So why are the old dumped so ruthlessly, when it is their right to relax and enjoy after years of hard work?
"An 80-year-old can have dreams of being a prime minister, but we show no respect for the elderly in our homes," points out Himanshu Rath, chairman, Agewell Foundation, Delhi. This is also true in case of Mohanlal (name changed), who now lives at Durga Care Centre for elderly, an old-age home based in Sainik Farms, Delhi. Mohanlal was a captain in the army. Despite all the facilities and companions of his age, this old-age home is no home. "My son told me that he has found a good place for me to live. He was shifting to a foreign country and decided that I would have problems living alone in the city. So, this is the place where I am supposed to spend the rest of my life," murmurs Mohanlal with tears in his eyes.
Mohanlal's case is similar to that of many elderly across the country. Shunned and ostracised by their families and children, thousands of Indian widows are ruthlessly dumped in Vrindavan and Varanasi. The perverse ploy given is that in Hinduism dying in Vrindavan and Varanasi will free them from the cycle of life and death. It's believed that more than 15,000 exiled and condemned widows live on the streets of Vrindavan amidst stark poverty, pain, illnesses and deprivation, and make their living by begging outside Hindu temples. So, which religion can condone this kind of brutality, often by their sons and families?
Unlike the West, India's healthcare system does not have adequate facilities for the elderly. There are a limited number of hospitals with separate geriatric wards. Additionally, nuclear families are on the rise. With children migrating for greener pastures, elderly parents are left alone to fend for themselves.
The United Nations has declared India as an 'ageing nation'. According to UN statistics, the current ratio is: one old person in every 12. By 2050, it will be one in five persons (approximately 327 million). With the rising population of the elderly, lack of social security systems, poor healthcare, complex geriatric aspects and an acute sense of alienation are major concerns. "If we continue to be insensitive to the needs of the elderly, terrible loneliness and depression will creep in. Shunning them and sending them to an old-age home is not a solution," says Rath.
There has also been a surge in crimes committed against the elderly. Many face domestic violence, while the old couples who live alone are routine victims of murders and robberies. According to Help Age India, Delhi tops the list of crimes against the elderly.
According to Methew Cherian, chief executive of Help Age India, "Today's youth will be tomorrow's elderly. When you have faithfully done all your duties towards your family and society, it is surely the time to celebrate and relax during your autumn years. They deserve it. It is their right. It is not only for the government and society, but also for the family to take care of the elderly with love and compassion."