The single image of 93-year old Ananataiah Shetty, lying chained on the terrace, apparently shackled by his own sons, is a reality in India. The chains maybe an excess, but the story of an old man or woman, forcefully confined to a room or even just a cot is not all that uncommon.
A legal expert recalls the case of a wealthy woman who passed away recently. Her sons and daughters had sent the woman who owned 20 properties, to an old age home near Perungalathur in Chennai. They claimed that she wanted to be independent, however, the old woman, who was given a double occupancy room in the old age home, wanted to return home.
However, although her bills were paid diligently, none of her children came to visit her, and the only one who listened to her anguished cries of wanting to die in her own ‘home’ were the room mate and a couple of kind staff. In another instance in Kilpauk, a young working couple confined the man’s aged parents to a room, locked up the rest of the house, and left for work everyday.
They could justify their behavior to neighbours citing fear of robbers muscling in and attacking the old couple. There are many such stories of sons and daughters abandoning the parents after seizing their property, or simply because they view the act of caring as a burden, in many houses everywhere. How do we resolve what is arguably a grey area, since we are talking of emotional destitution? Yes, there is a law, the Parents’ Maintenance Act, of 31 December 2007 (Maintenance of Parents and Senior Citizens), and Tamil Nadu is one of the earliest states to have framed the Maintenance of Parents and Senior Citizens’ Rule.
Abandoning your parents is simply an offence that can end in imprisonment. Sources in Chennai police say there are at least 25 cases underway but there has been no conviction till date. Apparently, a compromise is usually reached, but there is no mechanism in place to check how the compromise is panning out. While retirement homes and old age homes have been trying to improve on their original templates in recent years, the way we treat the retirees needs to be rebooted, say activists, given our huge graying population.
According to government data, India’s population of people aged 60-80 will increase by 326% between 2000 and 2050 and those over 80 years by 700%. The overall population, it estimates, will increase by 55% in that period. In the absence of a road map on caring for aged parents, and a poor social infrastructure which offers hardly anything worthwhile for senior citizens to be productive, bringing up parents could well be the next big challenge for society.
“Loneliness is something of a slow killer, unfortunately, we are not sensitive enough to the plight of our ageing population. They need much more than a meal and a bed, ” says Aruna Damodharan, who heads the Chennai Chapter of Dignity Foundation, an NGO, working to bring comfort to the elderly people.
According to her 70% of calls to the Foundation helpline are triggered by emotional destitution, while the rest of the calls seek logistics help. The Chennai chapter averages 50 to 60 calls a month. “We need many more foundations like ours to cater to the people out there, and we need to go beyond framing rules, ” she adds. Viswanath Swami, an activist feels that a data base of those over 60 years of age should be prepared in every city as the first step to caring for the aged.
“In recent years, there has been a spike in awareness levels on women’s issues, on transgenders’ plight and the disabled. However, not many are aware of the Maintenance of Parents and Senior Citizens’ Act, and we need to step up on this. Minding your parents is not just a moral issue, it is a social responsibility,” he adds.
Dedicating a day for our senior citizens—along the lines of Mothers’ Day and the upcoming Fathers’ Day could be a bay step in bringing up parents.Image courtesy: Jorge Royan/Wikimedia Commons Other columns by the author
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Bhama Devi Ravi is a Chennai based journalist