The number of persons above the age of 60 in India in 2011 was 103 million, i.e. 7.4% of the total population. The UN Technical Group on Population Projections predicts that by 2016 the proportion of the 60+ in India is likely to be 8.9% and it will be 21% by 2050. In the years 2000-2050, overall population in India will grow by 55%, but of 60+ persons by 326% and 80+ persons by 700%. By then 60+ persons will outnumber the under-15 persons.
Even today 65% of the elderly suffer from chronic diseases and 15% are visually impaired. More than half of them live below the poverty line. HelpAge India’s nationwide survey of 2014 shows that elder abuse increased from 23% to 50% in one year. The perpetrators of abuse were sons (61%) and daughters-inlaw (59%). This is a blot on a society that has traditionally been known to respect its elders, where every child knows the story of Shravan, who carried his blind parents in a palanquin on a pilgrimage all over the country. The movie ‘Baghban’ was a sad commentary on the ingratitude of the offspring.
There are many causes of the plight of the elders in India. The decline of social and moral values, the break-up of the joint families, the pressure of over population, the introduction of new technology in the economy and everyday life and the misplaced emphasis on rapid material progress have contributed in marginalising the elders.
Social security has been made the concurrent responsibility of the Central and state governments. The 39th report of the standing committee on the welfare of the senior citizens states that less than 0.038% of GDP is spent on them. This is too meagre to meet the genuine needs of 8% of the population.
The UN General Assembly voted on 14 December, 1990, to observe October 1 as the International Day of Old Persons. It was first observed in 1991 to create awareness about issues concerning the elders. Subsequently, the UN issued global policy guidelines for various governments to frame their own policies. The Government of India is a signatory to such documents.
The Union government circulated the National Policy on Senior Citizens 2011 in which the focus was to ameliorate the lot of the elderly women and the rural poor. The states were advised to frame their own policies; so Punjab made its own policy on the pattern of the Central model. Similarly the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act was passed in 2007. It is a comprehensive law that makes children responsible to take care of their old parents.
Neither the government nor the children follow these policies and the act in its true spirit. For example, the Punjab government is required to pay old age pension of Rs 250 per month. Even this paltry sum is not paid regularly whereas the law makers enhance their salaries and allowances frequently. A person who remains MLA even for a day gets lifelong pension. The state government does not release funds even to observe the International Day of the Old.
It is an irony that the plight of the elderly is pathetic when most of the political leaders themselves are 60+. A society that neglects its elders is uncivilised; a government that ignores the old is irresponsible.
The writer is a Ludhiana-based retired professor and writer