AGEING IN AN INDIAN CITY
The increasing elderly population in India raises many questions. How will we, and the future generations, deal with the challenges posed by the aging of our population? Can it be ensured that growing old will not mean, for the majority, a further sliding down into poverty and dependency? How can families be supported and strengthened so that they can provide good quality of care to the older members? How can the elderly be empowered to look after themselves effectively? Systematic planning and action are needed at the national and state levels particularly in the areas of health care, housing, income security, education and welfare in responding to the needs of the elderly.
The International Plan of Action on Aging formulated by the World Assembly on Aging in 1982 and adopted by the United Nations General Assembly made, among others, the following recommendation to national governments:
Governments and non-governmental bodies should be encouraged to establish social services to support the whole family when there are elderly people at home and to implement measures especially for low-income families who wish to keep elderly people at home.
The Madrid International Plan of Action on Aging and the Political Declaration adopted at the Second World Assembly on Aging in April 2002 marked an important landmark in the global approach to aging. The Plan has three priority areas: older persons and development; health and well-being; and ensuring enabling and supportive environments.
Population aging in India has, of late, drawn the attention of the policy framers of the country. A National Policy on Older Persons (NPOP) with many promises was announced in 1999. But the elected political leadership has shown least interest in implementing the policy, possibly because the older voters have not yet become a vote bank. The implementation or non-implementation of the policy is left to the discretion of the bureaucracy. The priority for the elderly is low and there is serious conviction deficit among those who matter in implementing the NPOP. The NPOP contains pro-family rhetoric and promises of health care initiatives for the elderly. Non-governmental organizations were assured of transparency, simplification of procedures and timely release of grants. But a policy document cannot alter the bureaucratic practices of decades. A social welfare department official of the government of Tamilnadu told The Hindu in August 2010 that the schemes of the government of India for senior citizens elicited poor response from the NGOs. Most of the older persons are at the receiving end of the service delivery system and programmes are often developed without the participation of the elderly themselves. The older persons are treated as recipients and not as participants. Unless there is a change in mindset among the political and bureaucratic establishments, the NPOP will remain only a paper policy.
Fast GDP growth does not mean anything to the vast majority of the elderly as former Union Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar has recently commented sarcastically that the GDP growth of 94 per cent of the Indians is only 0.94 per cent. A government that watches millions starve while tonnes of food grains rot cannot be expected to respond effectively to the needs of the elderly whose collective voice is feeble. Exasperated by the continued apathy of the state and central governments, a joint action committee of senior citizens observed August 16, 2010 as the National Protest Day to “stir up the conscience of our rulers and the society”, taking a cue from the warning of the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan: “Senior citizens, in spite of their number, collective wisdom and experience, will continue to be ignored and marginalized unless they unite”.
A Personal Note
“People don’t grow old When they stop growing, they become old” - Anonymous
My parents “never grew old”, though they grew older. My mother lived 89 years and my father 73 years. Both of them were active till their last days. I was born in a village – Thiruvattar – in the erstwhile Travancore state nearly seventy five years ago. It was a typical village: no electricity, no bus service, no school or doctor nearby…. At the same time, there was fresh air to breathe and perennial flow of water in the river. My father was a creative artist and his oil paintings were popular. I was the only surviving child to my parents . From the age of sixteen I had to be separated from my parents for college education and subsequently for employment. Finally, I became a permanent resident of Chennai. My parents never liked to leave our village. But they immensely missed me. The only compensation for the separation was the occasional visits that I used to make with my wife and children to meet my father and mother. After the demise of my father, my mother joined us at Chennai because of persistent persuasion. But she was never happy with the constricting life in the city. This book on the situation of the elderly is my humble tribute to my parents.
I learnt the first lessons of social work from Prof. K.N.George at the Madras School of Social Work. For more than four decades, he was Director of the institution. He gave me the opportunity to direct two major research studies on older people. I am beholden to Prof. George.
Prof.K.V.Ramana (formerly Vice - Chancellor of Andhra University) has always been my well-wisher. A well- known professor of social work and a distinguished social scientist, he has been particular that all social work teachers should pursue doctoral research. He motivated me to work on a topic of significance in elder care – community care of the elderly – for my doctoral dissertation. I am deeply indebted to Prof.Ramana.
As policies of the government are often not based on sound data base, it was difficult to answer queries of the elderly respondents regarding the purpose of the surveys. Many older respondents were either cynical or indifferent. On the whole the two surveys in Chennai city, the findings of which are discussed in this book, could be carried out successfully and I am grateful to the elderly men and women for sharing their views.
I have postponed completion of this book many a time due to many unforeseen circumstances. Finally my daughter Minii’s persistence and support enabled me to complete this task. She did the typesetting of the manuscript and helped in retrieving necessary information from the internet sources. My fifteen - year old granddaughter Reena also helped me.
My wife Thankam and I grew older together for nearly fifty years. She never complained when I kept myself busy with many of my academic and social work activities. Whether sickness or surgery, she always remained calm and confident. She is a symbol of “aging gracefully”.
March 2011 T.K.Nair
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