Are elders in India abused?

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(B. Someshwar Rao)

THE AGED ALL OVER the world, including India, have one wish – they should not be a burden on their children or others. This may not be always possible in advanced stages of old age, when most faculties are reduced or even sometimes totally absent. The Indian family system makes it the sons’ duty to care for them.

The super-elders may be bedridden, unable to walk, see, hear or even perform normal bodily functions. In the education system we borrowed from our colonial rulers, English is studied “from KG to PG” (pre-primary classes to post-graduation) just as we study algebraic and trigonometric values or poetry of Keats or Shelly (without knowing what their use in life is). So everyone knows the ‘seven ages of man’ listed by William Shakespeare in ‘All The World Is A Stage’ calling old age the second childhood — ‘Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything’.

However, there is one difference. In the first childhood, helpless infants are lovingly taken care of by the mother and the father, very often at a great sacrifice of their own needs, but in the second childhood most people do not get the same child to reciprocate that affection. If one has a lot of negativity one may even think the children feel they are a burden and wish them dead sooner than later.

They should abandon such negative thoughts and know that it is in very few cases that a son or daughter, whatever their age, want their elderly parents to die. They may not exhibit toward their parents such affection as is bestowed on cute little infants by the mother and the father, for the old people are not ‘cuddable’ or cute like infants anymore. The children have their own problems to worry about and their own offspring to take care of.

A CCTV camera video went viral some time ago showing a daughter-in-law beating so mercilessly her aged, sick mother-in-law.  Recently an Instagram user posted a clip of a woman beating up another elder to ask for action against the woman.  In both cases the stories were one-sided; it was not known what provoked such action. Though physical assault is not an option or solution, it is also true that old people can be extremely annoying sometimes. Take care to see that you do not grow into one of them. It is the responsibility of the elders to see that such situations do not arise.

There was a furor recently over an advertisement by a multinational company showing  a man trying to leave his aged father at the kumbhmela (a gathering of millions of Hindu devotees), but has a change of heart. Protestors’ said it was wrong to defame Indian culture this way. There was even a call for the boycott (perhaps sponsored by a rival MNC that might have benefited) of the products of that company.

But it is a reality of life that many elders do get abandoned at bus stops or melas and quite a few are subjected to neglect or even abuse. ‘Neglect’ may sometimes be due to the offspring’s own helplessness or poverty. In the popular ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ (Who Will Be a Millionaire?) programme on TV, in an episode reserved for giving the bounty to a charity, a man doing such a charity was in the ‘hot seat’. The anchor, the great Amitabh Bachhan, was shocked to hear from him that there are many cases of elders abuse in the country. Elders are sometimes beaten up, starved or abused. Luckily, they are a minority. Old age homes are meant to deal with this.

It reminds us of the story of a rich man who kept his bedridden old father in an out-house or cattle shed and gave him his sparse meals in an old ceramic plate. The fragile old man one day dropped the plate and it broke. As the man was scolding his father for it, his school-going son joined his father in shouting at the old man: “You are so careless. I was hoping to use the same plate for my father when I send him to this cattle shed when he gets old.”

This was an eye-opener for the man. Did it open yours?

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