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OLD AND ALONE

WITH THE DELHI GOVERNMENT LOOKING TO INTRODUCE A COMMISSION FOR SENIOR CITIZENS, IT MUST REMEMBER THE BASICS OF HOME, SECURITY, and LEGAL AID

Senior citizens of Delhi will soon have a commission which will ensure, or at least look into their welfare and safety. The draft ‘Delhi commission for Senior Citizens bill, 2017’ in its current shape, says it will have powers to investigate and examine matters relating to any violations that have taken place where senior citizens have suffered.
While it’s an important need, Chairman and founder of Agewell Foundation Himanshu Rath says that it looks good on paper, but society makes it a complicated task. He believes the most important factor would be to create awareness else the provision would suffer the same fate as the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. The Act made it a legal obligation for children and heirs to provide maintenance to senior citizens and parents, by way of a monthly allowance. This Act is a means for the elderly to seek a speedy mechanism to protect themselves and their property.
What has not worked, Rath says, is India’s social customs. Many parents still don’t think of daughters as being a part of the family, “so you think they’ll file a case against their son-in-law or even their daughter”? And then in case they have a son, Rath points out, “In Hinduism people believe that if a son lights their pyre then they will get moksha. So why would they go against their son, if they feel this way?”
This is, however, not the general case. There are many who go to court seeking justice. But while laws are laid down for the welfare of citizens, when it comes to its execution it’s a long drawn out process. Advocate Madhur Bhashan Singh points out that what’s required is a “good execution machinery”, else the law is meaningless. Even in the case of lawyers, “one has to pay for a good one”, free legal aid means generally, receiving “not well trained” lawyers, with no accountability for inefficiency.
He has fought many cases for senior citizens and blames it on the existence of nuclear families and the fact that people now don’t have time for the elderly, for their care. The commission he says should have the power to prosecute those that are found defying an order of the court. “Without fear, nothing will happen. Consequences are very important”, he adds.
The knowhow of laws is also very important for a senior citizen, Singh tells Patriot. Section 125 in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, gives the provision for maintenance of wives, children and parents and this is what came to the aid of one father to get justice. ‘A’ was driven out of the rented apartment he shared with his son and daughter-in-law, Singh says. But knowing his rights, he approached the court and within two hearings the magistrate passed an interim order for maintenance of R15,000 a month. It was later set to an allowance of R25,000 a month, in the case which took 16 to 17 months to reach its finality. But justice came.
Making people aware of their responsibilities towards the elderly, and introspect where it’s going wrong is essential, but it’s even more important for the elderly to know their safeguards.
In Agewell’s study “Changing Needs & Rights of Older People in India: A review”, out of 15,000 elderly people in urban areas, approximately two-thirds respondents (65.22%), admitted to being mistreated.
The study quoted a 79-year-old man from Bengaluru who had been subjected to maltreatment at the hands of his family. They “lock me inside the house, whenever they are not at home, stating my mental status is not well,” he said. He wasn’t able to roam around freely, nor meet his neighbours, nor “allowed to attend family and social functions and talk to guests and other people,” He added tragically that after the death of his wife his life had become “hell”.

They feel lonely
Family members are abusive, non-cooperative or just neglectful, with many seniors feeling isolated.
Agewell Foundation found that a majority of senior citizens of Delhi-NCR live in isolation. To be precise, 83.8% of the respondents from the 15,000 questioned for a ‘Comprehensive Study on Status of Older Persons’ said they felt isolated or experienced loneliness. The level of isolation in old age of senior citizens living in urban areas was quite high, up to 89.8% in comparison to older persons of rural areas, where 77.6% people reportedly feel isolated.
In Delhi, there are many senior citizens who were government employees, Rath says, “They have settled here after retirement and get pension, live with self-esteem and dignity. But they are rejected by their children. So, that’s the dichotomy.”
Dr SK Jain, who along with other doctors started an old age home called Silver Lining in Dwarka, believes that most senior citizens need such places because they have no other choice. They need care, and safety is a major aspect with “many cases in the news of senior persons being killed and robbed”.
Delhi reported the maximum rate of crimes in 2015 against senior citizens, at 1,248, but the number came down to 685 cases in 2016. The senior citizen cell of the Delhi Police takes stock of senior citizens living alone, their domestic help and the physical security of the home, along with other measures. However, how much can the police do? asks Rath. “There are about 50,000 Delhi police personnel and almost 1.8m older people. How many can police look after and how many can be recruited for the sole purpose of looking after the elderly?” he questions.
This commission, he says, must have the power to be able to enforce changes “Else everything would be ineffective, like the situation in Delhi, as you can see, with the tussle for power”.

Home away from home
What happens to those citizens who don’t have a pension nor a family that cares?
There are also many who never married, or didn’t have children. Rakesh Darwal, who is the first inmate of Silver Lining old age home, is here because he had found himself in a precarious situation. The divorcee’s care became difficult to manage for his three brothers. Darwal was an alcoholic and heavy smoker, which, according to Jain, led to severe damage in one of his eyes years ago, while he lost the other eye in an accident. Jain is confident their old age home can provide Darwal with the care he needs.
While an old age home can offer them with companionship, security and ease of living, can most afford it? The monthly charges at Silver Lining are R11,000 to R15,000 per month. Other homes could go up to R50,000 per month. Rath tells Patriot they found 35% older persons in Delhi being moneyed, and the rest of the 65% in an “increasingly pitiable situation”.
Currently the Delhi government runs just two old age homes. The one Patriot visited in Bindapur seemed clean and large. The issues raised in 2016, with regard to water supply and mentally ill patients residing there, have been taken care of. According to the government website, while the sanctioned strength is 55, the “beneficiaries 2015-2016” stood at 78. The second one in Narela has a sanctioned strength of 100 but had only 25 beneficiaries in the same year.
So, where do the rest of the elderly go? An important fact that the commission must look into, along with legal support and speedy trials.