The houses of elders in Delhi hide an ugly secret: one in every two elderly persons in the capital is facing harassment over property, or knows another senior who is. And it’s upscale south Delhi which has the dubious distinction of harbouring the bulk of the harassment cases (41.6 per cent), followed by central Delhi (20.8 per cent).
These are among the shocking home truths revealed by the Older Persons Property Victimisation Survey done by HelpAge India for HT. The survey, that took off on June 15, the Elder Abuse Prevention Day, was conducted on a sample size of 1,183 persons aged between 65 and 91 in 46 colonies.
Only 402 seniors agreed to come on record. Lajpat Nagar, Saket and Rajinder Nagar were found to have the highest incidence of harassment of elders. North Delhi emerged the most elderly sensitive zone, with only 5.5 per cent cases being reported from there.
“The incidence of property-related harassment could be even higher among Delhi’s 11 lakh elderly people, as at least 31 per cent of those interviewed admitted facing problems but refused to talk about them,” says Nidhi Raj Kapoor, head of communications, HelpAge India.
The questionnaires were distributed by elderly persons from senior citizen welfare bodies.
Ved Kumar, 76, the chairman of the steering committee for Saket's senior citizens welfare association, profiled two poignant cases from his block: “Two brothers have pushed their parents to the verandah. One son gives the mother her meals, the other feeds the father. As a result, the old couple can't even have meals together.” In another case, he says, an elderly woman has been dumped in a Saket servant quarter by her son, who lives in their ancestral Vasant Vihar home. “She wasn’t invited to her grandson's wedding: a box of sweets and 2 saris were dropped at her doorstep after the wedding.”
Commenting on the findings, M.M. Sabharwal, president emeritus of HelpAge India, who is 85 himself, said: “We have lost our culture and ethos of love and care for the elders.” Supreme Court advocate Geeta Luthra agrees: “I see several property cases in South Delhi in which children are so callous that their parents die even before their death.”
Gerontology expert N.K. Chadha, a professor of psychology at Delhi University says, “A major reason for rampant elderly abuse in South Delhi is the lack of community feeling there, compared to localities in North Delhi.”
At 49 per cent, children form the chunk of those harassing the seniors. Says Sudarshan Arora, president of the Rajinder Nagar senior citizen association who had people slamming the door on her several times during the survey, “Many people are just too scared of their children to talk about their plight.” Only 44 per cent of those facing harassment report matters to the police. The rest — 54 per cent — suffer in silence. Deependra Pathak, chief spokesperson of Delhi Police would like more seniors to approach the cops. “Police intervention emotionally emboldens the senior citizens, and puts some element of fear and responsibility in the errant children,” he says.
Neighbours, tenants, builders and civil authorities constitute another 35 per cent of those causing harassment. But Raksha Marwah, a 65-year-old retired senior research scientist who lives alone with her husband in New Rajinder Nagar, isn’t going to be defeated by them. After having her car smashed, her walls defaced and the entrance littered by those eyeing her property, she grits her teeth as she says, “First, I will beat them. Only then will I die.”