Human nature is funny. People take great trouble to preserve relics from the past as some kind of evidence of history. Millions of dollars (or whatever currency is politically correct post-Recession) are spent in restoring heritage buildings, archaeological expeditions and museums. We are paranoid about our glorious past and so we need proof that it had existed at some point. While man-made heritage is preserved, people seem to give two hoots about caring for living heritage in itself.
We must protect an old building because it is a symbol of a rich, living history but it is perfectly acceptable to throw out an old relative because he or she has lost any form of material utility. India is a perfect example of such an attitude.
Let us take a look at this real life incident:
An old woman was found taking shelter in a bathing ghat near the Ganges. Then she was rescued by a certain social organisation. To their surprise, she was not a wandering tramp but an educated woman who spoke fluent English and recited Tagore. What was she doing there? She had been thrown out by her family who obviously did not care.
A conversation with Aloka Mitra, Chairperson of Women’s Interlink Foundation revealed the magnitude of the problem that the elderly face in India. After a point, even having enough money is not enough to guarantee you a roof. Many elderly people have been rendered homeless after having been thrown out of their houses by their family members, including their children. Some of them had even been well off. According to Mrs. Mitra, India does not have an ageing-friendly environment at all. There is neither any infrastructure, nor any support system to ensure their well-being. Even the Maintenance Act which was passed to ensure that parents have the right to demand support from their children, has been quite a recent phenomenon.
The main problem lies in the fact that there is absolutely no support system for the old in the country. Neither is there any social security, nor any form of community support. All that is done is on paper. NGOs are finding it extremely difficult to organise any funding for projects concerning the elderly. Even if funds are to be found, they abruptly dry up within a few months, leaving the recipient organisation high and dry. Old age homes are finding it difficult to sustain themselves owing to the paucity of funds. And day by day the number of grandparents and parents being sent away is increasing.
Negligence and deliberate cruelty are some of the major problems that elderly people have to face. Migrating to other cities is becoming common enough, along with the rise of domestic violence against the elderly. Some of them are left alone in the apartments and are then subject to the ill treatment of their domestic help. There are numerous cases of people being robbed and murdered by their help. These crimes stem from the isolation that the old are left to face when their families go their separate ways.
While organisations like HelpAge India and Interlink are working on projects like “Adopt A Granny” scheme, there is room for much more. We cannot blame modernisation for this. It is fine to go to the States for a better education, but not by leaving your ageing parents in a lurch. One can be progressive and ambitious without being callous.
The writer is a correspondent of Youth Ki Awaaz.