Reaching out to senior citizens facing abuse

CHENNAI, AUG. 20. Kandaswamy has dark circles around his eyes. Clad in a white dhoti and a khadi white shirt, the 70-year-old speaks in a feeble voice when one questions him about the problems he is facing with his son and daughter-in-law. And when he smiles, rarely, he is speaking about his past: A government employee who had saved enough to start a hosiery business in Madurai; he had educated his two sons and daughters well; constructed a house in Ambattur where he and his wife lived alone after retirement.

He had no problems in life— at least, not of his own making.

After retirement, he handed over his hosiery unit to his younger son. The unit crashed out of business a decade ago. And since then, Mr. Kandaswamy's life got a bit complicated. His son started making "very unreasonable" demands and even physically assaulted him. The 40-year-old son was into drugs and alcohol and it was not easy stopping him. "He was treated for mental illness in a home near Kovalam and is now undergoing treatment in Madurai," Mr. Kandaswamy added.

Ultimately, he decided to sell his house for Rs. 22 lakhs. He gave his younger son a share of Rs. four lakhs and deposited the money in his grandson's fixed deposit account.

Helping seniors

Today, Mr. Kandaswamy lives with his wife in a rented house.

And knowing pretty well that he is not alone in the list of abused senior citizens, he has enrolled himself as a volunteer with Dignity Foundation, a city-based non-government organisation, which reaches out to seniors facing abuse.

He visits the homes of other senior citizens who call the Foundation's helpline (ph: 26473165) and counsels them.


Yamuna Nair, psychological counsellor with Dignity, said the Foundation was receiving calls from senior citizens unable to put up with their son. In her research paper on "Abuse, neglect and exploitation of older women and their counselling needs" for Mother Teresa Women's University, Mrs. Nair reasons the cause for the abuse: "In some cases, we find parents give too much love and attention and pamper their sons. Some of them get the feeling that there is no need for them to work for a living. Hence they continue to live with their parents and exploit them."

The parents of the mentally ill are also scared that their ward might have a relapse of illness. K. Shanmugavelayutham, director of B.V.S.N. Murthy Centre for Special Children, said senior citizens handling mentally ill wards are perpetually worried what would happen to them once they die.

A case in point is Pillai, a 75-year-old from Madipakkam, who supports his 44-year-old son, who has been trying to clear his Chartered Accountancy final exams for nearly two decades now. "Each year, he wants me to purchase a new sets of books. He is unable to come to terms with not being able to clear the exams and will not join any company at the middle-management level."

Pillai's wife has urged him not to admit their son in any home though he has been on medication for mental illness for 20 years now. Mr. Pillai is also a volunteer with Dignity Foundation. The Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF. Ph: 26153971) has been helping the mentally ill and their relatives over the years, helping them cope with the situation.