In a 6-part series, HT will focus on a large and ignored group of Indians — senior citizens. How they are coping in a world where traditional support systems have vanished and the enterprising solutions some of them have come up with. Some stories are heart-rending, some others give us hope.
The 2011 census counted 103 million senior citizens in India. If they were a country, India’s elderly would be a nation larger than Germany and The Netherlands combined. Yet, despite their huge numbers, senior citizens, as a community, do not get the attention and help they deserve. And things are often worse for them in a big metropolis like Mumbai, where life is fast-paced and people often do not know who their neighbours are.
As the country becomes richer, medical facilities improve and life expectancy of the average Indian moves into the seventies, senior citizens are living longer and healthier lives. Those who have the money can buy assisted living services in plush retirement homes — the market for these homes is expected to grow 200% to 300% annually in the coming years.
For those who have more cash to spare, travel firms offer specially crafted travel packages that are less hectic and which take care of their dietary requirements. Shopping is easier: there are e-commerce sites that bring the goods to their doorstep.
The market has discovered the silver constituency, said Aarti Rajan Menon, deputy editor, Harmony-Celebrate Age, a magazine for seniors. “Senior citizens are travelling and, thanks to gains in longevity, they are enjoying longer and healthier lives. To use a cliché, the 60s are the new 40s.” Harmony for Silvers Foundation, an initiative by Tina Ambani, which publishes Harmony-Celebrate Age, also plans to build a residential community for seniors in Jaipur.
But despite the gains, life is drudgery for a majority of seniors. A 2014 study by HelpAge India on elder abuse said every second senior citizen faced abuse, both physical and verbal.
According to the federation representing senior citizens associations in the country, three out of every four live in poverty. “If there is money, facilities are available, but what about those who cannot buy afford the services?” said Dr SP Kinjawadekar of the Federation of Senior Citizens Organisations. In 2007, the government passed the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act to prevent the abuse, but most provisions of the act remain unfulfilled.
Fearless 71-yr-old dreams of Phd, 6 yrs after degree course
For Abhiman Bansod, 71, education has no age bar. Family commitments meant he had to discontinue his studies after Class 10.
He joined Central AGMARK laboratory, Nagpur, as a laboratory assistant and later moved to Mumbai to work with BSNL. “Thinking of higher education was out of question for me and I kept waiting for the time when I had enough resources to pursue a graduation degree,” said Bansod.
Abhiman Bansod had to discontinue his studies after Class 10. Photo: Sanjay Solanki
He got the chance after he retired. He enrolled in a degree course at the age of 65. He enrolled at the Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University, Nashik, while simultaneously taking classes in Vipasana, Pali grammar and Buddhist studies. “I wasted as little time as possible,” said Bansod.
Bansod said he was inspired by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar’s speeches. He wanted to learn the ancient Pali language so he could get better insight into Gautam Buddha’s teaching. He then went on to pursue a Masters in the language.
Bansod remarks on how many of his colleagues and neighbours praised him for taking up further studies, but it is his family’s approval that matters to him the most. “People in general need to realise that there is absolutely no limit to age anywhere. Saying one cannot do this after 50 or that after 60 years of age is not right; everything can be achieved till the day you die.” Bansod said.
“After my MPhil exams, I hope to pursue a PhD in the language and go on to teach what I learnt; that way I’ll put it to an even better use.”
(Reported by Ranjana Srivastava)
‘She told us she was thrown out of a car by her own son’
Last month, passers-by saw an abandoned octogenarian woman on a street outside Bombay Hospital. A doctor eventually called up the police.
She was taken to GT Hospital where she was given basic medical aid. “She was malnourished when brought to the hospital. She was treated with medications and intravenous fluids. She did not have any disease or condition that required medical attention,” said Dr DR Kulkarni, medical superintendent at the hospital.
The 85-year-old first told medical attendants her name is Hansa Rajput, but she was incoherent.
When reports appeared in the newspapers, Dr SP Kinjawadekar of the Federation of Senior Citizens Organisations went to see her.
“She told us she was thrown out of the car by her son, but when we asked her for his name and address, she first said that she is from Baroda. Then she said she lived in Ganesh Galli,” said Kinjawadekar. “We could not get more details from her.”
Kinjawadekar decided to shift her to an old-age home run for free by an acquaintance in Palghar. Meanwhile, the police have been unsuccessful in trying to trace her family.
They said criminal action could be taken against the accused once they are identified. “The police are also trying to look for her relatives. As we could not trace anyone known to her, she was shifted to an old age home,” he said.
(By HT Correspondent)