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Punjab worst offender among four states in abuse of elderly, finds study

Half of the elderly surveyed by HelpAge India said they suffered at the hands of their own offspring.

punjab Updated: Jan 09, 2018 22:31 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
crime against elderly,Punjab news,HelpAge India
A study by HelpAge India found that Punjab had the highest number of petitioners in the age group of 80-plus compared to only 9% in Haryana.(File Photo)

Punjabi families don’t look after their elders nor does the Punjab government.

These are findings of a HelpAge India study released on Monday. The study was conducted in eight districts of Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which were selected due to the large number of cases filed under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, a pioneering law meant for the welfare of the elderly.

“We wanted to get a 360-degree view on this law, its working at the ground level, and understand how it was being implemented in the states,” said Mathew Cherian, chief executive officer of HelpAge India.

The study, which selected the districts of Ludhiana and Amritsar due to the large number of cases filed there, found Punjab had the highest number of petitioners in the age group of 80-plus compared to only 9% in Haryana.

Most cases of physical abuse were also reported from Punjab.

Almost 70% of the cases in Punjab and Kerala were filed against sons, while in Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Kerala, 21% of the cases were against daughters. Most of the cases were filed at the office of the sub-divisional magistrate. The maintenance-related petitions were the highest in Punjab, while property-related petitions were high in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Half of the elderly surveyed reported experiencing abuse. The perpetrators were none other than their own offspring. 83% of the petitioners had already transferred their immovable property in favour of their children.

Almost 57% of the elderly attributed the reason for filing the petition to neglect by children (in Punjab, Haryana and Kerala), while 36% said they were propelled by physical abuse and mental torture (in Kerala and Tamil Nadu).

Also read | Chandigarh worst in India in crime against elderly

Punjab’s poor record

Bhavneshwar Sharma, the state head for Punjab, Haryana and J&K, said Punjab has one of the lowest old age pensions in the country — it’s been recently revised to Rs 750 a month. Himachal Pradesh and Haryana provide old age pension of Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,600 a month, respectively.

Both Punjab and Haryana lack an old age policy, which entails a home for the aged in every district. As of now, Punjab has only one state-sponsored home for the elderly in Hoshairpur.

HelpAge has two homes in Patiala and Gurdaspur with 37 residents, who are housed free of cost.

The study found how Satwanti Kapoor (name changed), a 70-year-old widow living in a posh locality of Delhi with her only son, was forced to leave home for an ashram in Haridwar following constant verbal abuse by her daughter-in-law. She left in a huff, hoping that her son would try to trace her. But when he failed to do that, she got in touch with her brother-in-law. He too had been thrown out by his sons, who labelled him mentally unstable. Both filed a petition in the tribunal in Amritsar. Her son came for the first hearing from Delhi and agreed to pay her Rs 10,000 a month. Her eyes brimming with tears, she has made peace with life in an old age ashram in Amritsar. “I have a family and grandchildren, but I have been banished,” she says.

Justice denied

But not everyone is able to get justice. A 76-year-old hosiery unit owner from Ludhiana, who filed a case against his two sons asking them to vacate his two-storeyed house in 2016, is yet to get a response. He says it was on September 7, 2016, that he filed the case in the office of SDM (E), but his sons haven’t turned up for even one of the six hearings. The senior citizen has lost all hope. “My sons must have been able to influence the system,” says the old man, who was often physically abused by them.

In some cases, the administration turns a blind eye to the abuse and sides with the abusive children. This happened in the case of Sujan Singh (name changed), a 90-year-old juice seller of Amritsar. He approached the deputy commissioner after his son beat up his mother and threatened to kill Sujan. The DC sent him to the SDM, who finally ordered his sons to pay the couple Rs 2,000 a month each. The sons came back with a photo showing Sujan selling juice and the SDM told the sons to stop making the payments.

The solutions

Sharma blames the rising abuse of the elderly on the nuclear family setup. “The elderly are treated as spent force. Many feel their parents are a financial burden they had rather not shoulder.”

Sharma says HelpAge is seeking a universal pension of Rs 2,000 per head and highly subsidised or free medical treatment for seniors so that they are not treated as a burden by their families.

RK Garg, a Chandigarh-based RTI activist who has started Second Innings, a platform for senior citizens, says the government must set up special courts to do justice in such cases. “I know of a senior citizen who can’t muster the guts to approach the DC. There should be a helpline for such people. The executive powers given to the DC should be streamlined and coordinated with courts. The DC, the social welfare department and police stations should work in tandem.”

First Published: Jan 08, 2018 17:40 IST