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Isolation is proving to be a reality that comes with old age. Ageing being inevitable, everyone goes through these stages, provided death does not come calling in the meantime. Thus, irrespective of our stature, all of us come to a stage where we need others.

Currently, around the globe, senior citizens are being deprived of their rights. They face acute problems on the psychological, financial and social fronts. There are thousands around us who are playing this penultimate role on the stage of the world. For some, the going is good but for many it is a saga of suffering. They do not have those around them whom they long for. They do not find the supporting hands they need. They do not get the love they yearn for. They miss the people who would make them smile. Some live in isolation even while living with children. Some want to pass their final days at home, but can’t.

Changing family value system, economic compulsions of the children, neglect and abuse has caused elders to fall through the net of family care. The elderly people who are alone face health problems, depression and loneliness. The rapid urbanization has overtaken the traditional value system of our people and shifted their socio-economic priorities. Sons and daughters and their children find no time for the senior citizens in their family. The elderly who have provided their services and support to the society feel unloved and neglected at this phase of their lives. The concept of Old Age Home arises when the old aged persons in a family are not cared for at home. Many children argue that their financial conditions do not favor their looking after parents who impose a huge burden upon them. These words bear no reason as parents did not throw them away when they might have faced financial constraints. The term “Old Age Homes” actually speaks volumes about our insensitivity.

With the advent of industrialization there has been a significant change in the family system in particular and social structure in general. Joint families disintegrated and small nuclear families emerged where the young couple finds no time to look after their old parents. In such families the position of the old has become a crucial factor. The old themselves find it difficult to adjust with the modern ways of living of their young children. In the cities where there is growth of individualism and with it the desire to be self- reliant, the clashes between generations distress the old. Many of the problems faced by the urban elderly do not exist in the villages. Therefore a good number of elderly from urban group have taken resource to old age homes

In the pursuit of our mercenary goals, we ignore those who have laid the foundations of our lives, those who have taught us to walk and talk, those who have endured great discomfort for our wellbeing, and those who have mortgaged their present for our better future. The elderly in return pin their hopes on us to be the sources of support and comfort in their old age. But things go diametrically the opposite way when the time comes. This leads to psychological problems which the ageing fail to cope with.

As per the Rising Kashmir report, the colours of life were vibrant in all spheres of life in the house of Ghulam Rasool. Fun, love and trust were the words that echoed the walls.  Sadness has engulfed the house where celebrations were common. Ghulam Rasool and his wife Begum Fatima (names changed) have a sorrowful tale to share. While their children live far away in the West, the two of them are completely on their own, dependent of one another.

Rasool may be heartbroken but his wife is shattered. “They send us money every month, but they have forgotten that more than money its love, which is more important for a human being,” Fatima says. The old couple point out that not money but belongingness was the criteria. “This affinity is lost in our lives,” Fatima says. “When our old bones start aching, we cry out of pain in a closed room.”

As per another report, “there was a case where a mother of three sons and two daughters, all married, was living in a cattle shed in inhuman conditions alongside two cows. She was a widow and her family had called her mentally unfit but she was the only lady who made sense to us in that whole village in many informative enquiries about the village in general and villagers in particular. If you look deeply into her life, it was disturbing to even think about how she must have managed during the unforgiving Kashmir winters and in that cattle shed but her children seemed least bothered”.

In yet another report, “we met a man who must be in his late 70’s. He had two sons and both of them are govt. servants. He was dragged out from the house he had built himself as they sought ownership of the property by making him sign the house document. He had already resolved to settle their shares before his death but this was shocking. He said he took to begging in different streets of Kashmir, mostly in districts where no one knows him. He has to do this because he is too old to do any physical labour and he needs to get medicines every week which costs him a lot”.

I have only mentioned these three cases but there is a huge list of elderly people in Kashmir who have been abandoned by their families or are confined in the same house where they are ill-treated. It’s very hard to accept that in a hospitable culture like Kashmir, such horrific cases exist.

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!

Based on a survey by Dr Humaira Showkat (International Journal of Research in Sociology and Anthropology (IJRSA)), out of 150 respondents (all senior citizens) in Srinagar city, 45% voiced the need for Old Age Homes. The respondents, both males & females, were spread across the city & were from all income groups.

On a lighter note, I would request elders-to-be 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.

Traditionally elders in Kashmir used to be given all the love and care but the “Modernisation” has left some of them isolated and lonely. Therefore setting up of facilities like old age homes for such neglected bunch 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! For now, it may not be possible or practical to suddenly begin building old age homes but what we can do is to look at ways and means of effectively engaging with different local organizations to make use of existing infrastructure and funds to make room for the homeless elderly. Most orphanages homes in Kashmir have room and resources that can be facilitated to help elderly people. This could also be emotionally healing for both older people and orphan children as they’re both deprived of normal love and care.

Sami Ul GaniM.Tech, MBA & currently working for CEB Global (India)  but originally form Kashmir.

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