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25% Of India’s Elders are Abused By Their Loved Ones

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

All the lonely people, where do they all belong?

—The Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby”

India is growing old. The stark reality of the ageing scenario in India is that there are 104 million older persons in India today, and the number is growing to grow to 324 million by 2050. With life expectancy having increased from 40 years in 1951 to 64 years today, a person today has 20 years more to live than he would have 50 years back. 

“Our financial dependence on our son and daughter-in-law has turned us into their servants.”

The pain in the voice of 68-year-old Ramanna (name changed) is obvious as he reflects on his and his wife’s current plight. A resident of Langfort Town in Bengaluru, he was once a flower seller with his own income. His advancing years forced him to give up his occupation and forced him to move in with his son and daughter-in-law. What followed has been years of abuse at their hands. 

Forced to do all the household chores at his son’s home, they bemoan the fact that they are not even allowed a moment’s respite to sit down and rest. They feel they are worse off than domestic servants. Ramanna finds it very humiliating that he is being refused money by his son and daughter in law to even meet some of his basic needs. Simple requests for money to buy gifts for their relatives when they want to go and visit them are turned down. Today, Ramanna and his wife feel completely isolated as they are forbidden by their son and daughter-in-law even to interact with their neighbours. This, feels the helpless Ramanna, is sheer mental torture.   

With this kind of an ageing scenario, there is pressure on all aspects of care for the older persons – be it financial, health or shelter. The growing insecurity of older persons in India is very visible. With more older people living longer, the households are getting smaller and congested, causing stress in joint and extended families. Even where they are co-residing, marginalisation, isolation and insecurity are felt among the older persons due to the generation gap and change in lifestyles. Increase in lifespan also results in chronic functional disabilities creating a need for assistance required by the older person to manage chores as simple as the activities of daily living. There is a growing realization among older people that they are more often than not, being perceived by their children as a burden. This realization is not unfounded though. Reports after reports on abuse of the elderly in newspapers, social media and television point to the disturbing trend that India is seeing in how India treats its elders.

“I am retired but have no pension; they abuse me as they think I have hidden my money.”

Manoj Kumar (name changed) is a 62-year-old man living in Nagpur. He is verbally abused by his son and daughter-in-law simply because they suspect that he has hidden money which he is not sharing with them. On the other hand, the fact is an ex-employee of a private sector firm Manoj has no pension benefits and therefore has no income. He is totally dependent on his son for his upkeep, and he and his wife are living with his son. His existence is full of verbal abuse from his son and daughter-in-law and has become so regular that he has to suffer it almost every other day. 

Manoj finds himself totally helpless at this situation but sees no way out as he says that when his own son has turned against him, where else can he look for help. He strongly advocates that seniors should have their own finances so that they don’t have to suffer his fate. He also urges the government to intervene with laws so that families are forced to take better care of their elders. 

“I prefer loneliness to bearing abuse because of their greed for my late husband’s pension.”

Uma (name changed), is a 61-year-old woman from Malleshwaram locality of Bengaluru. When her husband passed away, his pension amount of ₹10,000 a month came to her. Her son and daughter-in-law would take away this money to meet their needs, but when Uma would ask for some money to meet her medical expenses or other such basic requirements, she would be verbally abused. After suffering this unbearable situation for a few years, Uma picked up courage and moved out of the house to live on her own. Today, she admits that she leads a lonely existence but prefers it to suffering endless days of abuse and ill-treatment.  Notwithstanding the impact on quality of life and life satisfaction, how many of us know that loneliness has an equivalent risk factor to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, shortening one’s lifespan by eight years. As we mourn the loss this week of two globally celebrated cultural icons – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain – to an apparent suicide, we ask ourselves, the impact of loneliness in the life of an individual over 50 years of age.  

HelpAge India’s repeated surveys on elder abuse year on year indicate that many elderly are being subjected to abuse within their own families, perpetrated, sadly, by their own sons and daughters-in-law. In some cases, it is their daughters too, who are the culprits.

The report, called Elder Abuse in India – 2018, published by HelpAge India, after surveying 5,014 elders in 23 cities throws some shocking findings this year. Nearly one-fourth (25%) elders confirmed they had been a victim of Elder Abuse. There was almost no distinction between male and female elders when the extent of the abuse was reported. Elder Abuse was reported maximum in Mangalore, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Amritsar, Delhi and Kanpur. It was least in Jammu, Mumbai, Vizag, Kochi and Guwahati. The most common form of abuse they experienced was Disrespect (56%), Verbal Abuse (49%) and Neglect (33%). 

The main abusers were Son (52%) and Daughter-in-law (34%). The median age of abuser is 42 years. 82% of elderly who were abused, did not report the matter. The key reasons for ‘Not Reporting’ – was to “maintain confidentiality (52%) of the family matter” or “did not know how to deal with the problem (34%)”. At the national level, 41% of the elderly were found to be aware of at least one redressal mechanism. Around 35% of the elders were aware of police helpline, 11% were aware of Maintenance of Welfare and Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 while 5% were aware of HelpAge helpline number. More than 60% elderly agreed that quality time spent by their adult children as well grandchildren with them has decreased with increase in usage of phones/computers. 65% elderly stated that extreme attention given to phones/ computers is disrespectful.

HelpAge India, CEO, Mathew Cherian says, “Clearly, the state of the elderly in our nation calls for action against Elder Abuse that requires our urgent attention. The Constitution of India recognizes the duty of the State towards the aged. Article 41 of the Constitution enjoins the State to make effective provision, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, for public assistance in the case of unemployment, old age and sickness. And yet the State has not taken any initiatives in this regard, let alone made adequate provisions for the health and financial security of the elderly. They continue to be abused at the very hands of those who they’ve spent their entire lives loving.”

The Elder Abuse Report 2018 can be downloaded from here. 

#WEAAD2018 #Disconnect2Connect tweetchat that HelpAge India conducted can be accessed here. #Disconnect2Connect Tweetchat is to create a network that not only builds awareness about social isolation and its impact on Elders, but also identifies solutions. 

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