Is There No Place For The Old?

Posted on August 17, 2011 in Society

By Mahalakshmi Ganapathy:

70 year old killed by house-maid

Another attack on a 65year old,

Son kills parents over property dispute.

These are few of the many headlines that are frequently making rounds in newspapers and increasingly so in today’s age .


There is steady rise in the population of older persons in India, from 19.8 million in 1951 to 76 million in 2001 and projections indicate that the number of 60+ in India will increase to 100 million in 2013 and 198 million in 2030. With the steady increase of old persons the magnitude  of their problems is also increasing. Problems manifest in the form of abuse and violence against the elderly. The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA) defines elderly abuse as ‘neglect, violation of human legal and medical rights and deprivation of the elderly’. Here the violence is not just physical but also mental, psychological and economic.

The nuclear family system is dominating over the  joint family system and  the size of the family has reduced from many members to only the parents and children. The young, able to adjust to the fast paced life are able to adjust and move on perfectly with it, but it is the old who are left in a lurch due to the sudden shift from a traditional to a modern society. This sudden transition has left them alone to fend for themselves. The nuclear family has indeed been a potent factor in the marginalisation of the elderly in India.

The old people have not only been thrown out of the mainstream and relegated to the end but are left with no resources and are seen as a burden by the young. It has been seen that migration is on the rise and more and more young people are moving to the cities or going overseas leaving behind the old alone and helpless in their homes. Also globalisation, industrialization has led to scrambling for space in the cities and it has become very difficult to have many people stay in the house and thus, old are being considered as a burden on the economic resources so that the young can maintain their desired standard of living.

Of about 81 million senior citizens in India, 28 per cent live in urban setups and many of them face fear, neglect, isolation and economic insecurity. Their vulnerability makes them soft targets for crime. Increasing urbanisation has led to a rise in crime against the elderly. The criminals pick on the old people because they are easy targets. The protection which was offered to them when living in the joint family system is missing and they now have no security. What makes this analysis even more complicated is that crime comes in many hues. Crimes against the elderly fall under the categories of violent crimes, including murder, sexual assault and burglary; financial crimes, such as property disputes and fraud; and elder abuse, both physical and emotional. Murder is the most common crime against the elderly and very often than not – it is the domestic help, the watchman or the driver, or a person known to the old person.

According to a recent study by Pune-based NGO International Longevity Centre (ILC), which helps the Pune crime branch run its 24-hour helpline, about 60 per cent of the crimes against seniors in Pune are property-related, in Mumbai 95 percent of the cases arise out of property disputes. This is becoming a major cause of concern for the Government. Help Age India recently revealed that almost 52 per cent of silvers in Delhi face harassment over property. Also crime against the elderly people is four times more than in Mumbai and double than that of Bangalore, according to the NGO. Its study revealed that of the total cases of crime against silvers registered in the capital last year, the most common was physical harm (42.2 per cent) followed by murder and robbery which accounted to 35.5 and 13.3 per cent respectively.

Emotional abuse is another very prominent mode of violence against the elderly. It could include denial of food and medicines to the old person, verbal abuse or refusal to communicate, forcing them to do certain chores, or even locking them up at home. In fact, a recent study by Help Age India revealed that most elders are ill-treated by their own children, who have emerged as the largest group of perpetrators at 47.3 per cent. Spouses follow next at 19.3 per cent, while other relatives and grandchildren follow at 8.8 per cent and 8.6 per cent respectively. A spokesperson for the Social Counselling Cell (SCC) of Mumbai Police tells us that of about 1,200 applications on domestic disputes received, 40 per cent of the cases involve the abuse of elderly persons at the hands of their sons and daughters.

Article 41 of the Indian Constitution states that, “The State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to work, to education and to public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want”. So the Government has, keeping in view the Article 41, sought to implement certain policies for the elderly in India like the National Policy on Older Persons, 1999, The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill, 2007 which enumerates a lot of policies which unfortunately look good only on paper and fail to curb the growing marginalization and dangers the old face.

Senior citizens are the pillars of our country. They may not be active like they were in their 20s and 30s but their experience sure is important for us and our country, because they  have seen the best and worst of both the modern and traditional worlds and would be in a position to give better inputs.

When it comes to the role of the civil society, the youth to do something in this regard, where do we place ourselves? We can definitely begin with our own neighborhoods and start creating awareness about elder abuse, development professionals seeking to work in serving the old can provide professional care-giving services, emotional support here being the crux of everything. Organizations can also look to innovate, building small enterprises for the elderly, thereby keeping them occupied and helping them earn a living. Small libraries can be started in our neighborhoods for them to have a place to read and enjoy their retired lives.

When it comes to what we can actually do, there are many initiatives that can be taken, but let’s at least make a small beginning and help stop elderly abuse in India. Do comment in the section below.

Sources :

(Sources and References:

1) Article by Arati Rajan Menon
2) The International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse website
3)WHO report on Elder Abuse
4) International Longevity Centre (ILC) website
5)Help Age India website
6) Government of India websites for various policies related to old age)