How many times have we heard Kolkata being described as one big “old age home”? And how many times have we just shrugged it off?
Fortunately for many of our senior citizens, there are some who did not just shrug it off. And thus was born Pronam. Launched in 2009, this joint initiative of Kolkata Police and The Bengal, supported by Shree Cement, is designed to cater to the needs of senior citizens, to ensure that they do not feel isolated or helpless.
Structured around a community-service model that is gradually being emulated by other Indian cities, Pronam currently has around 20,000 senior citizens on its rolls, with demand steadily surging for more registrations.
What connects Pronam and Suchitra Sen?
When Pronam started out, the goal was simple. Make the aged and vulnerable feel that they have somebody to care for them. A 24-hour helpline was set up for attending to distress calls and every police station in Kolkata was equipped with a team of officials who would often visit the homes of senior citizens in their jurisdiction to keep an eye on their security, health, legal obligations, and other needs. An additional officer, usually bearing the rank of a sub-inspector, was sanctioned by the Government of West Bengal to be trained specifically for interacting with senior citizens.
The Pronam application form of Suchitra SenCourtesy: Sundeep Bhutoria
Among the first to sign up for the Pronam initiative were screen legend Suchitra Sen and former chief minister Jyoti Basu. Countless senior citizens have since found a new lease of life through the multiple activities and endeavours of Pronam.
According to data gathered by Pronam, India has over 80 lakh senior citizens, with roughly 30 per cent of them staying alone. Medical emergencies along with social and emotional anxiety are far too common for such individuals. One of Pronam’s main objectives, therefore, has been to coordinate with hospitals, NGOs, and other relevant institutions to swiftly address the concerns of the old.
“The recent lockdown saw Pronam and Kolkata Police reach out to members in delivering groceries, medicines and offer hospital and ambulance support. The 24-hour helpline offers psychological guidance and also acts as a friend in lonely times,” explained Esha Dutta, joint convenor, Pronam.
Stay in touch with the elderly: commissioner of police
Along with Kolkata Police, The Bengal, which brings together thought leaders and eminent personalities from across the state, has been instrumental in making Pronam the safety net and the caring hand for our senior citizens. Members of The Bengal generally accompany police officers when meeting senior citizens, carrying with them a packet of sweets and a copy of The Bengal magazine, and are ever-ready to organise cultural programmes for those who are often starved of recreation.
Vineet Goyal has been extremely encouraging of Kolkata Police’s involvement in PronamTT archives
“It is crucial that we don’t neglect our senior citizens in any way, especially during this time of the Covid-19 pandemic. We should maintain detailed records of senior citizens in our database so that we can reach out to them without any hassle or delay. It is our responsibility as the police to make sure that they don’t face any problems. Due to Covid, our officers may not be able to meet senior citizens as often as they used to, but virtual interaction should be continued to stay in touch with the elderly,” said Vineet Goyal, soon after taking office as the police commissioner of Kolkata.
Under Goyal, who is an IPS officer from the 1994 batch, Kolkata Police is determined to engage with society beyond the traditional role of the police, with Pronam being one of the avenues that maximises such engagement.
An evening to remember
Making good use of online facilities, Pronam has also been hosting virtual events to break the monotony for those locked inside their homes with little to do.
One such event took place on the evening of January 13, with more than 130 registered members of Pronam in attendance. After inspector Tanmay Raychaudhuri laid out the programme’s flow and schedule, filmmaker Arindam Sil, on behalf of The Bengal, shared some of his thoughts with the guests.
“These are, of course, testing times, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t interact or engage. The Bengal has been grateful to be associated with Pronam and we assure you that we’ll be there for you at all times so that you never feel alone. I’d also like to thank Kolkata Police for their peerless support in community-building and for proving that the police are indeed people’s best friend,” observed Sil.
A copy of The Bengal magazine is presented to a Pronam member during one of Pronam’s regular in-person visits to the houses of senior citizensCourtesy: Sundeep Bhutoria
This was followed by a performance by singer Iman Chakraborty, who did not let a bout of Covid affect her commitment to turn up and entertain the audience. Then it was the turn of Dr Dhires Chowdhury to alert the senior citizens present about the spread and mitigation measures in regard to Omicron.
Kolkata Police officials felicitate elderly teachers on behalf of Pronam on Teachers’ Day last yearTT archives
“Please take your medicines regularly and don’t overlook your underlying medical conditions just because of Covid. By all measures, this variant of Covid is mild, but it’s still not to be taken lightly. If you’re at home, sanitising your hands once in a while is fine, you don’t need to be obsessive about it. Should you need to step outside, please take care to use fresh masks every few hours,” said Chowdhury.
Sandip Shaw from Kolkata Police then took over proceedings to urge senior citizens not to be taken in by those resorting to phone calls to commit bank fraud. “Under no circumstances should you share any of your bank account information with strangers. Please remember that most cases of fraud happen due to unsuspecting citizens handing over their banking details to fraudsters,” noted Shaw.
In the final segment of the programme, a number of Pronam members got the opportunity to show off their artistic skills. Ila Banerjee from Amherst Street and Swati Goswami from Burtolla sang a few devotional songs and Rabindrasangeet while Suktirshi Saha from Sinthee recited poetry.
An example of the stitching talents of Pronam member Dora Roy from PatuliCourtesy: Sundeep Bhutoria
With many more such programmes planned for the coming days, Pronam is quite a shining example of how drive, diligence and dedication can prioritise the needs of those who tend to become an afterhtought. “The response has been very encouraging and we hope to build on this going into the future,” said Esha Dutta.