As Young Adults, Are We Doing Enough For The People Who Brought Us Up?

Our society is going through a major upheaval with many structural transformations happening simultaneously. We are increasingly becoming a market-based economy; women are finding their voices; urbanisation is happening at breakneck speed; traditional social structures are breaking down. This can lead to problems to which there are no easy solutions. One of these issues pertains to the welfare of the elderly. An exploding elderly population, higher life expectancy rates, the break-down of the joint family structure, and the changing dynamics between parents and young adults has created a conundrum of sorts.

I must begin by stating that I am extremely grateful to my parents for all the effort that they have put into raising me as a child, and I’m acutely aware of all the personal sacrifices that it entailed on their part on a regular basis. Having said that, as a young adult, I often find myself having independent opinions on issues that may not pass muster with my parents. For example, should I abandon my hectic corporate career for a less paying but more comfortable job? The actual scope of my right to religious freedom—to be agnostic, atheist, pagan, heathen, animist, totemist, and anything in between; my political opinions about what kind of life religious minorities should be entitled to in a secular country like India; whether the aforementioned should have any link at all to how our neighboring countries treat their minorities. All of these become conflicts.

The Lives Of Senior Citizens

As our parents stray into their 60s, simple situations can often get out of hand. A harmless suggestion to my father who is a cardiac patient to opt for a wheelchair at a humongous airport met with a hostile reaction from him as he deeply resented being reminded of his limited mobility options.

The first time that my mother could not recollect where she had left her spectacles, I could sense a deep alarm descend in her eyes, as she has always prided herself on her memory and her ability to keep things super organised. With the gradual realisation of their fraying health, seclusion induced due to retirement, and even technological/digital exclusion, our parents are becoming more vulnerable. which calls for sensitive handling by us young adults.

A Changing World

The development model of our economy is highly centralised, with most of our tertiary sector opportunities located in metro cities. The idea of creating multiple growth poles in our economy has failed to take off. Economic disparity between states is only increasing which has led to development-induced migration to acquire new personal economic heights. Like most young people from second tier cities and small towns, I have had to leave home right after my class 12th because of the limited career and higher education opportunities back home. While I am very proud of the place that I come from (Cuttack), thoughts of pursuing a career there are practically not feasible.

Safety Risks For Senior Citizens

What this translates into is popularly known as empty nest syndrome where young adults heading for distant shores leaves parents, lonely, vulnerable, pining for company and assistance. Parents may often refuse to migrate to cities along with their children because of emotional ties with their native places, work constraints, inability to cope up with the fast pace of life, or language barriers, which compounds the problem. With the increasing breakdown in our law and order situations, the elderly are becoming increasingly prone to murder, robbery, theft, and house break-ins.

A Collective Effort

If you are the son, and, let’s say, your wife and your parents are not really buddies, my best wishes are with you, as keeping both sides happy will be a monumental task. Add to this long working hours, institutionalised exploitation of the private sector, and raising a child with a mind of its own, you may find yourself praying to God to split you into multiple independent entities to cope with the pressures that life is throwing you. Don’t let either party bully you into choosing a winner. Stand firm!

If you are a daughter-in-law, you may find yourself in a difficult position where your ageing in-laws may not have been entirely supportive of your career, or respectful of your personal choices, but you feel guilty about neglecting them. You may also find yourself in a situation where a chunk of the care work comes to rest entirely on your shoulders (as has traditionally been the case), driving you to exhaustion. It is only human to feel a little acrimonious in such situations.

I have found pop culture’s treatment of the changing dynamics of parent-young adult relationship quite shallow and disappointing. They are preachy, don’t address underlying issues, and portray young adults as ungrateful with mostly the daughter-in-law being portrayed in the poorest of poor light. I have also noticed that references to the movie “Baghbaan” are mostly resorted to by parents to win an argument at any cost and to emotionally ambush you into doing innocuous stuff. This has also been corroborated by my interaction with many of my friends.

I am aware of the fact that there are instances of senior citizens being abused, subjected to violence and abandoned by their children. This is a serious issue and cannot be condoned at any cost. However, I like to believe that most of us out here are decent human beings who are highly indebted to our parents for all that they have done for us, and would like to take good care of them. In case you are not one of those people, I would like to draw your attention to the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, which casts a legal compulsion on children to maintain their parents and provides for constitution of tribunals in states for adjudication of claims. (However, the Act has remained a paper tiger because of lack of awareness amongst senior citizens, non-constitution of tribunals, and reluctance on the part of senior citizens to report in order to maintain family honour). Legal liability under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code 1973 and Section 20 of the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 to maintain an aged parent may also ensue.

Article 41 of the Constitution (Directive Principles of State Policy) mandates that the State shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right of public assistance in cases of old age. The National Policy on Older Persons 1999 lays down several policy level interventions on the part of the state such as the creation of old age homes, setting up of helplines for senior citizens, community policing of senior citizens, greater budget allocation for financial security of the elderly, making available opportunities for development of the potential of older person, support to voluntary organisations, setting up of geriatric wards in public hospitals, greater focus on research related to geriatric issues, and more. However most of these directives have failed to see the light of the day. National Council of Senior Citizens established under the 1999 Policy framework to advise the Central and State government on issues related to elderly has failed to make a mark.

Is There Institutional Support?

Market-based solutions to the issue are still at a very nascent stage. Assisted-living facilities are mostly unaffordable at the moment, and hard to come by. The market for quality home-based healthcare facilities and geriatric services (preventive, palliative, rehabilitative) is slowly expanding. In Tier-II cities and small towns, the facilities are few and far between. While several NGOs like Help Age India and Dignity Foundation are doing credible work, there is still a lot of stigma attached with old age homes and care facilities outside the home. This means that bulk of the responsibility has to be shared by family members (particularly young adults) without adequate support from the State, market, or NGOs. Here’s how to navigate the choppy waters.

What You Can Do For Your Parents

1: Pick Your Fights

Don’t sweat the small stuff. If your parents think that India is veritably ‘Vishwagru’, and acquired nuclear power status during the Mahabharata days (and not during Pokhran Nuclear tests), so be it. But you will have to stand for yourself on important issues such as career, life goals, partner choices etc. Be patient and keep the debate calm.

2: Health Insurance

Getting your parents some form of health insurance is an absolute must. If you have corporate health insurance, try getting your parents as beneficiaries.

3: Financial Security

Getting involved with your parents’ financial security is important. You could consider setting aside a part of your income on a regular basis for their financial security in case they are unable to do so. There are several pension plans out in the market today. Recently the Government has launched the Rashtriya Vaya Vandana Yojana which is a decent option.

4: Care Work

I strongly believe that taking care of your parents is as much the responsibility of daughters and son-in-laws as it is of sons and daughter-in-laws. When it comes to the grind, everyone pitching in will significantly reduce the burden on any one person. Having a good understanding amongst all family members is crucial.

5: Helpful Neighbours And Relatives

In case you are not living with your parents under the same roof, neighbours and relatives are probably the first responders in case of an emergency. Do cultivate contacts with them and keep a good rapport.

6: Technology Is Your Best Bet

Parents may find it difficult to cope with technology, initially, but if you are patient and break down stuff with a lot of clarity, the dividends are high. Some of our significant achievements in this regard are (my brother and sister-in-law included) getting our parents used to online banking, e-commerce facilities, Uber, Whatsapp, Facebook, and Skype. My brother recently ordered bluetooth speakers for my mom and consequently we have to live with my mom playing “Proper Patola” on loop at high decibels! Adding your parents to your friendlist on Facebook is entirely optional.

7: Vehicle Options

Opting for automatic gear cars and small vehicles definitely will increase mobility options for your parents.

8: Housing

Innovative housing options such as renting apartments close by (certainly more expensive) provide for a joint-family-like structure which ensures both independence and privacy for young couples and caters to the needs of parents. In case your parents are incapable of taking care of themselves and have to move in with you, you will have to talk to your children and spouse about it. Talking to them and making necessary changes can help them mentally prepare for the new circumstances. Rohinton Mistry’s novel “Family Matters” captures the chaos associated with such situations beautifully.

9: Vacations And Bonding

Taking vacations with parents at regular intervals can help keep the flock together. We recently did a family trip to Thailand and while at times it did feel like a pilgrimage, family time together in the hotel swimming pool was quality entertainment. Setting up simple rituals such as visiting parents on festivals, celebrating special occasions together, and gifting can go a long way in making your parents feel cared for.

10: Additional Engagement

Encouraging your parents to seek employment opportunities post-retirement, taking up new hobbies (gardening, pottery, curating recipes, storytelling), or getting involved in community activities can help them stay productive and engaged.

It is all about loving our parents. At times, situations will be too demanding and you will find yourself struggling to cope. But I just hope that our generation rises to the occasion with ease.

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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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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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