B S Raghavan

Aged staring at a bottomless abyss

B. S. Raghavan | Updated on November 14, 2017

The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Ms J.Jayalalithaa, while presiding over 64 marriages organised on February 19, in connection with her 64th birthday, struck a sensitive chord in the minds of the aged and infirm with her fervent call to the younger generation to look after their parents with love and respect, keeping in mind the sacrifices made by them for their children's sake.

She pointedly referred to the “pathetic situation” in which they are forced to live in old-age homes, or left to fend for themselves by their children who settle abroad and forget them.

She said the priority had shifted today to making money, with no concern for love and attachment to families and relatives.

However emotionally touching her tribute to the joint family system, it unfortunately belongs to an era that is past resurrection or even recall.

However stirring the paeans of praise for a “life of togetherness” and the appeal for love and compassion, there can be no stopping the ravages of the invasion of the Western culture of pursuit of pleasure and self-indulgence in the spirit of ‘Each person for himself, and the Devil take the hindmost'.

Dr V.S.Natarajan, who was recently honoured with the award of Padma Sri for his pioneering work in geriatric care, has compiled in his books horror stories of ill-treatment of the elderly parents living with their progeny in India itself.

Very often, the bashing of the elderly takes place not for any specific reason, but simply because they are there and considered a nuisance and a burden.

At the minimum, they suffer from a feeling of being ignored, neglected and humiliated. Their position is much worse if they are infirm and ailing.

GLOOMY PICTURE

Even where they are financially independent and leading their own lives, there are instances of their being constantly pilloried by their well-to-do sons and daughters and their spouses to write their wills or partition their property as per their dictates.

In some cases, parents have been left to die alone, their obsequies being taken care of by friends and neighbours, since their offspring, because of bitterness over some disagreement or the other, had stayed away.

This gloomy picture is only partly redeemed by examples of filial love and devotion, even to the extent of sons and daughters leaving their good jobs and cushy lives abroad and coming back to give comfort and company to their parents.

There is no dearth of sympathy on the part of the Central and State Governments towards the plight of the aged.

Indeed, Article 41 of the Constitution itself has proclaimed that “The state shall, within the limits of its economic capacity and development, make effective provision for securing the right to public assistance in cases of old age”.

Note, however, that the cloak of the proviso “within the limits of its economic capacity and development” can cover a multitude of omissions.

There has also been no short supply of policy pronouncements either. The National Policy on Older Persons of 1999 has since been overlaid with a National Policy on Senior Citizens last year.

However, the elderly have to be content only with sops such as separate counters for the elderly, old age pensions, travel concessions, income tax relief, medical benefit, extra interest on savings, and the like without any substantive amelioration of their condition.

BUREAUCRATIC OUTFITS

The new policy even promises to make efforts for strengthening the family system so that it continues to play the role of primary caregiver in old age.

These will be primarily directed towards sensitising younger generations and by providing tax incentives for those taking care of the older members.

Does the new policy stand any better chance of implementation than the old one?

Not by a long chalk, if all that the Government has envisaged is only “to strive for” establishing a Department of Senior Citizens under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Directorates of Senior Citizens in States and Union Territories, National/State Commission for Senior Citizens, and National Council for Senior Citizens.

One can be sure that the series of bureaucratic outfits will go the way of similar ones of the past until it is time for yet another National Policy on the Aged and the Elderly!

Published on March 01, 2012

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