In a country which allegedly reveres age and its associated wisdom, it would be reasonable to assume that the elderly would be well cared for. On the contrary, it would seem that older people are increasingly seen as a liability, as people who have outlived their utility. They are often tolerated if they can be used as cheap labour at home or if their savings can be appropriated by their progeny or other family members. Instances of children abandoning their parents are not as much an exception as many think they are. This plight is worsened as, unlike in many developed Western nations, the safety net of social security is absent in India.
Given this, it is not surprising that India is ranked at an unimpressive 73 among the 91 countries surveyed as ideal for older people to live in. HelpAge International recently launched the first-ever Global AgeWatch Index ranking ‘countries according to the social and economic well-being of older people’.
The parameters for developing the index included: income status, health, education, employment, and the living environment. Sweden tops the list, followed by Norway and Germany. India can take cold comfort in the fact that Pakistan (ranked 89) and Afghanistan (91) are at the bottom of the heap. On the other hand, China (35) and Sri Lanka (36) have fared much better.
The study dispels the myth that the wellbeing of older people is greater in wealthier economies. None of the BRICS nations figured in the top 20 nations on the index. The West, especially the Scandinavian countries, has done well and this is mainly because the system is geared towards the demographic shifts that are taking place.
About 8% of India’s total population is above the age of 60. In the coming decades, this is set to increase. Some states, like Kerala, already have a significant number of older people and, unless farsighted policies are implemented, their quality of life will not improve making old age something to dread rather than enjoy.