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Jostled by the kids

At 55,Deepa Mohan has to deal with it quite often. The lively and voluble Bangalorean,an avid birdwatcher,wildlife enthusiast and traveller...

Written by Saritha Rai |
January 5, 2010 1:50:08 am

At 55,Deepa Mohan has to deal with it quite often. The lively and voluble Bangalorean,an avid birdwatcher,wildlife enthusiast and traveller,says she is frequently a victim of ageism.

Ageism is the discrimination that individuals or even groups face because of their age. In a country where every second Indian is under 25 years of age,such prejudices can run deep.

Much is made of India’s demographic dividend,its vast supply of young,energetic workers in contrast to the maturing population of Western countries. But in a country so demographically skewed,ageism appears to be an increasing trend. Different cities display it in varying proportions says Mohan who lives in Bangalore,a ‘young’ city where the shopping malls and pubs crawl with ‘mall rats’ and ‘pub rats’.

India’s young technology industry has been powered by a youthful workforce. Its employee base,especially of technology and outsourcing companies,is dominated by brisk workers in the 20-35 age group.

The technology industry the world over is accused of being ageist and India is no different. Thirty-somethings are increasingly common at C-level jobs,and a 40-year-old’s job hunt may be thwarted by younger,less-experienced aspirants. It is an unwritten age bar never openly discussed.

Indian laws deal with discrimination based on race,caste and sex but there is no protection against age-based prejudice. In fact,unlike in the West,age is a near-mandatory field in a job resume.

Perhaps the only job in India where age is counter-prejudicial is that of a politician. In mainstream political parties,geriatric political leaders whose medical bills are paid for by tax-payers stay on until their children and even grandchildren become eligible to occupy positions of power.

On the personal front,Mohan says she has encountered the most forceful discrimination in Chennai. She recounts being at a friendly,neighbourhood quiz on a Sunday morning and getting teamed up with a group full of young people. The team would not consult her or allow her a go at any of their questions. She persisted for three consecutive quizzes before she gave up.

Mohan says she goes on bird watching trips and treks with friends who are in their twenties but feels age should not come into it. “People should accept others for who they are and not patronise for being of the previous generation or an ‘aunty’,” she says.

Many other older people say they are made to feel outdated and often referred to as “seniors” or “oldies”.

Mohan admits that she sometimes may not be able to take the physical rigours of rough travelling. She insists on hot water,needs a room to sleep in and says that she has to make concessions for the state of her bones while her younger friends can rough it out in the open with nothing more than a sleeping bag.

Of her obsession to walk or cycle everywhere even in crowded,pavement-challenged Bangalore,her friends pointedly say,“For your age,you are so active!”

The discrimination,she says,recedes when she travels to the West where the fifties are not considered ‘old’ at all. “In the United States,people in their eighties will be offended if you call them old,” she says. Here,when her brother died at the age of 50,Mohan had to contend with well-meaning relatives saying,“At your age,you should expect it.”

Mohan is most exasperated when her peers too fall into the stereotyping trap. She says her friends will often say,“Our life is over. Now,it is the time of our children”.For Mohan who often goes on wildlife-spotting and nature trips,the most cutting of all comments come from her friends in their forties. “Why are you hanging out with people half your age?” they ask.

But Mohan says she refused to be cowed. She is not ready to be relegated to the background and shelved. “My thoughts are contemporary and modern,I will not allow this.”

saritha.rai@expressindia.com

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