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. 

More about HelpAge India: www.helpageindia.org

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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