“No country for old men” or to put it more correctly, its no country for old and poor people. We all want our future to be secure, free from problems, especially in those days when we are no more robust, productive, strong as we were in our youth. Old age is something, an inevitable reality that we all have to face one day, but it’s a dreadful living nightmare for most of the aged population in our country.
According to the statistics, around 8% of the total population in India comprises of senior citizen. In contrast to the rich people, the poor old people’s plight is deplorable in India. Having worked in an unorganized sector, these people have no job security like pensions to support them in old age. We very well know about the grueling work conditions in an unorganized sector, it is sad but very much the truth that many of the poor people are forced to work after the age of 55 just to fulfill their basic needs. There is no end to the agony in their lives that worsens each day with their deteriorating physical conditions with age.
But it was not so about two decades back. Even if it was, it certainly was not that common! What has changed, why are the elderly being neglected and shunned. Why ?
In a traditional agrarian society like India, the elderly have held a position of power and authority for generations. They had access to family wealth or land, making them capable enough to suffice their needs. People lived in joint families, and the elderly in the household had a prominent position, making them feel economically, emotionally and socially stable. But a lot has changed since the time modernization ushered in, there has been large scale migration of people from rural to urban areas in search of better employment opportunities, which has disrupted these traditional social bonds. The old who were earlier depended on their children are now left alone to fend for themselves. In these times of changing cultural and social milieus, it’s the onus of the state to look after the welfare of it its citizens, in this case the old people.
The government has taken a step in that direction but its not enough. Under the IGNOAPS (Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme) initiated by the Ministry of Rural Development, people above the age of 60 years are entitled to get a pension of Rs. 200 per month and those above 80 years, Rs 500 per month.
How are 200 rupees sufficient in today’s world of rising inflation is hard to fathom! The statistics indicate that the beneficiaries of the scheme are only 1.97 crore people, who are below the poverty line. What about the rest of the them who may not be below the poverty line but still earn a meagre amount?
Their savior, the ‘Pension Parishad’, has long been protesting and staging ‘dharnas’ at Jantar Mantar for their rights. They are urging the government to increase the amount, reiterating that Rs 200 per month is not sufficient and has led these people to live in miserable conditions. The members are also asking to eliminate the difference between APL and BPL, making pension a universal right.
They have also focused on vulnerable groups like transgenders, sex workers, primitive tribal groups and HIV positive people. They undergo a different experience, which is peculiar to them as they are denounced and shunned away from the mainstream community, its more challenging for them to get jobs even when they are young and physically capable of working. The Pension Parishad demands an appropriate income support for these groups.
The demands of Pension Parishad are stated below:
– Universal and Non Contributory Old Age Pension System to be established immediately by the government with a minimum amount of monthly pension not less than 50% of minimum wage or Rs 2000/- per month, whichever is higher.
– The pension to be an individual entitlement for all eligible citizens of India.
– The monthly pension amount to be indexed to inflation bi-annually and revised every two to three years in the same manner as is done for salaries/pensions of government servants.
– Any individual 55 years or older to be eligible for the old age pension.
– For women, eligibility age for pensions to be 50 years.
– For highly vulnerable groups (such as the Primitive Tribal Groups, Transgender, Sex Workers, PWDs), the eligibility age to be 45 years or fixed according to their particular circumstances.
– No one to be forced to compulsorily retire from work on attaining the age of eligibility for universal old age pension.
– A single window system for Old Age Pensions.
– APL / BPL criteria should not be used for exclusion.
– The payment of pension not to be used to deny any other social security/welfare benefit such as benefit under the Public Distribution System.
Social activist and MKSS (Masdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghtan) founder Aruna Roy and Baba Adhav have chided the government for their callousness and apathy towards the elderly and their welfare. They have shed light on important aspects like proper utilisation of the funds, bringing adequate financial resources and aiming at equality to meliorate the state of elders from unorganised sector.
India boasts of the way it treats its elders, but the reality paints a completely different picture. These people are overlooked by the government which pays no heed to them while framing their policies. Its only because of the enduring efforts of bodies like ‘Pension Parishad’ that the injustices in the present system are brought into the limelight and these people have hope!