Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lonely at 60

A couple of days ago, I opened up the newspaper to read that an elderly couple living in an upper middle class locality had committed suicide suddenly. There was no ostensible reason for this, but the newspaper reported that they were desperately lonely and a point came when they felt that they could not endure it any longer. They had several children; their youngest lived with them, but the others; married and with families of their own lived within a couple of hundred miles away from Delhi.

This one of course was not the first suicide occurring among the elderly in Delhi, and neither will it be the last. Although the government in Delhi has tried to be responsive to the needs of him elderly in much way – it has a helpline for access by senior citizens, increased policing, free medical aid, bus travel and what not. But all the help that government and civil society organizations can and do provide does not alleviate the pain of loneliness and abandonment that our senior citizens go through.

But this is not just a Delhi thing, though this could well be an urban thing. Last year, BBC had covered the story of Laxmibai Laxmidas Paleja in Mumbai, whose grandson and daughter in law were abusing her and speaks of Laxmi bai’s hapless condition “"I'm old. I couldn't defend myself. I was bleeding all over. I've got bruises all over my body. Then they just bundled me in a car and dumped me here at my daughter's house."

There has been a steady rise recently in reports of cases of elderly being abused, harassed and abandoned in India and it does not need the BBC to tell us that Joint family systems - where three or more generations lived under one roof - were a strong support network for the elderly and they have more or less disappeared – at least in the cities.

But more children are now leaving their parental homes to set up their own. Sociologists say the pressures of modern life and the more individualistic aspirations of the young are among reasons why the elderly are being abandoned or, in some cases, abused.

Delhi University professor Kum Kum Srivastava makes a telling comment when she says that "I think this a child-oriented society, not a parent-oriented one anymore." Meanwhile, demographically, India is getting younger as a nation and the problems and aspirations of the youth alone are increasingly getting centre stage. But even so, India has more 60m men and women older than 65 and the problems of the elderly are multiplying, and with societal trends going the way they are, the problems of the elderly are likely to get more and more sidelined.

Although organizations like Helpage have long been around, typically NGOs and other organizations have a bias towards the poor and the marginalized. This is a bit irrelevant hee considering that many of the emotional deprivation that the elderly suffer are likely to more accentuated in the isolation that upper or middle class living brings. Despite there being a National Policy on Older Persons and several schemes for the physical welfare of our senior citizens, the emotional gap and loneliness is a need that looks set to grow at a much faster pace than can typically be met.

1 comment:

Tanya Sethi said...

I don't think the diminishing joint family setup can be a cause since I do know people at old age homes who are happier living amongst other people of their age rather than with their chidren who barely acknowledge their existence. While loneliness is an inevitable emotion attached with old age, a lot depends on the old people and how they keep themselves occupied.