A man with a youthful and crusading zeal, medical scientist-turned-activist Dr Ravindranath Shanbhag has been striving to address issues related to consumer rights, environmental and human rights under the Udupi-based Human Rights Protection Foundation (HRPF) for over four decades.
But his actual journey into the world of helpless senior citizens—left to fend for themselves by their sons and daughters—started just four years ago. “It began by accident,” says the 65-year-old, who has guided senior citizens in a record 400 cases across Karnataka under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 since then.
This International Day of Older Persons on October 1, Dr Shanbhag will deliver a talk on how justice has remained elusive to senior citizens at an awareness programme about the law, organised by Kalpa Trust at Sharada Vidyalaya in Mangaluru.Since his foray into public service in 1980, he has been fighting against exclusion and discrimination of the elderly. “Of 36,000 cases, archived in library of A V Baliga Law college in Udupi, registered with HRPF, 60 per cent have been filed by senior citizens,’’ he said. “I was unaware about this Act until 86-year-old Savitriamma knocked on the doors of HRPF seeking justice in 2013. I advised the penniless octogenarian to file a case in the civil court against her son for grabbing her house. But I was myself not convinced and on browsing the Internet, I stumbled upon the Act and realised that it was an effective tool to protect senior citizens like her,” says Dr Shanbhag, who holds a law degree and a PhD in psycho-pharmacology.
After the Assistant Commissioner of the Revenue Department ordered the son to vacate the house, Dr Shanbhag convened a press conference in Udupi to create awareness about the Act, and 280 complaints were filed that year. But there were challenges. Initially, after filing complaints, six senior citizens died under suspicious circumstances. “When a 72-year-old woman named Gauramma from Doddaballapur died in front of our eyes, we began to videograph statements of complainants,’’ he says.
“The government also accepted my request to train 57 Assistant Commissioners in the state to conduct ‘summary inquiry’,” he says. Karnataka government even published a book on the success stories authored by Dr Shanbhag. Dharnas as pressure tactics are not his cup of tea. “I maintain systematic correspondence in ascending order of bureaucratic hierarchy. Newspaper columns are used to create public opinion.’’
Despite advancing age, Dr Shanbhag continues to work to be a pillar of strength for those in this difficult phase of life.