A Personification of Our Depleting Value System
Mallamma, 102 years, supported by son Siddaiah, 75 years at Kunthur Village, Mysore, Karnataka (in the picture). This is a rare and heart-rending example where an elderly son is taking care of his aged parent within his most modest means and ability. However, this is not a norm in the rest of India. Where did the urbanised India go wrong in caring for its Elders?
According to a study conducted by HelpAge India in 2014, over 50% elderly surveyed, have reported abuse. Many suffer violence, neglect and isolation on a daily basis at the hands of their own children. According to census 2011, almost 15 million elderly Indians live all alone and close to three-fourths of them are women. While some who live alone have taken a conscious decision to do so, many others do this because of lack of option. They have been isolated, neglected, hounded out and housed in old age homes, because they are the victims of fast eroding social values in their own children and society at large. The younger generation who consider the senior citizens limiting their ‘independence’ subject them to neglect – almost every day, we hear stories of elderly people from well-to-do families, living on the streets after being ill-treated by their children.
Traditional Indian society cared and respected the old age and the wisdom, abilities and confidence, that came with it. The older family members also reciprocated, guiding them, supporting and nurturing them with love and affection. But with urbanization, Indian society underwent a rapid transformation too just like the other countries globally. But the social fabric bonding of India saw larger deviation than any other country, because of what it has been as a set-up since ages. Children who migrated, left their old parents in the village, causing problems of loneliness and lack of care givers for old parents. Traditional values and family system started weakening and degenerating for the first time. Intergenerational ties that were once the hallmark of the traditional family system broke down. The care of elderly, therefore, has emerged as an important issue in India. Population ageing in numerous ways is a demographic accomplishment, fuelled by major advancements associated with improved health facilities. However, this growth in numbers clearly has had a far reaching implication in the social threadwork for which neither the government at the macro level nor the family of the elderly at the micro level have shown much care.
Another significant factor is, earlier, when a value based joint family system was dominant, providing care for the aged was not a problem. However, the vulnerability of elderly is rapidly increasing with a growing trend towards nuclear family set-up.
Also, due to lack of wisdom and the challenges of modern life, the coping capacities of the younger and elder family members are now being challenged, resulting in neglect and abuse of the elderly in many ways. Parents have to take care of themselves in these circumstances. If they are able bodied, it works, if not, then they become vulnerable.
Another development impacting negatively on the status of older people is the increasing occurrence of dual career nuclear families. This development has implications for elderly care. On one hand, working couples find the presence of old parents emotionally bonding and of great help in the caring for their own children. On the other hand, high costs of housing and health care are making it harder for children to have parents live with them in constrained spaces. Work life pressure in nuclear families has contributed immensely to isolation of seniors at households. This is true both in rural and urban areas. Though recently many corporates like IBM, Deloitte and American Express have started initiatives to brilliantly support their employees’ ageing parents the situation of care giving for elders is still very dismal.
Sociologically, ageing marks a form of transition from one set of social roles to another, and such roles are difficult. The shift into the new role of the ‘old’ is one of the most complex and complicated among all role transformation in the course of ageing. In a historically agriculture based traditional society, where children followed their parent’s occupation, it was natural that the expertise and knowledge of each generation were passed on to the next. However, this is no longer true in modern society, in which improved education, rapid change in technology and new forms of organization have often rendered obsolete the knowledge, experience and wisdom of older persons. Presence of smartphones and social media-isolation of elders has only added to the problem. Elderly people find that once they retire, their children do not seek advice from them anymore, and society is side-lining them on many fronts. This realization often results in feeling of loss of status, worthlessness and loneliness. Neither having authority in the family, nor being needed, they feel frustrated and depressed. If the older person is economically dependent on the children, the problem is likely to become even worse. One HelpAge survey in 2014 found out that 45% elderly who reported abuse, faced it only because they were economically dependent on the abuser.
The most pressing concern lies with the process of ‘isolation’ that the elderly are subjected to. The most crucial step lies in addressing this. This can be done by treating the elderly with the love and respect, which they deserve. For this, it is important to instil values of love, compassion and respect for every human being from childhood. Through Values-Based Education programs, values should be instilled not only in children but also parents and teachers. Further, NGOs and social sector must work both with children and elderly alike, by counselling each segment how to coexist in home spaces even with varying areas of interest. Once the Elderly at our homes are truly revered and the child within them is cared for, the sense of aloofness and detachment felt by senior citizens can be done away with and old age be made a holistically rewarding experience. Social Media could be used as a tool by young children to make Elderly inclusive in their moments of fun and family times, so that, by simple gestures bonding can spread only further more.
Authored by: Mohd. Asim Khan. Asim is a TISS alumnus who has worked in PwC India Foundation. He currently manages the Corporate Social Responsibility role at AT&T India.