By Vijay Darda | 25-09-2017
Condition of the elderly in India is very serious. A soul-searching is needed to find out what has gone wrong with our culture?
The neglect of the elderly is on the rise and many of them are forced to spend their twilight years in the old age homes. In such a situation, the Assam Assembly has passed the Pronam Bill that stipulates that 10 per cent of the salary of those government employees who leave their parents or handicapped brother or sister to fend for themselves, will be deducted and the same will be given to their parents or handicapped brother or sister. This Bill is exemplary.
Last week, the Assam Assembly passed the Bill which is unprecedented in itself. Now, if the parents or handicapped brother or sister of an employee of Assam government complains that they have been deserted, 10 per cent of the salary of that employee will be given to the parents or handicapped brother or sister every month! After the Assam Assembly passed this Pronam Bill, the Assam government made it clear that such a Bill will be brought soon for the public sector companies, private companies, central employees, legislators and ministers working in Assam. Preparation is on for drafting and tabling such a Bill.
Naturally, the question arises as to what forced the Assam government to do this? The answer was given by its minister Himanta Biswa Sarma in the Assembly itself. He said that incidents of neglect of parents and their going to the old age homes are on the rise. Biswa’s statement is 100 per cent correct.
India has been such a country where the elderly of the family have always been adored. They have always been respected. However, under the influence of Western lifestyle, this new kind of emerging mindset is hurting the time-honoured institution called family. In such a situation, a society is emerging which is considering the elderly as a burden on the family. The matter begins with the neglect of their needs and ends up with the elderly being sent to the old age home. It’s not just about middle-class or poor families. I have seen many rich people indulging in such a behaviour towards their parents. This is the reason that the number of old age homes is also increasing in India. You will be surprised to know that the ministry of social welfare of the Central government has no definite knowledge of how many old age homes are there in the country.
Yes, the government has this data that by 2030, the percentage of the elderly people above 60 years of age in the total population of India will be 12.5 per cent. This figure has also been received by the Indian government from the report of United Nations Population Fund. This report says that by 2050, the number of elderly people in India will cross 20 per cent. At the global level, the population of the elderly could reach 15 per cent by 2050.
When concern was expressed on the pitiable condition of the elderly in the world, we were assuming that this transition of western countries would not affect us because we have a tradition of strong family here. Our children grow up listening to tales and stories from their grandmothers. The values within the family are strong, but the time has shattered our illusion. An organisation called HelpAge International Network of Charities released Global Assessee Watch Index after serious survey on the condition of the elderly in 96 countries of the world, which brought the reality to the fore. In this survey, Switzerland was accorded the first position, Norway was accorded the second, Sweden third, Germany fourth, Canada fifth and India ranked 72nd. It means that Switzerland is the best place for the elderly. India is in a very bad condition.
Unfortunately, India has not taken any special initiative to improve the situation. Several schemes have been launched but they do not seem to have any special effect. There is a huge class of daily wagers in India that depends on its daily earnings for living. How can such a class collect funds for old age? When body becomes weak, the elderly become dependent on their children. In such a condition, if children consider them burden, it is natural that the situation will worsen. How ironic it is that every parent gives his children everything they want. If the child falls ill, the parents spend sleepless nights, but when the same children grow up they consider their parents a burden!
Argentina was the first to attract attention of the world to this issue in the United Nations General Assembly. At the initiative of the United Nations, the world started celebrating International old age day on October 1 every year. 1999 was also celebrated as the International Veterans Year. We Indians also celebrate this day. You will also be able to see pictures of people sharing the fruits in the old age homes, but when the stories of these old people come out, it leaves us startled! In fact, we first have to pay attention to the financial condition of the elderly. Usually, all western countries have provided adequate pension for the elderly so that they do not have to depend on anyone for their needs. Yes, the biggest problem of elderly in the West is loneliness. Our country has both these problems — economic and even loneliness! It is necessary that for the elderly, a policy should be framed at the national level so that they do not face financial problems. All the states and the Central government should take the same step which the Assam government has taken.
It is worth mentioning that in a country where there has been a tradition of equating parents to God, where the example of Shravan Kumar is often cited, why in this country known for sacrifice, love and belongingness, the condition of the elderly so bad? We have been observing the ideals of Lord Rama and Lord Krishna; the Ramayana, the Geeta and the Mahabharat have been guiding us, but then we are weaning away from our cultural ideals today, why? From the Western culture, we should accept good things and not learn anything that will destroy our culture.
Before I conclude…
President Ram Nath Kovindji was in Nagpur on Friday. He spared some time for me despite his busy schedule. We met and had a great deal of talk. We have been together in the Rajya Sabha and he has always showered his friendly affection on me. During my meeting with him in Nagpur, I realised that there is no change at all in his nature despite reaching India’s highest office. Equally humble and gentle with the same sensitivity as before. This is the specialty of a good person!