Negligence of the elderly in an exploitative economic system

Help age India study release in Bhubaneswar

The study done by HelpAge India titled, “Elder Abuse in India: Role of family in care giving – challenges and responses” brings about some glaring facts about the state of care to the elderly in our society. The study, among other things, found out that 35% of the caregivers never felt happy looking after the elderly. Caregivers here mean mainly the son, daughter-in-law, daughter and son-in-law. Such findings raise some basic questions about our responsibilities toward our ageing parents.

The study was released in Bhubaneswaron 14th June where I was a speaker among other eminent personalities. Many speakers opined that the rising negligence of the elderly is due to the degeneration of the societal value system. And I agree to this. But lets analyse the deeper causes of the same.

Lets go back to the British era and draw an analogy.Dadabhai Naoroji’ drain of wealth theory discusses various means by which wealth from India was drained to Britain. Famous historian Bipin Chandra analyzed the impact of the extortive economic system then in breaking the joint family system in India.

Britishers imposed an exorbitant tax structure over the land, which made agriculture unviable. In the system, the Britishers would give a large area to bigZamindars, who in turn will distribute it to small Zamindars, who will give in patches to the small farmers – the common populace. And this small farmer does the actual tilling. As Britishers took huge taxes form the land, the burden was handed down to the common farmer’s level. Inability to pay tax led to internal dissention in the family and led to crumbling of the joint family system.

Extortive economic system

Let’s bring this analysis to the current time of changing economic order and implications on the social stricture. The earlier mixed economic system was a self-sufficient where people had less income but also lesser needs and limited ambitions. This system was supplanted by a liberal economic system driven by capitalistic greed. Earlier people would work less and had time for the family including the elderly. The family as an institution was rather intact. But the new economic order has forced consumerism on people and the cost of economy has exponentially gone up. A 3 BHK flat in a B 2 city like Bhubaneswar costs in the range of 60 lakhs to 1.2 crore rupees. One can well imagine the cost in cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Children’s education has gone up exponentially across the country.  No wonder that people’s focus now is to earn more and more to fulfill their basic requirements. Thus the new system has made people too career-centric.

A friend of mine who is top-class software professional in US narrated me his plight. “On working days, my day would start at 7 am and can continue till 1 am in night.” And this is just not his story. It’s the story of any working individual now a daythat are employed in private sector. In the process, where does one get time for family and the elderly parents? And in such a high cost economy, who has the willingness to take care of their parents, who are considered only as burden!

But who is benefited of the system? That’s the moot question. One who works day and night to secure a dignified life only ends in struggling and struggling. The capitalist economic order nurtures, what may be termed as a Trickle Up phenomenon, where there is upward flow of wealth. No wonder the inequality is on the rise in the country, which means the gap between the rich and the poor is widening.

Dwindling family values:

Capitalism thrives on breaking the institutions into individuals. Selfishness and self-centeredness supplant sacrifice and empathy. One can well observe this in the lives of the current generation.

In an instance, when an elderly person passed away who was in an old age home, the caretakers informed his son and urged him to come from America for the cremation. The son instead offered money to do the cremation and did not come! This is just one example. One can find many such inhuman instances of abandonment of the elderly by the son, daughter-in-law, daughter and son-in-law.

The new regime also has brought about a positive change i.e. economic empowerment of women. Middle class women are opting to work and earn instead of becoming only a housewife and discharging their household chores. In the new order what has taken a backseat is the care of elderly by the daughter –in-law, which is their traditional role.

Most women have to work now, not just part of their aspirations but also due to compulsion. Double hand earning is a necessity to thrive in this competitive world. With the traditional role of the women undergoing a change, the male counterpart is unwilling to share the family responsibilities, which were exclusively in women’s domain earlier. In the new family order both have lesser time for the family, but the woman’s responsibility has gone up.

With so much of compulsions and responsibilities, people have preferred to be selfish. And this is buttressed by the phenomenon of “I, Me and Myself” nurtured by capitalism and consumerism. Elderly are the first group of suffers. And wait for some more years, children will be the next group of sufferers in India as the family as a basic unit of society further disintegrates. This is already witnessed in many of the western countries.

Robust social protection mechanism is a need of the hour

Capitalism does not sustain in absence of well-placed welfare mechanism. The society now needs strong social protection mechanism for the elderly. Both the government and the voluntary sector have a role to play. There should be a universal pension schemes with a minimum of 2000 rupees a month for all elderly. Cities need more and more old age homes with basic amenities and healthcare. Voluntary sector can play a role in building institutions for engagement of the elderly in playful activities.

And finally, family must play its desired role to care the elderly, not abandon them, as old age is waiting the current generation youths too!

Author is a senior journalist. E mail id: [email protected]


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