While a majority of older persons rely completely on their family members or other relatives for support and help, an informal study conducted by Agewell Foundation by holding conversations with 1,000 Old People on “Abuse of Older Persons in India” has revealed that 25-30% of older persons in our country are suffering abuse, mistreatment and even torture in old age. But fearing retribution, isolation and neglect from these family members should they go out and complain about the ill-treatment, most of the elderly never report such abuse. The study said only about only 5 per cent of the older people who were facing elder abuse, mistreatment or torture actually went ahead and complained to the police or any other authorities.
“The reasons for the elderly not coming out and complaining are many,” said Himanshu Rath of Agewell Foundation. “One of the most common reasons is the old person’s fear of losing family members or support. He/she fears that reporting the crime will result in tension and stress in old age, as the abuser may discontinue relations once accused, charged, or convicted.”
As for the psychological aspect of it all, Rath said, “People hate loneliness, alienation and marginalization in old age. That’s why they prefer to keep mum and keep suffering abuse and mistreatment.”
The study also assessed the reasons for non-reporting of abuse of the elderly. It was revealed that there was lack of awareness about the issue even among older people and society. “Inherent traditional family values, non-implementation of policies on protection of human rights of older persons and availability of fewer opportunities for social interaction to the older persons were major factors responsible for non-reporting of cases of elder abuse or violation of their human rights.”
With the social value system in India, eroding rapidly, the informal study revealed that vast population of the elderly finds itself in a very helpless situation. It put forth a few cases in point.
Saraswati Gupta (name changed), a 67-year-old widow, who relies on her daughter-in-law and grand-children to provide meals and medicines to her, finds it difficult to complain when her daughter-in-law orders her to wash clothes and utensils of the entire family. “She puts up with this harassment for fear of being denied the meals and medicines by the family members if she complained about it. But emboldened by their inhibitions, her grand-children too have now started using threats of violence to keep her in line. She is often kept locked inside the house, when she is alone at home.
The case of Bhushan Prajapati (name changed), a 75-year-old retired person, is no less tragic. He is compelled to hand over his entire pension to his son, who threatens to stop the treatment of his mother, a diabetic patient, if he refused to part with the money. To meet his ailing wife’s and his own daily needs, Bhushan sells vegetable by the roadside. Despite being economically independent, he puts up with his son’s demeanor as he does not want to lose out on his physical and emotional support.
It has been found that many elderly continue to live in inhuman conditions only due to lack of awareness about the rights of older persons. Whether it is for physical or emotional needs, as people grow older they tend to need more and more help from others. Old people living alone also need help from their relatives/ neighbors/ friends/ caregivers. This dependence on family members / relatives and care-givers makes an older person more vulnerable to abuse.
It was found that Elder abuse is a manifestation of the timeless phenomenon of inter-personal violence and is sadly prevalent in many Indian families. This is an extremely sorry state of affairs. Imagine, being mistreated, verbally abused, and denied proper food, proper medication and care by younger members of family. Older people are indeed in a very helpless situation in India and the rapid erosion of the social system is only making matters worse.
On the basis of conversations with large number of old people across the country by its volunteers, Agewell Foundation has come out with tips for the elderly, family members, society and government to prevent abuse and mistreatment of the older persons.
Tips for older people
* Stay sociable as you age; maintain and increase your network of friends and acquaintances.
* Keep in contact with old friends and neighbors if you move in with a relative or shift to a new address.
* Invite friends to visit you at home; even a brief visit by friend/relative will ensure your well-being.
* Accept new opportunities for activities. They can bring new friends.
* Participate in community activities.
* Avoid interference inthe lives of younger family members.
* Do not complain or instruct unnecessarily.
* Don’t sign a document unless someone you trust has reviewed it.
Tips for Families
* Never forget, one day you too would be old.
* Always be respectful and caring towards old people.
* Maintain close ties with aging relatives and friends. Keep abreast of changes in their health and ability to live independently.
* Sensitize children about needs of old age and let them interact with old people as much as possible.
* Try to understand needs of old people in the family
* Spend as much time as you can with old people in the family.
* Talk to them and make them feel wanted, always.
* Invest in sensitization of younger people about needs and rights of old people.
* Generate awareness about specific medical / emotional / economical needs of older persons
* Effective implementation of policies pertaining to protection of interests of older persons
* Advocacy of old age issues at all level of governance.
Contact Agewell Foundation for any guidance or support.
011-29836486/29840484, [email protected], www.agewellfoundation.org