India’s elderly population is a little over 100 million or around 8% of the population.
The size is expected to reach 300 million ie around 33% of the population in the next few decades. The country has a number of policies to safeguard the interests of the aged. Besides the provisions of the Constitution, there is a law, enacted in 2007, for the protection of the aged especially.
A national council has been working on this. But, mostly in urban areas, there are senior citizens who in no way depend on the welfare schemes of the government. They are financially independent and physically fit but deprived of emotional support.
The digital divide and modern mores of living have disrupted traditional family compositions and community relationships in Indian cities.
In a majority of urban families today, one would find parents not paying enough attention to their children. In such situations, grandparents, who are mostly senior citizens, can significantly contribute by offering emotional support and corrective measures.
The behaviour of today’s adolescents is different from what it was. An adverse environment can lead them to drop out of school and indulge in crimes. Rightfully, when young people feel tired of pressure and tension, they should approach their grandparents first.
The aged and the younger generations are equally duty-bound to play responsible roles to evolve sustainable solutions to this socio-cultural crisis.
Creating room for regular dialogue and interactions on subjects of mutual interest is an imminent need. Instead of criticism, older people need to respect the capabilities of the young.
They should be ready to walk along with the younger generation and try flow into their thoughts, as the famous Lebanese philosopher Khalil Gibran said.
Elderly people have known and experienced that failure to overcome immediate challenges never means the end of the world and that one could revive even at a later stage. Elderly people have the capacity and power to help adolescents safely go through the difficult phases of life.
Organising inter-generational meets at regular intervals in academic institutions and various civil society forums will be highly effective in removing the prejudices and faulty impressions that both the young people and the senior citizens nurture about one another.
Instead of reducing the aged only to be the silent receivers of financial benefits, there have to be policies to mainstream them.
Elderly people, particularly those who are physically fit and better-off, must be perceived as a productive social force and agents of change. There has to be a national plan to bring them closer to family environments and make them contribute to social reconstruction.
(UNB Rao is a former IPS officer and founder chairman, Urivi Vikram Charitable Trust. The views expressed by the author are personal.)