The statistics are shocking: one in every three senior citizens in India is a victim of abuse. Why are the elderly being left in the cold by their families in a land that reveres the old? The scale of the problem in fact goes much deeper than teenage addiction to smart phones, Instagram and ‘selfie’ culture, that is not the worst of it.
Hundreds and thousands of elderly people are being dumped like unwanted house pets by uncaring family members who take their limited riches before throwing them out of their homes. A recent report by a voluntary organisation working for abandoned and needy elderly people, revealed some shocking statistics. According to the report, one in three senior citizens is a victim of abuse in India.
“Some of the abuses we found are as brutal as severe beating of elderly people by their own sons, daughters and daughters-in-law” states the report. It also says that in more than 50 per cent of abuse cases, the perpetrators are family members, with the son being the primary abuser in over 56 per cent of cases, followed by daughters in 23 per cent of cases. The most common reason for the abuse is property related.
Mathew Cherian, chief executive of Help Age India says, “Earlier, people lived with their children when they were too old to work, but society is no longer parent oriented and the rising trend we notice is that the elderly are moving out of their homes to places that cater to their needs. But there aren’t enough old-age homes in India to house all the abandoned elderly people”, he says.
More than half of India’s 1.1 billion population is younger than 25 and two-thirds is below the age of 35. The number of seniors is growing. By 2016, around 113 million people will be older than 60, and if the recent reports are any indication, a sizeable number of them will require an old-age home.
Stories about mistreatment of the elderly can be truly horrifying. A few years ago, there were reports in the Indian media about how police caught a man striking a deal with doctors and an organ-transplant broker to sell his unsuspecting father’s kidney, first taking him to hospital for a ‘check-up’ and then telling him he needed an operation. Doctors say such practices are commonplace.
According to an activist and charity worker, “All senior citizens we spoke to in Delhi said they had been verbally abused, while 33 per cent confided they had been physically abused – often beaten and tied to chairs.”
Elderly parents being abused and abandoned is not just an urban phenomenon. In rural India, the family system is eroding, with the younger generation increasingly heading off to cities with their spouses and their children to start a new life – without their parents or grandparents.
According to a 2016 survey, less than 40 per cent of Indians now live with extended family. While Delhi has the highest number of senior citizens who own property, over the years they become meek and dependent on their children. And that is generally when problems arise.
Those who have worked in government service or for a reputed private company receive pensions, but a large majority of India’s population still work as farmers or day labourers. Once they are too old to work, they are forced to rely on their children or extended family for support.
There is a government-backed pension programme for the poor called the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, which provides Rs200 a month to people over 60 who live below the poverty line, meaning they earn less than $1.25 (Dh4.59) per day. But the amount they receive is barely enough to get them food for a week. The government also approved a bill to increase the pension to Rs500 a month to those over the age of 80.
There are shelters for homeless elderly people run by charity organisations across India, but these shelters are usually packed to capacity.
In June 2012, the Delhi High Court issued an order to all court judges to give “special focus” to the cases involving senior citizens and ever since, courts in other cities are also taking similar steps.
Significantly, the bill states that a person would be disinherited if he or she fails to take care of their elderly parents. Local communities have welcomed the legislation but says it may have little practical effect. It is said that most parents are far too demoralised, destitute or frail to begin a battle to get a ruling. Also very few people want to wash their personal problems in public.