According to the World Bank Report(1994), poor elderly population of India usually faces the problems of earning from assets in old age, because of poor credit and insurance markets and also absence of traditionally extra familial welfare institutions. Traditionally, their offspring bears the burden of caring for the elderly parents. The family maintains basic safety and security of its members within the context of love and helping to shape a belief system from which goal and values are derived. But changing norms of the family structure, process and functions in Indian society do not provide space to the elderly in their off-spring’s family. From a study of elderly population of Purba (East) Medinipur district in the Indian states of West Bengal it was revealed that their standard of living was determined by their economy. Another factor was the poor pattern of relationship with their immediate family members as primary care-giver and neighbourhood as well as community. Their relationship with the state as secondary support provider was also thin and evident for better living. In this study, it was revealed that they had to work for their livelihood upto their last days. Thus, about 60% of them were in paid work, out of which, 34% of them were enlisted workers under MGNEGRA. Even, 11% of them had to beg for their meals. Only 5% of them enjoyed support of their family member/relatives. Majority of them had also to manage themselves during their illness. Many of them had to suffer from multiple age-related diseases, and they had rare chance of treatment. Lack of diet and poor arrangement of sanitation and personal hygiene were also causal factors of their frequently suffering from fever, cold & cough and skin diseases. They were usually self-managed of their daily duties i.e. cooking, washing clothes and utensil and others. Eventually many times, their female counterpart used to neglect and verbally abused for lack of money and wealth. Females used to accuse their counterpart for their unplanned old age. Psychologically they were isolated and neglected from their immediate support. Their anxiety and depression were their basic mental problems. It was unbearable when they had to face physical and verbal assault by their immediate family members/relative, especially their daughter-in-law abused them.
Apart from their family dynamics of the relationship and support, neighbourhood and community supports were rare and on special circumstances, they enjoyed food and clothes or health check up, etc. Government support or measures for poor elderly was also thin and evident comparing to the number of populations. Only 22% of them availed old age/widow pension from the government. The incentive under this pension was very poor to manage self. Selection of the beneficiaries was in fact highly politicalized and it was hazards administrative process. `Their enlistment as beneficiaries of MGNEGRA as daily labour was a discrimination because their physical condition did not permit to perform their assigned job under this scheme. Health care facilities were insufficient and inaccessible to them. There was no facility of their door step health care at free of charge. The government observed the World Elderly Day in the eve of Gandhiji’s Birth Day on 2nd October every year to mark and ensure care and respect to the elderly population of this country for a happy end of life. In practice, it is only an agenda because government has no effective policy and programme for this elderly to ensure their rights to survival. Thus, poverty and broken family relations are prime hindrance of successful aging. Secondly, other contextualized relationships are thin, weak or absent in present global era for poor elderly.
Therefore, moral education in this self-centred and fractured society would not be effective in restoring the living condition of the older people when they are in acute crisis of care and attention they deserve. Any law and order could not ensure better condition of poor elderly in their later life. There is need of mass education to be started from their family and neighbourhood to recognize their contribution in their family as well as society. There is need of introduction of integrated community care programme for older persons. This community care programme would be designed to provide space to them within their community. Residential and day care facilities with food, shelter, health care and recreation would be arranged by local administration. It would ensure their food and health care firstly. Secondly, it would be helpful and effective in forming homogenous association of older persons in their community and this social network would be a new phase of the contextualized relationship. For sustainability of this community care centre for older persons, there is need of introduction of income generation from agriculture and rural craft. They would be encouraged for group production activities. This income would help to pass their quality time. They would not be victims of political culture of deprivation for a pension or for a job card under MGNEGRA. These huge human resources should be cared for our better nation. Otherwise, it would be harmful to our next generation.
Harasankar Adhikari is a Social Worker