For 45 days,Sumathi Nair,75,lay unnoticed in death in her five-room house in the house at Mavelikkara in Alappuzha. Her son and daughter both live elsewhere in Kerala but neither had apparently been in touch with her,while she herself rarely interacted with neighbours.
It was by no means an isolated incident in a state where many elderly people live alone while their children work elsewhere in the country or abroad. Last year,the death of an elderly widow in a Kochi apartment had gone unnoticed for three days.
Some people enrol their elderly parents in old-age homes if they can afford it,but others have been known ignore if not abandon them. There have been instances statewide of the elderly being abandoned at public places,and of police registering cases against people for failing to take care of their parents. Months ago,a widower in Kochi committed suicide,allegedly due to neglect by his children.
Kerala boasts a high life expectancy but the flip side is an ageing population. Studies say that by 2030,30 per cent of the population will be over the age of 60,against a national average of 15 per cent at that point. Today,14 per cent in Kerala are over 60.
Social Welfare Minister M K Muneer agrees that ageing poses the state a serious challenge. Kerala is planning schemes to engage the elderly in various rewarding activities. A consortium of retired people is among the schemes, he says.
The government has devised a scheme with one lakh volunteers to take care of the elderly. Called We care,the scheme will have volunteers regularly visiting elderly persons in the locality assigned to them. Apart from college students,anyone can join the project, Muneer said. The volunteers will be given two weeks training before being engaged in the service of the elderly.