A recent Madras High Court order bemoaned the neglect of elderly, often by their well-off adult children. It was distressing to read of an elderly farmer approaching a lower court seeking a monthly maintenance and how his two ex-servicemen sons approached the high court seeking exemption from paying Rs400 to their parents. The media too has been periodically reporting instances of not only neglect but also physical and psychological abuse of and violent crimes against the hapless and vulnerable elderly living alone or with their children.
The government has addressed the issue through two reasonably successful initiatives: the introduction of National Social Assistance Programme which includes the National Old Age Pension Scheme for persons belonging to Below the Poverty Line families, and the enactment of Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, which makes the children responsible for the elderly care. The pension provides a sense of security to elders, besides giving an incentive for sons and daughters to care for the elderly in low income households. In the case of the law, awareness is low and few have the wherewithal to knock the doors of justice.
Across social classes, the elderly face a number of problems which the government and civil society must address. As longevity increases, as in advanced Western nations, the aged population in India is bound to grow. With collapse of joint families and extended family systems and increased mobility in job markets, older people are often left to fend for themselves. Those without adequate savings or government pensions, have to depend on their children to make ends meet. The government should extend universal social security. Those who cannot take care of themselves would need assisted living facilities and services at affordable cost and medical care at subsidised rates. Civil society too should play a role in developing community support systems. Lastly, the government as a welfare state and the private sector with an eye on profit will have to step in to bridge the gap in geriatric care services.