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Special Content

Volume-30, 21-27 October, 2017

Elderly in India : A Situation Analysis

Dr. Shrinath Sahai

The world of the 21st century is reeling under the pressure of an ageing population. Proportion of elderly people in population of the countries across the world is increasing. The same is true for India also where the percentage of elderly in our total population has risen from 5.58 in 1951 census to 7.5 in 2001 and to 8.6 in 2011 census (Table1). As per the latest census of 2011, the total population of the aged people in India was 10.4 crores which is estimated to rise to 17.7 crores by the year 2025 and 32.4 crores by 2050.
The growth rate of the elderly population, during the period 1991-2001, has been higher (2.89) against the overall growth rate (2.02) of the total population of the country. In fact, such increase in elderly population, is a global phenomenon since the second half of the twentieth century. Production of effective life-saving drugs, better control over the infections, communicable diseases, easy availability of the medical aids, as well as the health-prone foods and overall people's increasing consciousness towards their better health and living, the cleanliness - all these attributes have jointly contributed towards enhancing the lifespan of people. The mortality rate has come down drastically. It has been termed as the 'Age of Ageing'. The U.N report claims that in developing countries, the increase in elderly people's number is at a faster rate of 3.4 times as against 1.84 times of the developed ones.
Our country has been going through major social transformation. The basic structure of family which constitutes the core of the society has changed from joint system to nuclear one. This change is structurally as well as perceptional. The very objective, purpose of the family has actually dimmed, in this modern era of progress. With the westernization creeping in, the virtues and values, the emotional bonds, which existed in Indian traditional joint family system, have fallen off, slipped. A modern family no more remains the 'care-giver' like earlier days, when it used to be 'caring' for its members from 'cradle to grave'. Career gaining supreme, the smaller, nuclear family has become mobile. Youngsters moving out are disinclined to carry their old parents along, which are physically and mentally declined and economically weak. They are left to live by themselves alone.
Reasons for the descending interest of younger generation in older people can be traced primarily in the factors: (a) Industrialization (b) Urbanization (c) Rising education (d) Job-orientation (e) Family configuration and the likes.
Industrialization has made great impact on the occupation, vocation and other walks of life of people, especially in India, which has been predominantly an agricultural society. Majority of the people of this country, living in villages and engaged in agriculture, were firmly footed with their lands. However, the new generation, becoming uninterested in the traditional occupation of the family, leaves out one day, leaving the old parents to stay in the house, for themselves. Physical facilities and emerging amenities of the day attract youngsters to cities. Having acquired higher education and new skills, they are eager to obtain higher jobs in big cities and abroad. They have to move out. And the family gets dis-jointed, its very formation, composition get changed. Migration is demand of the age.
Norms and perception of marriage have transformed. Delayed and inter-caste marriages are the choice of the new generation, which lead to nuclear-family pattern. Education, health, fooding and up-bringing investment cost of children have enormously gone up. This has limited the resources of the earning-member in the family, to spend on the care for the elderly; their longitivity increasing.
Abuse Complexity: Abuses against the aged are far and wide. Economic variable is the prime cause. Studies revealed, "Within 5 years of their retirement, people exhaust their savings and then, they are forced to depend on their children and relatives". They spend their life's saving on schooling and study of their children, building a home for them to live in, performing their marriages and finally get them settled. And so, ultimately, they are money-less - no income left either through pension (large number of retirees have no pension) or other resources; they just struggle for existence. The NSS report (1995-96) mentioned that around 31 percent elderly male and 71-76 percent elderly female were found totally dependent on others. This makes them weak; they face challenges of grabbing their lands, transfer of their properties, house and the likes.
Women Most Vulnerable: Women in India have been treated insignificantly right from the beginning. Their life has been marginalized, first as a female child, then a married girl, aged women and finally a widow. In Indian traditional society, old women commanded respect in the family on two counts : (a) store-house of knowledge and experience (b) care-taker of the small off-springs. The new generation does not appreciate age-old wisdom and is less dependent on aged-women. Considered mobile and suitably fitting to the techno-specific jobs, new generation opt for the nuclear family; old parents being left to remain in their ancestral dwellings alone.
Studies have revealed that 13.7 percent old men and 36.5 percent women were abused in the family by their daughter-in-laws, the most. And 33.3 percent old husbands said, they were abused by their wives. 81.4 percent abusers were married persons. 47 percent abusers had no personal income and were dependent, financially, on the elders. In India, the son has been the most frequent abuser. Condition of women living in Vrindavan is extremely deplorable.
Rural Women:  Rural women are more marginalized since the loss of traditional security - cover of the joint family system. Security and maintenance, outside the family for these women have been extremely poor. Large number of institutions for the aged women were formed during 1990's. There were about 728 old-age homes in India in the year 1998, and many more have added to it by now.
Old Age Home Facilities : The Helpage India made a study of the infrastructure facilities available in old age homes, run by N.G.O's in India. While some of the residents have to pay for their stay, certain homes offer both free stay and pay and stay facilities. Sex-wise accommodation, medical aids and recreational facilities and counsellings are also provided for in these homes. Growing old, people do need voluntary help, social welfare services are the dire need today. More such homes are the crying necessities for a populous country like India.
Emotional Attachment : In a study at Delhi University, it was found that 85 percent old persons are victim of ill-treatment of their progeny. According to the Help Age India, every one aged person, out of three, is mal-treated, abused by his children, daughter-in-laws. Condition of old persons at Delhi, is the most deplorable, where 60 percent aged are abused by their sons and 24 percent by their daughter-in-laws. Despite facing all ill-treatments and abuses, 98 percent of old people continue to live with their children and do not make complaints against them, to save and maintain the prestige of their family.
To Sum Up :  Laws have been formulated to protect old people from abuse and victimization but there has been no effective and sustained implementation. It is also notable that the disintegration of the joint family is unstoppable, as it has assumed the need of the hour today - the young children cannot be suggested against migrating and leaving the parents alone, since it is for the advancement and growth of their careers. The aged population of the present era is destined to face this 'challenge of development'. So the redressal lies with the old person himself/ herself, learning to live away from the family; leaving behind, casting off any attachment and emotion that make them worrisome; despite amenities and care provided in the old age homes. Make a home, outside home, seems the mantra.
(The author is an academician, who writes on social, economic and academic issues). Views expressed are personal.
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