The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
In life’s twilight, the elderly step in to help the aged

92-year-old lived with the youngest of his five sons. In return for the favour, he handed over his monthly pension to his son’s family. Then one day, his son threw him out. The old man was shuffled around by his sons, and eventually returned to his youngest. However, his daughter-in-law pushed him, he fell, hurt himself, left, and never came back. A grandson from one of his two daughters found the old man living on a railway station platform and took him home...

4The septuagenarian widow lives alone in her Bondel Road home, because none of her three sons will have her, or offer any form of help to their old mother. She is upset about being abandoned, insecure about being absolutely alone in an emergency…

The family of the first got in touch with Dignity Foundation, and although the nonagenarian refused to file police complaints, they are now working in tandem with the Human Rights Commission. The Foundation, an organisation of and for the elderly, is helping him cope with depression, through counselling. It has also put him on HelpAge India’s Adopt-a-Granny programme, for financial and emotional assistance. The old lady alone at Bondel Road, is yet to find a helping hand. The trend is uncomfortably clear — the young don’t live here anymore, and many of those who do, refuse to take responsibility of old parents. So, it’s up to the elderly to throw a lifeline to the old — spending time with them, sharing common problems, seeking simple solutions.

Even one evening a week spent talking about everything from gout to grandchildren, small savings to Suchitra Sen, gives the old and the abandoned a respite from the monotony of everyday existence and the comfort of companionship.

“There is a definite increase in the number of old parents being forsaken by their families,” laments Debanjali Maitra of Dignity Foundation. “Cases of abuse, too, are on the rise. The elderly have to be made aware that there are avenues of assistance and they don’t have to go it alone.”

At Dignity, most of the legwork is done by volunteers, themselves over age 50. “The point of having older people as volunteers is that they all have similar problems, and can understand each other,” explains Maitra. “The younger senior citizens, too, have something worthwhile to do, as well as offering and receiving companionship of like-minded people of the same age group. Sometimes, they organise get-togethers at their own homes and reminisce about the ‘good old days’. It is the emotional support that’s most important.”

Deepak Mitra, a dignity volunteer, says the main problem for the elderly is finances and health. “We lose two things in life with age — economic independence and physical mobility through deteriorating health, and often even the mental faculties,” the 70-year-old says. “There’s nothing in life to prepare us for that, psychologically, mentally or emotionally. To add insult to injury, the lack of occupation results in depression. We have to keep active, for mental and physical health, as long as we are able to.”

Widows are the most vulnerable. Like the old woman staying with her son and daughter-in-law. Neither of them looks after her, even in terms of the basic necessities, like food and medicines. So, in desperation, she begs on the streets near her home.

“Cases of neglect amongst the middle class and the elite are rising, but because of the social and cultural stigma, no one wants to speak out,” says Anupriyo Mallick, a social worker who has conducted surveys and done studies on the issue. “There are two types, passive neglect and active abuse. The basic problem is economic dependence. The most disturbing trend, however, is that family relations are breaking down. This is the sign of the times, and the damage being done is irreparable.”

Email This Page