Kashmir’s Neglected Elders!

Two elderly Kashmiri men sitting out in a pavement next to the mental hospital after collecting their anti-depressants.

Traditionally Elders in Kashmir used to be given all the love and care but the “Modernisation” has left some of them isolated and lonely!

The ancient civilisations were always rooted in extended families. People used to live together where the elders were not only respected and cared for but were the guides and the inspiration for the new generations. Kashmir has had joint and extended families from the earliest times. Almost all world religions teach respect and care for elders. However, with the technology invasion and so called modernisation, the old and traditional joint or extended family culture was lost. This happened fast in western countries where they started having so called nuclear families! Leave aside elders, the working couples were unable to fully attend to their children which gave rise to baby sitters, In earlier joint families, the elders used to be the baby sitters. They would always have their grandchildren around them. This not only took care of the children but helped the grandparents in reverse by keeping them always occupied. According to expert psychiatrists like our own talented Dr. Mushtaq Margoob, the worst enemy of the old age is the loneliness! People living in joint families with grandparents hardly have any cases of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia because of these elders remaining always occupied and engaged with children and grandchildren. The other alternative is to keep the elders busy in some activities. In the west there are civil society groups who visit lonely elders and take care of them. There are also old age homes where working people can put their elderly parents or grand-parents for being taken care of. In India also a number of such projects have been started in large metros. However, there are no such facilities in Kashmir at present. Setting up of such facilities even though would be a welcome step but it strikes at the very root of our centuries old tradition where respect and care for the old is not only a moral obligation but a religious duty! A Muslim is ordained to take care of his mother; then his mother; then his mother and then his father and then other relatives in closeness. Any deviation or violation of this Divine Command is unforgivable!

Recent experiences have shown that the most neglected among Kashmir’s elders at the moment are the parents of some of the non-resident Kashmiris. A doctor friend from the Institute of Medical Sciences related story of an elderly person, a very high and senior retired government functionary who was brought to the hospital by the security guards who had been posted at his residence even after retirement because of his very senior position. All his children are abroad. The doctor friend accompanied him back home. There are reports of people having expired and the fact coming to light accidentally after a couple of days or so. This happens in the west also where a milkman reports non-lifting of bottles near the door of a flat and the firemen after climbing through the window come to know the lonely man or woman is dead! There cannot be anything more inhuman and callous than this. Surely, such a thing has never been part of Kashmiri culture. However, with the so called “Modernisation”, we too may end up like that!

It would be worthwhile if some enterprising people come forward to set up elder care facilities in Kashmir. To begin with they may take franchise from some of the organisations running such facilities in large metros like Mumbai, Bangalore etc. These are called 24 hour care. They provide the care at the own homes of these elders against certain fees. All their requirements including medical care on 24 hour basis are offered. The other possibility is setting up of elder care homes. Kashmir has umpteen numbers of homes for orphans but probably none for elders. Apart from paid elder homes and 24 hour elder care, there is also need for similar care for destitute elders who cannot afford these services. Normally, this should be the duty of the government of a welfare state to take care of the destitute. Let us hope someone comes forward and takes this worthwhile initiative in Kashmir?

On a lighter vein, a friend requested for giving advice to elders to take care of themselves by utilising huge amounts of money which most of them leave for their children! In the changed circumstances, the elders need to rethink about their investments. Invariably, most of the people invest money in properties beyond one’s requirement which are ultimately left for the children. Elders should in their prime years first keep provision for old age to be well looked after not necessarily by their own children who usually get scattered all over the world during the present global times! One of my friend’s relations has a huge piece of land. Her children are all abroad. The friend says, if she only sells a small portion of the land, she can pay for umpteen people including doctors, nurses and others taking care of her round the clock and would not have to wait for her children to look after her on their return from abroad! Well, a worthwhile suggestion for all well to do elders!

Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired), Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir

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