Murder, fraud, loneliness, abuse and financial pressures - the going is tough for senior citizens in India, as helplines are inundated with distress calls. About 7% of Karnataka’s population comprises senior citizens, with the number likely to triple by 2050. Shunned or ill-treated by their families, battling rising healthcare costs and crippled by the absence of compassion and support from the government, senior citizens from middle and lower income groups suffer most of all. Why aren’t the elderly allowed the life of dignity they deserve, ask Joyeeta Chakravorty and Mujahid Deputy.
Recently, Bengaluru awoke to the grisly murder of 69-year-old Shanthakumar, who was found stuffed inside a cupboard at a rented house in Gandhinagar. Police investigations revealed that Shantakumari had been killed by her own daughter and grandson over a trivial matter.
The burgeoning city of Bengaluru has a number of things to flaunt, attracting people from across the country. However, the well-being of the elderly has always been a matter of concern, with crimes against them increasing every day. A number of police initiatives seek to help senior citizens stay safe, through intensified patrolling and interactive programmes, besides assisting them on the phone. Despite this, assaults by family members are becoming an alarming trend.
While cheating remains the number one crime which the elderly people are being subjected to, the police data shows that attacks on the elderly who live alone have drastically reduced. Further scrutiny of the trend reveals that attacks on those who live alone are markedly less common than instances of domestic violence, which is on the rise and has proven fatal in several cases, explained a senior police officer.
“Senior citizens, especially those who live without their children, are vulnerable to crimes and are a soft target. They’re easy prey, also because they are less able to fight against injustice. Many of these crimes involve cheating and fraud, which arise more within the family than from outsiders,” points out DCP Crime - 2, Jinendra Khanagavi. He, however, said that the police force has intensified patrolling and awareness programmes to prevent crimes against the elderly, under its new beat system. Khanagavi added that servants have had a major role to play in crimes against senior citizens who live alone, usually tipping off burglars about the situation.
Police have deployed constables to areas that have larger numbers of elderly people residing alone and remain in constant touch with them. All residents are given their respective area-in-charge’s number to be contacted if in distress.
To bring a sense safety among elderly people in the city, the police are planning for frequent personal visits besides conducting interactive programmes to increase their participation.
2007, the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act
Any person who is responsible for the protection and care of a senior citizen and intentionally abandons the senior citizen completely is liable to pay a fine of Rs 5,000 or be imprisoned for 3 months or both. Senior citizens can also file an application before the Maintenance Tribunal to declare the transfer of property void, in keeping with certain conditions.
Responsibility of the State Government:
The State Government must ensure that all government hospitals and hospitals partly or fully funded by the government arrange separate queues for senior citizens and provide beds for all senior citizens. Additionally, every district hospital must have special facilities for senior citizens. Every district must have at least one old age home for senior citizens who are poor and needy. These old age homes must be able to accommodate at least 150 poor and needy senior citizens
A Universal and Non Contributory Old Age Pension System to be established immediately by the government with a minimum dignified amount of monthly pension not less than 50% of minimum wage or Rs 2000/- per month, whichever is higher.
The pension should be an individual entitlement for all eligible citizens of India. The monthly pension amount be revised every two to three years. Individual who are 55 older are eligible for the old age pension. For women, eligibility age for pensions should be 50 years.
For highly vulnerable groups (such as the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups, Transgender, Women Compelled to become Sex Workers, PWDs), the eligibility age should be 45 years.
No one should be forced to compulsorily retire from work on attaining the age of eligibility for universal old age pension. A single window system for Old Age Pensions and a separate ministry for issues of the Elderly.
The right to employment and the right to pensions together represent the most important survival and livelihood demands of the unorganized sector (both rural and urban).
The demand is that these issues are taken into account in the coming years budget, and are given due consideration by the government.
The payment of pension should not be used to deny any other social security / welfare benefit such as benefit under the Public Distribution System
Demand for old age homes, legal protection against family on the rise
The helpline at the government-run Department for the Empowerment of Differently Abled and Senior Citizens never stops buzzing. The department receives upto 1500 calls a month regarding a range of problems, from legal advice to tales of senior citizens seeking information on old age homes, having been shunned by their families. While the more affluent can afford better facilities or caregivers at home, the process is far more difficult among the middle-income groups, for whom life in a Tier 1 city is simply out of their means. A recent report on Elder Abuse in India released by HelpAge India puts Bangalore at the top on issues of elder abuse among the Tier 1 cities.
Senior citizens comprise around 7.7% of Karnataka’s population, an unfortunate demographic that battles waning health, rising prices and abuse in all forms. “Our helpline centres are spread out across 28 centres across the state and we have noticed a marked increase in these calls,” said Vasantha Prema DP, Joint Director, Directorate of Welfare of Disabled and Senior Citizens.” The Department has received over 4 lakh calls in all, out of which 37,969 complaints proved genuine. 27,712 cases have been solved so far. “These are usually people from the lower economic strata and this is the tip of the iceberg,” she added.
Dr Radha S Murthy, Managing Trustee, Nightingales Medical Trust also points out that out of the 10 lakh or so senior citizens living in Bengaluru, around three lakh face some form of abuse, either physical, emotional or financial. "There has been an increase in the number of people seeking admission to old age homes and also seeking day care facilities. Sadly, the budget for senior citizens is not adequate and we have to make do with what we have," laments Vasantha, who adds that the State has begun a need-based survey for distribution of some 20,000 Aids and appliances for senior citizens who fall under the BPL category.
Nightingales Medical Trust, which runs a care centre for senior citizens with Alzheimer’s or Dementia, receives several calls inquiring after long term stays for the elderly. "A lot of calls come from elderly people who are alone and find it difficult to manage on their own,” said Swati, from NMT, who adds that they receive some 1500 calls a month, of which around 40 are serious complaints.
Middle-income groups are finding it hard to manage the financial burden that comes with living in a tier 1 city. "The cost of medicines is huge and hospital visits are increasing everyday. Reputed private centres in the city charge around Rs 30,000 a month for care-giving facilities at home, which most of us cannot afford. We do not run businesses and are dependent on our savings," added Dhanya Rajesh, who employs a nurse to help care for her 80-year-old mother-in-law.
Focussed research and bigger databases on the plight of senior citizens will go a long way, said Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, The Population Foundation of India. "The Government should start thinking along those lines, atleast for the future generations. Middle-income groups require attention because their savings aren’t enough to meet growing healthcare costs.”
India will have 300 million senior citizens by 2050: Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director, The Population Foundation of India
I think India will soon face the problem of an ageing population in a big way, with the second largest demographic after China. In 2010, the growth rate, which hovered between five and seven percent, will rise by 20 percent by 2050, which means that there will be 300 million senior citizens in India. Sadly, despite such enormous growth projections, not much is being done in terms of social welfare, providing economic security, emotional support or proper care-giving services. The majority of these people will also belong to the poor and middle classes, with each one of them requiring social security.
The Government should start thinking along those lines, conduct research and collect data so that better implementation can happen for the benefit of future generations. Financial security for the old is under increasing strain throughout India.
The need now is to understand that there is a lack of policy and security for the elderly. There is the need for a national policy that prevents crime against the elderly and also aims at providing helplines for the old. We should start looking at universal health insurance for the elderly and it should not be restricted to just BPL patients and should extend to the middle-class population as well. We need helplines, the establishment of a national trust for the aged and also establish a national commission for senior citizens. Sadly, as a society, we do not care for our elderly and the senior citizens, which might explain the absence of will.