How Is Life For Senior Citizens In A Rapidly Changing India?
There are nearly 103 million senior citizens in India with the population expected to grow to 300 million by 2050. The country itself is rapidly undergoing change in terms of technology, cultural and social changes. Here’s an expert look at how is life for senior citizens in a rapidly changing India.
Economic and Social Policies for Seniors
We already have economic and social policies to tackle issues related to the elderly. The National Policy on Older Persons, the Integrated Program for Older Persons mentions national and state level economic and social schemes for older persons.
The critical issue is how far these schemes are being implemented. A study on social security by Tata Institute kof Social Sciences showed that although 40 per cent of the elderly were aware of the concessions for train travel, only nine per cent availed of them. Thirty-Seven per cent of the elderly were aware of the bus reservation in seats for the elderly but only eight per cent availed of the facility.
One of the key things that the Integrated Program on Older Persons mentions is the need to bring older people and children together. For this purpose, organizations like Ashwamedh Senior Citizens Division in collaboration with Bombay Community Public Trust and Technova, reached out to around 4500 children to sensitize them towards senior citizens. They conducted sessions with children in their classrooms conveying the message that all of us are going to be old someday and hence we need to be sensitive towards older persons. It became quite clear that children have a lot of myths and stereotypes about older persons which, if not challenged or discussed could lead to increasing gap amongst generations.
Does Urban India View Ageing Differently Now
Earlier, retirement was seen as a time when the person had reached the end of an active life. There is this realization now that a person has at least around 20 to 30 years of active life after retirement, so this vacuum needs to be filled. Through my sessions with seniors, I have found that seniors are more open to take in new ideas regarding this. They want to contribute to the society in some way but do not know how to do it. Hence, some volunteering or paid avenues need to be made available for senior citizens where they can not only contribute their rich experience, but also feel useful.
It is commonly seen that people want to remain young or they don’t want to stop their usual activities just because they are old. The popular notion is that ‘We are young at heart’. But the question is, why not acknowledge your age, why is there a need to be young in the first place? This also means that more importance is given to being young or youth is more favoured.
Mindset shift in seniors about learning and experiencing new things
Health, fitness and longer lifespans have overturned old stereotypes of age.
The old structures of expectations and responsibilities are crumbling. According to sociologist Mala Kapur Shankardass, this is the consequence of the rise of individualism.
Individual choices are becoming as important as societal expectations. People are trying out new things with courage and confidence without getting inhibited by societal expectations and pressures.
Take the case of Bokul Chatterjee of Kolkata. She gave her first year BA examination at the age of 86 despite numerous health issues. I know an elderly ex-Alumni member of the Social Work course for Senior Citizens who is volunteering for SOSVA (an NGO) and teaching classical dance to slum kids. She said she feels the need to do something constructive with her time.
Silver Talkies features several older people who are putting their post-retirement years to good use, either by helping others or exploring a new skill. Here’s Charles Narayanan who teaches underpriviledged students in his neighbourhood & a group of seniors in Chennai keeping the golden era of Hindi film music alive.
Focusing on a second innings
There are instances of people starting or flourishing in their second careers in newspaper magazines and articles. There are also instances where people whose experience and knowledge are highly valued are retained by the companies where they were employed. But it is still difficult to find older people initiating second careers. There are older people in Mumbai who are extremely involved in running senior citizens associations, but in terms of actively beginning second careers, you hardly encounter any.
When I conduct sessions on ‘Successful Aging’ and convey the message that it is important to have a purpose in life, people are generally enthusiastic about doing something for the society. But I have seen that this enthusiasm is short-lived and when they were informed about actual opportunities to do paid or volunteer work, they back off. So, unless seniors are willing to work consistently, it is difficult to find work opportunities.
Working with seniors can have several advantages. I used to work in a small financial services firm of only seven people, where the owner had employed senior citizens. When I asked him the reason, he pointed out three. First was they being very sincere and thorough in their work, second was that they rarely took a holiday as they were really interested in the work that they were doing and the third was that they kept the office atmosphere light and cheerful.
Government schemes for senior citizens
Government schemes are not very known and the middle class elderly senior citizens do not use them. It is mostly the lower-class elderly and people from the rural areas who utilize these schemes. If they are to know about the schemes, then information booklets and pamphlets need to be published in regional languages. There is an elderly person Mansukhlal Ruparelia, residing in Mira Road in Palghar district who has made it his life’s mission to spread information about Government schemes and programs after retiring from Indian Railways as Joint Director.
The Government also needs to network with organizations and practitioners who work with seniors to actually understand the ground reality and inform them about policies and programs for seniors.
Daily Challenges Seniors Face
In the UK for people who are living alone, there are home care services which include personal care, shopping, cleaning and also accompanying the person for outside visits if required. These services are provided by the UK Government through home care assistants who are trained in eldercare. This helps in keeping more and more older people in their own homes rather than sending them to old age homes.
We neither have social security nor do have services for older people. It is still considered to be a family responsibility. But now with the changing scenario, it needs to be acknowledged that children are not in a position to help or assist their elderly parents and in some cases, older people themselves do not want any help and wish to remain independent. So, services need to be put in place by Government and the voluntary sectors for aging-in-place.
The National Policy on Older Persons 2011 mentions regarding promoting the concept of ‘aging-in-place’ and ageing in own home and also home care services.
In terms of commuting, it can be seen that most senior citizens who are middle old (between the ages of 75 to 85) try to avoid commuting by public transport due to crowding, enervating staircases and over bridges. Only seven seats are reserved for seniors in Mumbai local trains. Seniors find it difficult to book taxi services like Ola, Uber if they are not mobile savvy. Although the new Policy on Senior Citizens talks about productive ageing and creating continuity in current employment and post-retirement opportunities, the Government has hardly taken any steps in this direction.
So despite the changes in our social environment and senior’s own mindset, the challenges still remain.
Featured image used for representative purposes only