Pushed out of their homes

Constantly on the lookout for the elderly without a home

Bengaluru: Iyengar, who is in his mid-seventies, was a well-to-do mechanical engineer. When his sons married, however, they turned on their father in an attempt to usurp his property. Iyengar was abandoned and then diagnosed with glaucoma. Now an inmate at the Gandhi Old Age Home, he is a pioneer to the 80-odd residents, despite being left with only 30 per cent vision and no home or family to speak of. People like Iyengar are common in this rough and tumble world and hundreds of senior citizens are turned out of their homes by the children they lovingly raised.

Sprawled across an acre of land near Magadi Main Road, the Gandhi Old Age Home provides shelter, food, clothing and medical aid to 80 inmates. The inmates, who are between the ages of 65 and 85, are all below the poverty line.

Started in 2001 by a businessman, Sunil Bhoopalan, in a rented building with eight inmates, the organisation has grown in leaps and bounds. “My great uncle was Bhoopalan Chandrashekhar, a freedom fighter. That’s why we named the organisation after him,” said Sunil. An entrepreneur in the hotel and jewellery business until 2001, it was the death of his father that made Sunil want to contribute to society in some way. “My daughter and wife urged me to start an old age home,” he explained.

Constantly on the lookout for the elderly without a home, they have found no dearth of senior citizens who have been abandoned by their children. “Often, the inmates tell us how their children starved them at home,” said Sunil. Several of the inmates had also been abandoned on the streets.

In 2004, when Sunil bought an acre of land in Kadabagere Cross, the organisation finally found its roots. Everything is provided free of cost – shelter, food, clothing, emergency hospital treatment and weekly health check-ups. Two doctors from Pooja Hospital nearby take it in turns to visit the home every day, to see to the inmates, most of whom are ailing. The inmates are also brought in by other NGOs and the police force.

Caring for senior citizens means health conditions like cataract, which need surgery, are an everyday affair. For this, the NGO collaborates with other philanthropic organisations like the Rotary and the Lions Club, which organise health camps and ensure that the treatment is provided free of cost. Another collaboration with Apollo Hospital brings in medicines that are either free or highly subsidised.

Sunil, who is still a sleeping partner with some hotels in the city and works in real estate, funds the NGO from his own pocket. “We do have donations coming in and people contribute on special occasions, but this amounts to about five days’ worth of expenses in a month. The rest is up to me,” he explained. Running the NGO and its facilities costs about Rs 2 lakh per month.

At the home itself, the inmates don’t lack for anything. 24-hour hot water supply, a walking track, three nutritious meals a day, weekly yoga classes and power back-up so there is never an issue with electricity, are all provided. The organisation is largely self-sustained – cows bred there meet the home’s dairy needs, a vegetable and fruit garden that the inmates are encouraged to tend to contributes to the daily menu.

The day begins with breakfast at 9 am, tea and snacks at noon, lunch at 2.30 pm and dinner at 8 pm. Despite the encouragement he has received from the government, Sunil says that the home is completely unaided and receives no funding from the government. “We have tried to appeal to the government to give these people their monthly pensions, but that hasn’t happened,” he said.

“Only those who have close ties with the government receive their pension.”

Even with funding, the journey is packed with hurdles. “We have patients who are terminally-ill and ailments like typhoid and malaria are common,” said Sunil. Despite the intensive physical monitoring, with half a dozen nurses and ayahs who are there full time, dealing with illness remains a challenge. “We also have to face a lot of problem with the cops when someone dies,” he added.

Dignity and self-confidence contribute largely to the philosophy of the Gandhi Old Age Home. The inmates are never allowed to feel useless or like a burden to society. They are trained in tailoring, agriculture and incense stick making. If they make an income out of these trades, it is theirs to keep.

Sunil has received several awards over the last 14 years, including the Jai Prakash Narayan National Award, the Aryabhatta Award, the Rajya Ratna and Adarsha Ratna. He is the Deputy Governor of the Vasavi Clubs International, also a social organisation and a committee member of the Karnataka Sahitya Parishath.

Mr Sunil conducts eye and dental check up camps for the needy. Anybody who is in need of cataract surgery can also contact him (98450-03111). He needs to be informed well in advance.

( Source : dc )
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