By Manika Jain:
“The trouble with ageing is that it is inevitable. The truth about ageing in India is that we have not yet built an adequate knowledge base to respond to its multifarious challenges.” – From a recently released report on the status of the elderly in select states of India by the United Nations Population Fund.
The multifarious old age problems start with dependency because of physical weakness and emotional vulnerability of the aging body which results in helplessness. Coupled with these are the challenges of financial insecurity, nursing and health care. Old age homes, also known as retirement homes, are a form of community living and come with definite benefits of protection, security, reduced costs, facilities for recreation and living with people having similar physical and emotional needs. Such facilities are necessary and essentially beneficial for destitute, poverty stricken, helpless and the orphaned elderly.
No one can criticize the service and shelter provided by private or government old age homes to the poor and destitute homeless elderly people. In a country like ours, where poverty exists in disastrous forms, existence of old age homes for those elderly who are unable to afford housing is creditable; such facilities provide them with decent living conditions.
As per survey report of a UGC sponsored research project in Tamil Nadu, the maximum number of elderly who are living in old age homes are either driven out of their homes (20.2 percent of male 88.6 percent female) or because no one is there to care for them at home (75.5 percent and 88.6 percent female). About 80 percent are sponsored by the government or NGO’s and are unable to fulfil their basic needs of cash for medicines, visiting a doctor etc.
The existence of old age homes not only tells heartbreaking tales of the plight of the destitute elderly but also point out the greater problem of widespread poverty and calls for better pensions and medical facilities for them. What is shocking is well to do families sending their old and vulnerable elderly to old age homes at times when they need their care the most. However, many theories are widely propagated over ‘whether parenting is a virtuous and selfless process? Or should parents sneak a quid pro quo clause into it?’ Is parenting an unwritten contract where parents can secure their future? There are quite a few scholars who’ve put forth some controversial theories. Normal Daniels (1988) in his work ‘Am I my parents’ keeper?’ talks of parental responsibilities being self-imposed and that it does not naturally follow that children must take care of them in return. Jane English (1993) in ‘What do grown children owe their parents?’ says that children don’t owe parents something because the parent – child relationship is not a debt repayment one; she compares the relationship to more of a friendship rather than an obligatory one.
The whole problem of gender biasness is based on the fact that parents ‘expect’ their sons to serve them in their old age and hence invest more in their education, health and over all well being. There have been enough surveys and experiences in our daily life which enlighten us that gender biasness is not just a problem of rural, uneducated or low income groups.
In contemporary times, every relationship has changed except for the age old concept of family and parenting. Whether they expect it or not and whether it is correct or incorrect of them to have such expectations, it is the duty of the younger generation to take responsibility of those who have always provided for them. Most parents spend their lives making ends meet for their children and end up in health and financial insecurity while taking care of them. The moral obligation to look after and respect ones parents needs no debate and is the basic ground for society’s moral fabric. However the older we grow or whatever we become, there is no place like home and there is no love like that of parents. Hence, the idea of children turning away their parents at the time when they need utmost care is unacceptable.
However, we should keep in mind the times when it becomes impossible for children to live with their parents as they may work in foreign or distant places. Also, the recent rise in crimes against senior citizens points towards the need of laws for their protection, duty of the civil society and means for enabling them with better security. Community living pretty much ensures all of that. We should not advocate framing of laws that make it compulsory, like in China where adult children must visit their aged parents. Apparently, parents who feel neglected by their children can take them to court. There are also ‘luxury old age homes’ which provide escape to families who are able yet not too willing to care for their elderly.
What can be done are adoption of ideas like ‘adopt a granny’, building up community networks to care for the elderly, providing for their security and safety and bringing them home from nearby old age centres for a day or so for special and festive occasions on a regular and committed basis. The elderly are at the dusk of their life and crave for love and respect and the moral fabric of our society needs to be retuned else the most reliable relationship will be destroyed.