At least one in six older people around the world experience some form of abuse, according to the UN. With the number of older population increasing, the rise in the number of those being abused is dreaded. World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, is observed on June 15 to raise voice against these injustice meted out to the older generation.
The Tricity too is not a stranger to this issue. In Panchkula alone, 20 cases under the Maintenance of Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (MWPSC) Act, 2007, have been registered between April 2018 and March 2019. Out of these, 10 cases have been resolved, while the others are pending. Under the act, the citizen claiming maintenance is entitled to food, clothing, residence, medical attendance and treatment, with the maximum maintenance being Rs 10,000 every month.
President of Senior Citizens Council, Panchkula, RP Malhotra, said that domestic violence and seizing of property are the two major issues faced by the senior citizens of the city.
“We brought to the authorities’ attention, the case of an elderly man who was thrown out of his own house and was being harassed by his son. Another retired government officer was being ill-treated by his daughter-in-law – he was relegated to one room and had to resort to eating three meals a day out of one measly tiffin,” said Malhotra, recounting two cases at Sector-8, Panchkula. “The elderly are susceptible to many health issues; looking after them costs time and money that their children are not willing to spend.”
The council also helped a retired navy official in recovering his property at Sector-15. He and his wife had invited their son to live with them. However, on the death of the retired defence personnel’s wife, their son sent him to an old age home.
“Most of these people lead a life of extreme loneliness. Even their own neighbours choose to remain in oblivion and refuse to help. This coupled with the fact there is a huge stigma associated with speaking in public about it. Most of them fear that they will be misbehaved with if they go to the police and thus, they suffer in silence,” Malhotra added.
Efforts by city organizations
No helpline for the elderly has been launched by the Panchkula administration, and nor have they formulated any specific plans to improve the situation. “Whatever cases we are presented with are resolved by us as a tribunal,” said Pankaj Setia, SDM, Panchkula.
Although, organizations like the Senior Citizens Council is actively engaged in the cause and has two committees working towards it. The ‘Sukh Dukh Committee’ has units in every Sector. It identifies people who need assistance in any way and attends to their medical needs, bills, rations and other necessary requirements. “We help around four to five people – both members and non-members of the council – from each Sector, every month. Although, these elderly usually find themselves harried, for they have nowhere to go,” said PC Sood, former president of the council.
The other committee, ‘Protection Against Elder Abuse’, identifies cases of ill-treatment against senior citizens and brings them to the attention of the SDM. Malhotra claims having personally looking into 42 such cases in the period between 2014-16.
Another organisation, ‘Second Innings’ are also helping ‘experienced citizens’, as its president, RK Garg, calls them. The organisation engages the elderly in social work, and aims to make them feel productive.”It always begins innocuously, with the children asking their parents for property, and then, money to pay their child’s tuition fee. Gradually, it takes the form of abuse and ends with parents being abandoned,” Garg said, also emphasising that the parents must avoid becoming too dependent on their children, as they grow older.
“I am not against taking care of the grandchildren and giving them facilitates. But, a fair balance needs to be maintained to not concentrate absolute power in the hands of your children,” he adds.
The organisations also recognize the huge role of the government in overturning the situation. Although, provisions like the MWPSC Act are appreciated, it is often complained that they have not been implemented well.
“We need more old age homes to accommodate the elderly who need a place to stay at. Besides, we must improve the existing ones,” said Garg, who has also been advocating for separate police stations to cater to the needs of senior citizens. “All they ever want is someone to ask them how they are, and to know that they are cared for. Is that too much to ask for?”
Meanwhile, Malhotra emphasizes on the need of a national commission for the elderly, along with other medical provisions. He said, “There is great need for having fully-functional geriatric units in hospitals along with active programs to keep the elderly healthy and independent. We are the generation who has shaped the modern India and we have passed down the values to the youth. To see our plight be so miserable today, and at this age, is a shame.”