In a windowless room in Delhi, a group of elderly people are sitting, watching television and passing time as they wait for lunch. Abandoned by their families and left to fend for themselves in their twilight years, time is all these people have left.
“The very people who we loved more than our lives, kicked us out…I feel the loss of my children and grandchild every day. But they have never called me, nor have they ever been ashamed that they abandoned me,” says 86-year-old GS Bhatia, choking on his words as tears well up in his eyes.
A resident of Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, Bhatia’s woes started the day he willed his property to his two sons. “They said, ‘daddy, hum aapko nahin khila sakte, aap doosra raasta naap lo (We can’t feed you. Please find your own way),” he adds.
He is living at the Gharaunda old age shelter in South Delhi since 2005. It has also been 11 long years since he last saw his children.
According to 2014 estimates, India has more than 100 million elderly people (60 years and above). And 10 million of them live outside their family homes, most of them thrown out by their own children for property, activists say.
HelpAge, an NGO working for the elderly, says that 53.2 per cent of all elderly abuse was due to “property and inheritance disputes”.
“Daughters-in-law and sons emerged as the top-most perpetrators (of abuse of the elderly),” a 2013 study by the NGO found.
Kicked out by kin
Gharaunda is run by a private charitable trust Paras Jain Foundation and its trustees Rakesh and Parvesh Jain. It houses more than 50 senior citizens.
“Wherever property or bank balance is involved, the children are nice to their parents till the time that it is willed to them. Afterwards…the parents are kicked out,” the shelter’s caretaker S Mohanty said.
Though the elderly often don’t report such abuse to “maintain confidentiality” of family matters, their children are dragging them to court. Advocate MS Khan said there was a sharp increase in legal battles between parents and children.
Other Gharaunda residents have similar tales to share.
Rashi Chandra, 76, lost everything she had accumulated over 40 years – a healthy bank balance, several properties in Delhi and a successful company in Chandni Chowk.
“She (the daughter-in-law) started to fight with me because my son was a good-for-nothing. For ten years, we fought in Meerut courts for possession of the property. The case cost so much, I kept selling bits of my land till there was nothing left,” she says.
Watch: The elderly recount their stories of distress
Rashi won the case but by then she was so ill that she had to be taken to a hospital. In the two weeks she was away, her son sold everything in the house, “even the chullah”. With no hope of rebuilding her life, she came to the shelter home ten years ago.
Her son does visit her occasionally “when he needs money”.
Lawyers say daughters-in-law are often at the centre of such legal battles.
“More and more criminal cases against old people are being filed by daughters-in-law, many at the behest of the person’s sons. And the motive behind them is to pressure the old people into handing over property or money,” Khan says.
Nek Ram, a 75-year-old, spent four years fighting with his eldest son over their ancestral property worth Rs.15 lakh.
A former chartered accountant with the commerce ministry, Ram says his son threw out a tenant to whom Ram had rented their ancestral home in Tigri and took possession of the property. When he sued his son, his daughter-in-law filed a case of dowry harassment.
Though Ram eventually won both the civil and criminal cases, he lost his health and family, he says. He also suffered three heart attacks because of the tension in the family and his son’s threats to his life.
Activists and lawyers say many suffer the abuse as they are not aware of the redressal mechanism.
HelpAge India’s studies show a marked increase in the percentage of elders who report abuse – from 23 per cent in 2013 to 50 per cent in 2014.
The NGO found that “economic dependence of the abuser on the victim” was a motivation for abuse: the elderly are browbeaten because their kids need their money or property. Even the youth have noticed: over 76 per cent said they had witnessed abuse of the elderly in their own homes, according to HelpAge.
The study also found that there was more abuse in lower middle-class and middle-class families. Lack of resources leads to more infighting, says advocate Babanjeet Singh.
“Within upper middle-class people, there is usually more property to go around than lower middle class or poor folks, so there is more chance of a compromise happening,” he says. “Everyone’s greed can be satisfied somehow, so they don’t need to come to court as much.”
Another worrying factor, says Singh, is the rising incidents of dowry harassment and rape charges being slapped on the elderly.
The Parkashs (name changed), an elderly couple from north Delhi, say their daughter-in-law filed a “false case” of intimidation and dowry harassment against them after she fell out with their son.
“She filed a case in 2015 and there are several sections, very vulgar sections, against me,” 66-year-old Arvind Parkash says.
They, too, have filed more than 20 criminal cases of trespass and intimidation against their daughter-in-law and others in her family.
But the biggest regret for Anita Parkash is the fact that she cannot even meet her granddaughter.
“I feel like crying all the time because I’m not even allowed to meet her.”
The daughter-in-law’s account of the case, however, is different. In her FIR, she says her father-in-law tried to molest and intimidate her. As the case drags on, the couple is funding their legal costs with Parkash’s meagre pension.
Many such cases are eventually resolved out of court, says Khan. But even compromise does not help the elderly. If anything, says Gharaunda’s caretaker Mohanty, it could make it worse.
“In terms of property, many are finding that once they hand over the ancestral property to their children, the kids tell them to move out of their lives.”
As the number of such cases rises, so does the number of Indian elderly. According to HelpAge, by 2050, the population of people aged above 60 years will increase by 270 per cent, and the number of people over 80 will rise by 500 per cent.
In Rajpuri Sanstha another home in Delhi, a 99-year-old woman who wished to remain anonymous has filed an FIR against her two sons.
She says they are threatening her to hand over an unused property in south-west Delhi’s Mahipalpur area where property rates are high because of airport development. The property is worth over Rs.50 lakh now, she says. Her husband had willed it in her name. “He never imagined they would turn on their own mother,” she says.
Though the old-age homes take care of the physical needs of the elderly, the trauma of being betrayed by their own children remains.
Rekha Shirohi, a caretaker at the Rajpuri Sanstha in Delhi’s Pankha road, recalls a woman who stayed at the home for two months after her son threw her out following the death of his father who had willed the ancestral property to him. Shirohi says the woman eventually lost her mental balance and now lives in a mental asylum.
“They are always sad, everything makes them cry. They’ll tell us that they had gone for a stroll. We later find out that they went walking till their children’s home or their grandchild’s school,” Mohanty says.
He says children even refuse to attend their parents’ last rites.
“Till date, the trust has paid for and done the cremations for about 60 per cent of the deaths in the home. Some children even refuse to acknowledge that the dead person is their parent; some will switch off their phones after we call them once.”
Bhatia, his eyes moist, however, points out that the wheel of time never stops turning.
“Someday my sons will be in my position and it will be their turn. How they treated me is how their sons and daughters will treat them.”