TODAY -

October 1 : The International Aged Peoples' Day

S. Kunjabihari Singh *

International Day for Old Age person observed on October 1, 2009 by Pioneer Health Club Manipur, Khurai
International Day for Old Age person observed on October 1, 2009 by Pioneer Health Club Manipur, Khurai



The United Nations declared the year 1999 as the International Year of the Older Persons with October 1 as the Aged Peoples Day. The philosophy behind this universal acceptance of a fixed day for celebration of the Aged, the senior citizens in the society, is inter-alia, recognition of the plight of the elderly persons who, more often than not, pass through a phase in life, associated with, isolation, deprivation of various kinds in varying scales the world over.

In the western countries the children have to leave after 18 to ultimately bring up ultimately a separate family. In our India too, the age-old practice of joint family is fast losing ground yielding to pressures of modern fast urban life, where the elderly have to be left increasingly to themselves. The elderly parents undergo a solitary life often associated with all ills arising from physical in capacitance, financial stringency, social and domestic isolation, vulnerable to geriatric illness etc. In addition, they invariably, suffer from loss of self-esteem, sadly still, alienated from their once close kith and kin often resulting to solitary confinement.

How this scenario invariably clouded with a misty future, compared with the declaration by William Lyon Phelps, "Don't be ashamed of your grey hair. Wear it proudly, like a flag...grow old with eagerly, triumphantly". Turning 60 is a major milestone. One has to take it positively. As George Burns said, "You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old".

The point is why one must psych oneself into thinking that one is getting old and senile. In reality, with a positive approach, they will have more time for matters they couldn't attend to in their younger age for want of time, preoccupation and therefore these can be attended to more enthusiastically after they retire from active public life. Living longer is considered an achievement or a curse, depending on the manner in which they are utilized. Improving health care, hygiene, sanitation, even education are factors considered paying and helping to live longer.

A comprehensive plan of action can be worked out to engage these citizens with rich haul of experience, zeal to deliver. But there is also concern about the mounting anxiety about health, dwindling income, increasing isolation, alienation and all the ills associated with old age. Looking at the positive aspects, the senior citizens can play a critical role in areas where they can excel like, they can volunteer for transmitting experience and knowledge which they had so luxuriously gained over the years, they can be engaged in caring for the under-privileged.

In developing countries the denizens in particular, the grand parents take care of the orphans, aids patients. There could be other areas where the knowledge of the seniors can be fruitfully reaped given a kind of system. In the western countries, why west, even in Kerala state, select elders are used in community policing. Certainly, their rich exposure and the integrity, which is available aplenty in some of these tribes, can be an asset. Such areas call for a fresh look given the perception about the aged.

In developed countries, a new perception about the age of seniority is gaining grounds. In UK, in a sample of 1000 UK adults 50-plus, people are of the view that they do not see themselves as elderly until they are nudging 70.These days there are now more adults over 65 than there are under-16's.The going perception is that around 20% think middle age do not begin until after the age of 60 and that middle age ends around 70 years. Being middle age can be considered as a state of mind, rather than something that begins at a certain age. In this scenario, many of the so-called seniors near around 60-plus, just before 70, could be tapped to the benefit of both the elderly and the society.

This year around, the theme of the 2012-International Day of the Aged is- "Ageing and Health".With the process of ageing, for the majority of the lot, a dwindling health with the many complications is a major concern. The dictum goes-good health adds life to years. Added to this inevitable agony, the onset of poor financial stringency, domestic ill treatment meted out to significant proportion, alienation are major worries. In the twilight of their lives, many are left to fend for themselves. Worst still many are deprived, neglected, even abused by their own children, let alone the society. These incidents, however much one decries, condemns, sympathises, are happening, are a reality, perhaps on a higher and harsher degree over the years. What are the government, the society, the right thinking citizens doing or are planning?

A high dependency ratio of the aged, 60+age group is estimated to grow at a rate 40% higher than the rest of the population. Around 7 to 8% of the population in Manipur constitutes 60+ age-group, in 2007-around 1.7 to 2 lacs in a population of say, 25 lacs.This 8% would sooner than later, rise to 11% as in developing countries, estimated to rise to 19% in 2050.The country has an estimated 600 million in the 60+ age group in 2010, likely to double by 2025.

In urban areas, at 37%,the economic dependency of the elderly is reasonably high; in rural Manipur this percentage is lower at 33%,reasons are not far to seek. In the midst of the marked-led economy, marginalized group being outside the market, loses their entire share; calls for special protection, if they are not to be allowed to languish in destitution, indignity and hunger.

Among the larger set of the aged, a sub-set of the uncared aged become the most vulnerable and marginalized. This is the target group for any measure to mitigate the elderly woes, for surely, they tend to be the most neglected by the state, the administration, may be not by design, but by default. For one, they are increasingly voiceless and still worse, powerless, and for the other, they have none- a kith or a kin to lean upon. Won't they deserve some kind of care, some form of concern, a little bit of love, which they so richly deserve?

Keeping in view the vagaries of woes encountered by the aged, the government of India sets out Senior Citizen Policy. Briefly, it touches, inter-alia, the areas of
i) primary health care,
ii) training orientation to medical and paramedical personnel,
iii) promotion of the concept of healthy ageing,
iv) assistance to societies for production of material for geriatric care
v) provision of reservation of beds for elderly patients in hospitals,
vi) extended coverage under the Antodya Scheme with emphasis on provision of food at subsidized rates.

There are also special programmes for the protection of the senior citizens. The national housing bank sponsors a scheme, "Reverse Mortgage Scheme". An elderly person owning a house/property can avail of a monthly stream of income, (actually it's a loan), against mortgage of the house. He can live in the house without the botheration of repayment during his lifetime.

This of course, provides some financial independence to the elderly without depending on the children and thus can live with some element of dignity. The moot question is, however, how many of the elderly would possess a property to be eligible? And what about the less fortunate, the poorer ones-homeless, hungry and abused by his own sons and daughter-in-laws?

A more drastic measure initiated by the government for such categories is the "Maintenance of Parents & Senior Citizens Bill, 2007, introduced in the Parliament, for maintenance of parents". The problem lies, however, in the implementation of the scheme, in letter and spirit. Can this enforcement under the Bill have any impact on the sons? Would the voiceless and the powerless, summon enough courage to seek legal help against his own child and that too, the one who had been abusing him day in day out? Looking at the scenario on the ground, from a close quarter, it would appear that these measures won't, I repeat, won't provide much immediate relief,impetus, at the first place.

The more effective solution to most of the worries associated with the elderly, with all the principal attributes like, physical incapacitence,financial stringency, vulnerable to geriatric illness, prone to hypochondriac, solitary confinement, alienated & abused etc is, I believe, a HOME for these elderly where most of these worries would be taken care of. On the top of these, here, he or she gets COMPANY, they would value so much and one of the most vital ingredients for them to sustain, where they can share experiences in their life-time and thus unwind the stress and strain.

The above discussion on the plight of our parents and grandparents certainly leaves many of us with heavy-hearted, sentimental and despondent. Let us cheer up these elderlies, who have none of their own, with a smile on their face to liven them up. Let them cope with retirement in the best way possible. Jokes on retirement tend to make it synonymous with a toothless, arthritic... etc of advancing age. An old man tried to crack one, "There are three signs of old age. Loss of memory....I forget the other two!"


* S. Kunjabihari Singh wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
This article was posted on October 01, 2012.



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