By Priyadarshini Laishram
And whistles in his sound, Last scene of all
That ends this strange eventful history
To second childishness and mere oblivion
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
~ William Shakespeare
From day one of a man’s entry into this world to play his part, the clock of life ticks on and an intricate biological process sets the wheels of life on motion. So beautifully and truly has William Shakespeare described the seven stages of life of a man, the last one of which is the second childhood stage when he manifests the nature of a child- strengthless, senseless, a preparation to leave the world and the worldly bondage? While several theories and explanations as laid down by gerontology are in place for understanding the ageing process of living beings, the issue now is how well we as humans are able to better understand the condition of the aged, the plethora of complexities that surround an aged person and his family.
With the advancement in medical technology and health sector life expectancy has increased manifold. However the myriad problems which accompany old age such as loss of economic independence, loss of strength and vigour, affliction by degenerative diseases which implies higher medical cost etc render older persons much vulnerable to neglect and ill-treatment. Though energetic and full of spirit during their heydays as senescence ultimately snatch away their vigour and vitality the ageds are today the neglected lot, insecurity and helplessness adding emotional trauma to their already frail and weak physical disposition. Instances are also galore of ageds being denied their due share of beneficiary schemes and monthly old age pension which is a blatant violation of their rights carried out by certain callous pseudo-representatives of the people.
Family ties in India are very strong and majority of the older persons live with their sons or are supported by them. However due to several reasons such as generation gap, burgeoning workload on the working class with its associated collateral challenges in terms of managing time for office and family, changing values and life styles, high cost of living etc the traditional joint family norm is slowly giving way to nuclear families and with the gradual collapse of this institution which is instrumental in safeguarding the interests of the elders both physical and socio –economic, there is a terrifying trend of elder abuse in our society today. In Manipur though there are not many reports for elder abuse of the magnitude as elsewhere in India perhaps owing to the strongly advocated family values and traditions, yet there are several unreported cases which for fear of social stigma and disgrace the elders themselves have opted to keep hidden. Being abused by their children in some form or the other many aged parents are having to live in old-age homes. Many are dying several deaths before their real death due to the deepening loneliness they experience because of physical, financial and most important emotional neglect by their children.
The issue of fading of concern and care for the ageds in our society is genuine. Owing to their diminishing strength and dependency both physically and financially on their children they are often treated as a liability rather than as an asset. Not to talk of the provision of luxury they are often denied even the basic needs and dignity. For assuring that the concerns of the older persons are national concerns, a national policy on older persons has been formulated by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India. It aims to strengthen the legitimate place of older persons in the society and help them to live the twilight phase of their life with purpose, dignity and peace. The policy visualizes that the State will extend support for financial security, health care, shelter, welfare and other needs of older persons, provide protection against abuse and exploitation. Some of the measures which has been envisaged in the policy are better health and geriatric care for the older persons, welfare services for the more vulnerable among the older persons such as the poor, the disabled, the infirm and the chronically sick, issue of identity cards by the administration, fare concessions in almost all modes of travel, priority in gas and telephone connections, and in fault repairs, speedy disposal of complaints of older persons relating to fraudulent dealings ,cheating, development of programmes to promote family values and sensitizing the youth on the necessity and desirability of inter-generational bonding and meeting filial obligation, encouraging children to co-reside with their parents by providing tax relief, rebates for medical expenses,special care for the old widows who are vulnerable to greater neglect because of gender, lack of asset etc. Encouragement and support to the older persons to organize themselves to provide services to fellow senior citizens thereby facilitating participation in community affairs with their expertise and knowledge is also envisaged in the policy. In line with the national policy, it is high time the State of Manipur also framed a State Policy on older persons to address their needs and grievances. While the government and its vital organs has certain basic responsibilities in the matter, other institutions as well as individuals at each household level also need to consider how they can play a role for the betterment of older persons. Strengthening the tradition of respect for older persons which is inherent in our society as evident in our rituals, ceremonies and community functions, there is also need for affirmative action at each family and household level to care for the older persons because it is here that the ageds’ lives revolve most of the time and find emotionally satisfying. Bridging the gap between the aged parents and children in terms of understanding and balancing each other’s perspectives, expectations and limitations finds relevance in this context.
For safeguarding the rights of the older persons there are also certain legal provisions such as section 125 CrPC where a magistrate can order children to maintain their old parents. The Hindu Adoptions and maintenance Act, 1956, too, secures this right. There has been a lot of rejoicing by our aged lot when the Centre passed the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen’s Act in the year 2007 which seeks to provide a security cover to elderly persons through a large number of schemes and measures. While certain features of the Act for provision of better medical facilities to senior citizens, institutionalization of a suitable mechanism for protection of life and property of older persons, setting up of old age homes in every district etc is good news for all of us, its time to ponder, introspect and do some soul searching on the aspect of claiming maintenance by parents from their children which is already in place in our statute books and also one of the provision of the aforementioned Act. Acts and legislations are made by our legislators to cater to the needs of the society be it for promoting a cause or safeguarding against exploitation and harmful intents. Our changing attitude towards the aged parents leading to the necessity for such a provision as to “claim” maintenance from their own children for whom they have lived their lives is a matter attracting concern of the collective conscience of the society.
It is one’s own volition to give a thought to this entire gamut of our attitude and dealing of the old and the weak .Giving a trivial notion the matter can be brushed aside as one of the humdrum issues that needs no deeper speculation. Considering it as a genuine issue of the modern world, a manifestation of our eroding values and ethics one may care to give it a thought. And with care its time we make an effort towards securing an age integrated society and extend our little bit for the ageds today to leave behind a legacy so that our children follow our path and do their bit when we reach our second childhood tomorrow.