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Elderly abuse a growing problem

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By: Kavita Suri

A few days back, Geeta Kapoor breathed her last in the SRV Hospital in Mumbai. She spent the last days of her life waiting for her only son Raja who had left her in a hospital last year and never returned to pick her up. Our own Ashoke Pandit, well known producer-director and social activist who is based in Mumbai, with the help of director Madhur Bhandarkar and Ramesh Turani had put her in an old age home.  Sadly, even the death of this 67-year old veteran actress who had acted in more than 100 films including ‘Pakeezah’ and ‘Razia Sultan’, could not move her son. Raja who would beat her up and give her food once in four days, did not turn up for the last rites of his abandoned mother. Geeta Kapoor’s air-hostess daughter Pooja was also nowhere to be seen. This incident has once again brought into focus the issue of our elderly population and their abuse in the absence of adequate social security schemes and government interventions in India. Geeta Kapoor was one among hundreds and thousands of such elderly population of India who are abused daily by their children and relatives. This has taken a lid off the terrible state of affairs regarding elderly abuse in India which is second most populated country in the world with the population of around 1.3 billion with older people accounting for 104 million (60 years and above). Of this elder population, 71 percent reside in rural areas while 29 percent reside in urban areas. Among them, 15 million elderly people live alone and three-fourths of them are women. As elderly women are living longer than the men, this has put women at a greater risk of abuse. Especially ageing widows and frail, disabled older people are at a greater risk to abuse and neglect not only by family members but also by non-family members and unknown people.

The statistics also show that since 1961, the proportion of India’s elderly population has increased from 5.6 percent to 8.6 percent in 2011. Rough estimates also suggest that by 2050, the global population of people above the age of 60 will exceed the number of younger people.

With increased life expectancy and the pressures of globalization, westernization and modernization, elderly men and women are facing multiple issues in India including chronic diseases, disability, dementia, terminal illness, depression, accidents, falls, nutritional deficiencies, loneliness, etc. Breakdown of the joint family systems, migration of younger generation from villages to different cities for economic reasons, younger people preferring nuclear families and many other reasons contribute to elderly isolation and abuse in India. The senior citizens are subjected to physical, emotional or psychological, financial or exploitation, neglect, and sexual abuse by their near and dear ones. Besides, there have been examples galore in the recent few years about abandonment, isolation, intimidation, unreasonable confinement etc which are also forms of elder abuse. World Health Organization data suggests that 4 to 6 per cent of elderly suffer from some form of abuse, a large percentage of which goes unreported.

Each year on 15th June, United Nations celebrates World Elder Abuse Awareness Day with the aim to highlight the issue of elder abuse and aging and also develop an understanding about abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.

“While the taboo topic of elder abuse has started to gain visibility across the world, it remains one of the least investigated types of violence in national surveys, and one of the least addressed in national action plans”, feels the UN.

In Jammu and Kashmir too, several elder abuse cases have surfaced but it is just a tip of the iceberg as the seniors prefer to maintain a silence over the issue. Also, a significant number of families in the state are living alone and are suffering from “emptiness syndrome” as their kids are working or studying outside the state. “This is also a modern-day challenge but there is no solution as the kids have to go out for living and studies and parents cannot go with them,” says a sociologist studying on the theme adding that though abuse is not involved in such cases, yet there is tremendous feeling of loneliness among these parents which is also a common issue with regard to abused parents who also face loneliness besides being subjected to various forms of abuse.

Recently, to protect the elderly population against abuse and exploitation, the Delhi High Court passed an order stating that adults who live in their parents’ house and abuse them can be evicted from the property. Besides, the Court, in a previous judgement, has also said that the married daughters are equally responsible for taking care of their parents as much as their brothers are. The Indian laws also provide senior citizens with certain basic rights, including the right to maintenance by children and relatives; the right to proper medical aid; the right to social security and integrity; the right to old-age pensions and other related benefits; and the right not to be exploited or ill-treated by others. The government had also passed the Parents and Senior Citizens Maintenance and Welfare Act was in 2007. Prior to that, the National Policy on Older Persons 1999 which addresses issues such as finances, food security, healthcare and nutrition, shelter, education welfare and protection against abuse and exploitation, was framed to provide elders with a dignified life.

Though these legal provisions are in place, the stark reality is that there is not much awareness about all available welfare measures and acts. The elders who are abused, also tend not to report such cases to the police. The police, in turn, have no training and orientation in dealing with such cases of elderly abuse as they consider it a “trivial household issue”.

As the extent and severity of elder abuse in India is increasing with each passing year and the perpetrators being their own kin or carers, there is need to haves an inclusive social security system for the elderly, moral and value-based education, awareness generation, research and advocacy so as to protect senior citizens. The governments, civil societies and NGOs have to work together for the welfare of senior citizens. Sadly, there are no public spaces for the elderly population. Such spaces need to be created especially keeping in view the fact that the developing Smart City Jammu should be inclusive towards such elderly populations wherein they can lead an active social life and indulge in recreational activities.

Indeed encouraging are few media reports which suggest that the Centre government is planning to increase the jail term for those who abandon or abuse their elderly parents, to six months from the existing three months. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which is reviewing the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, has also proposed widening the definition of children to include adopted or step children, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, grandchildren and minors represented by their legal guardians. Till now, only biological children and grandchildren come under the provisions of the existing Act. A draft bill on ‘Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen Draft Bill, 2018’ is also pending which once approved will supersede the existing act.

(The writer who is Member, J&K State Women Commission is working as Director, Department of Lifelong Learning, University of Jammu)

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