the idea struck to set-up a shelter for them where they could interact with each other, engage themselves in recreational activities, read religious books and also get periodic medical attention,” Jamtara Deputy Commissioner Faiz Ahmed Mumtaz told The Hindu.
Mr. Mumtaz brainstormed the idea of setting up elders’ club with district administrative officials, local people and others to identify old dilapidated government buildings and space for the purpose. “We set-up six such elders’ club with people-public participation in conversion mode with government schemes and welfare measures at six blocks of the district and in no time the response was overwhelming”, he added
Once the old and abandoned buildings were spotted, the district administration appealed to residents, businessmen and others to offer help and support in their renovation. “And, at all places they came forward for the cause. The district administration renovated the buildings making the space spic and span. Someone donated religious books, someone a TV set and some others volunteered to teach yoga classes and offer medical and counselling to the members of the club,” said Mr. Mumtaz, a 2014 batch IAS officer.
Speaking to The Hindu on phone, unable to hide his childlike excitement, Mr. Mumtaz said, “It gives peace and satisfaction once I see their smiling faces and be engaged eagerly in watching TV and in animated discussions.”
“The idea,” he said, “is to take the initiative even to panchayat level of the district. After retirement, most people feel lonely, uncared for and get into depression easily and then if they get such an outlet, they feel better.” The young officer has earlier taken initiative to set up libraries in all 112 panchayats of the district.
At each of the six blocks of Jamtara, Narayanpur, Karmatand, Fatehpur, Nala and Kundhit, elders’ clubs have been set up with 30-40 regular members and over 100 occasional. The local BDO (Block Development Officer) is nodal officer of such clubs while, there are several committees like management and maintenance committee, health committee, training and counselling committee, maintenance of parents and senior citizens committee with SDO (Sub-Divisional Officer) as member, for smooth and organised functioning of the clubs. A medical team visits these clubs once in a month for primary health check-ups and medical attention to the members.
Dhananjay Mandal of Nala block was a regular to the local elders’ club but he was suffering from some kidney ailment and was not cared properly by family members of his two sons. “He was feeling isolated with bouts of depression. He came to us on December 20 last year and we took a month to resolve the family issue. He is happy today,” said Mr. Mumtaz. “This club has been a boon for me, a godsend,” Mr. Mandal said in a choked voice.
Like Mr. Mandal, several other sexagenarians too feel happy and peaceful in their block clubs -- where they can regularly meet, engage in gup-shup, read religious books like Ramayana, Mahabharta, Gita, Quran and other texts, and watch TV on the large screen. They even play indoor games like Ludo and carrom and get even their family problems resolved through regular intervention of officials. “It’s a paradise for me. We resolve several of our problems merely by interacting with each other. I visit daily in the morning and evening. What else can we expect at our age?”, said retired government school teacher Phani Bhushan Mishra, 64, of Jamtara block. Like him Narayan Poddar, 65, of Narayanpur block elders’ club, Tularam Mal, 64, of Nala block, Khagendranath Mandal, 63, of Kundhit elders’ club and Vishwanath Mandal, 85, of Fatehpur elders’ club too are regular visitors of their respective clubs and enjoy the “second inning” of their life.
“Earlier, my life was that of a vagabond. Now with the elders’ club I’ve got a place to catch my breath and mental peace,” said Tularam Mal, a retired irrigation department employee. “Today, nobody in Jamtara talks of cyberthugs or criminals but of the elders’ club. It’s been the talk of the town these days as it has never happened anywhere in the State,” he added with a chuckle.