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A civilisational duty to care for the elderly

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Why should our elderly face deprivation and abuse?

As is true of most joint families, our grandparents were cared for, and consulted by, their children and loved and respected by their grandchildren. However, with the turbulent changes in society, the respect for elders is dwindling.

Industrialisation, urbanisation and globalisation have cast their shadow on traditional values and norms.

Nuclear families, growing life expectancy, the generation gap, changes in the value system, adoption of Western ways of life, migration for better opportunities, and the increased participation of women in the workforce have marginalised the elderly in India.

Many of them are forced to live lives of humiliation, discrimination, abuse and isolation, without financial, medical or emotional support. This is common across all social classes and across urban and rural areas.

Revealing statistics

According to The State of Elderly in India Report (HelpAge India), every second elderly person suffers abuse within the family. Four in 10 testify to verbal abuse, and one-third to disrespect. Many are coerced to work through the day “worse than domestic servants,” and are refused even basic needs.

The 52nd round of the National Sample Survey Organisation finds that nearly half the elderly are fully dependent on others for their economic needs and another 20% are partially dependent.

Ageing is the most significant emerging demographic phenomenon in the world today. India is home to 100 million elderly people. A report released by the United Nations Population Fund in 2017 says 12.5% of India’s population will be 60 and older by 2030; by 2050, this will increase to one-fifth.

A policy crisis

With improvements in health, declining fertility and reduction in mortality at older ages, the shift in age structure is expected to be huge in the next few decades. This old-age crisis becomes a developmental concern and warrants priority attention.

The National Policy on Older Persons (1999), following a UN General Assembly resolution, envisaged state support to ensure financial and food security, shelter, healthcare and other needs, an equitable share in development, and services to improve the quality of their lives and protect them from abuse and exploitation. However, the policy is yet to be fully implemented.

Of the total population of the elderly, 70% are below the poverty line. The pension they receive from the government is highly inadequate. With the introduction of the direct benefit transfer (DBT), the situation has improved considerably; but we still have a long way to go.

The government has enacted the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, which makes maintenance of parents/ senior citizens by children/ relatives obligatory.

Geriatric care needed

There is an urgent need to expand geriatric healthcare facilities in our hospitals, a concept that has remained a neglected area of medicine in the country.

The National Programme for the Health Care of the Elderly should be effectively implemented. Our country spends just 0.032% of GDP on the welfare of the elderly — even weaker economies spend three to eight times more.

It’s true that wherever the family fails to protect the elderly, the community, civil society and the government have to step in. But why should family fail? Why should our elderly face deprivation, dispossession, loneliness and abuse? Why should we establish old-age homes?

Our civilisation has always been proud of the way we treated our elderly. Reports and studies paint melancholic stories of the elderly that reveal the growing societal degradation as we move more towards material pursuits than towards our traditions. This is an unacceptable trend.

When we fail to meet the needs of our elderly, we only write a dreadful preface to our own inevitable destiny.

dp.dipayanpal@gmail.com

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 2:28:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-civilisational-duty-to-care-for-the-elderly/article29667700.ece

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