Repositioning Age and Ageism

It is expected that in another twenty years there will be three hundred nineteen million people beyond the age of sixty.

Sociology in India flourished soon after independence, as a discipline heavily loaded by western analytical categories that caught the attention of our bright young student. It was hostile to the traditional understanding of oriental society, especially in its application of functionalism through empirical methodology.

There was a huge debate between Saran versus, Bailey, Pocock and Dumont in the newly established journal of ‘The Contributions to Indian Sociology’ from 1955 to early 1960s about the relevance and critical analysis of western categories, in the use of indigenization of the discipline. Saran wrote a letter in the Times of India to then Prime Minister of India requesting him to stop the brain drain and brain washing of our bright students, who through Full Bright fellowships were eager to go to United States to lean social sciences. Saran’s insight has come to be believed.

After seventy years, the compartmentalization understanding of society has reduced the discipline of sociological researches mere repetition of usual information helpful for social work. Especially, where researchers do not have understanding of other disciplines like anthropology, philosophy and linguistics, it is a terse prose of ‘painful elaboration of obvious’. Therefore, its inputs in policy framing are equal to zilch. The globalization process has exposed the limitations of these comparative methods of induction and deduction. The neglect and sufferings of older people have been compounded by the lack of understanding in research and policy formulations. In case of the senior citizenry, let us revisit this fallacy in research.

In Modern Project, the construction of social was value based and morality and materiality were supposed to be integral. However, with its project of colonization and empire building youth emerged a functional category to be more for the national services rather than in its domesticity. It broke the moral connect of engagement and attachment of family obligations. The aftermath of war and results of Great Depression opened out this fallacy of modernism. The market crash of 1929 on the onset of Great Depression generated new poverty and affected the older population beyond belief. It was a moment of arrival for President Roosevelt in 1932. Before the New Deal announcement by the American president, the care of the older people was entirely withthe family his famous state union address of 1944, the second Bill of Rights, which cleared the apprehensions about economic security of the older persons.It provided social security, pension and home ownership, which in due course delinked family obligations from the old age welfare system. Despite Reagan’s departure from welfare policies, it continues to be a conventional system for senior citizens with market rationale of ‘care given and care received’. In the entire western world health ageing and health caring is always a priority that motivates publicsupport and national policies. Itredefined parental- children relationship, a departure from the traditional orientation.

In our case, family and primary groups are the basic support systems, apart from state sponsored programmes for older persons signifying their existentiality. The statuary provisions for maintenance of parents under Hindu personal law are in section 20 of Hindu adaptation of Maintenance Act of 1956. In Muslim Laws children are duty bound to maintain their parents. The older parents in poor conditions are entitled in Hanafi law. The state has approved the National Policy for older persons in 1999, which took major steps In policy framing and partial implementation of it in health, accommodation, mobility insurance through Jeevan Dhara, Jeevan Akshay, Annapurna Yojana and senior citizens’ unit scheme etc. provisions of elderly persons.

The sub continental countries are basically poor countries living in villages based on agrarian economy. Its perception of the children contrast to the western notion is that children are assets to the family. The parents being the source to bring the moon for their children are new middle class facsimiles of the west. It still remains here say in the vast multitudes of poor families. Inadequacies of implantation of old age policies in housing and pension, the disintegration of the families have become source of catastrophic for the older persons. It is expected that in another twenty years there will be three hundred nineteen million people beyond the age of sixty. The Longitudinal Aging study of India has given alarming reports about the structural ageism, discrimination and formation of detrimental negative age stereotypes. For, ageing is now more of a perception than of classification through chronology, mental health, and physical health or retirement classifications. It has been found that the rapid aging process has produced young adults and older adults, irrespective any formalised criterion.

The urbane middle class mostly living in multiple flat neighbourhoods with security and health facilities hardly have provisions for older mainly rests with middle age, young adult population that lives on fluid and functional relationships. The concept of ‘Eight ages of man’, the deterministic model perceives human nature passes through genetically predetermined sequence of stages, resulting in the under evaluation in labour market and low priority in community care. In our case, our traditions would lay emphasis on social age and subjective self. It would open up human possibilities and space for the esteem for the older persons. For, it revolves round the idea of notion of self and image of self-linked with moral and spiritual attainment. Morality was socially constructed to those notional identities that would give structural meaning for an old aged person. Our Sufi/Rishi tradition would give it legitimate blending to the social aging of attainment. This would inherently provide moral justification for the esteem of older persons.Since instead of religion, we profess religiosity and despite of regenerative policymaking, we practice divisive politics; it is fused with power and functionality that gives value judgement against its own tenets. It tacitly validates ideologically the adverse treatment to the old people. Imagine how displacements, militancy, half widowhood and disintegrating of primary groups in the wake of absence of moral- social core and inadequate state support would mean to the alderpersons, poor and be fret.

What is needed then for better life chances of senior citizenry? It is true the constitutional provisions and state support system may provide the extra protections. But, given the history and inadequate welfarism, it is a must to invoke our native blending traditions that had esteem and care an integral principal for elderly persons. Though it is not possible to bring it back the past, but it can be reformed and fused in child grooming in a new modernised format. The economic incentives can come from the state and the moral and ethical binding should be from the religious sites. It has to incorporate at the family level, like incentives given for the family planning. We have done enough to radicalise youth for political religion, we need same Tabliq and sermons and sensitization for adhering to moral values to connect it with aged persons.

The kernels of Ashram system and principles of ‘Adab’ in Islam (the Sufi instructional manual) need internalization in the family and institutions for socialization of a child. Both preach the older persons are near to the divine. Therefore, respect given to elder person is paying a gratitude to God. Unless economics and ethics are linked at family level is organically linked, the elder persons will suffer despite state sponsored programmes of welfarism. Wellbeing notions vary across the cultural contexts. One can take leaf from Japanese’s experiences and mould it in the blending threads of our traditions. In Japanese tradition, unlike west elders are not separated from the family, but they are related to the family. They are integrally perceived as an encompassing social unit. The group norms have priority over individual requirements and needs. In our traditional societies, the essences and threads of welfare and esteem are there for elderly persons, but subdued in the culture of materiality of western notions. In Japanese society it is vivid that older people receive more economic, instrumental, social and emotional support than any other modern and traditional societies. In our traditions too, Trika philosophy (Saivism, Sufism, Buddhism symbolised in metaphor of Shiv Shakti and individual) the image of older person is similar ‘as sen-nin’, who gain transcendental understanding of life and death, who have capacity to guide social institutions.

We need trusteeship, private public partnerships and identified traditions and episteme to relink in children grooming and institutional socialization at primary groups. In the past the political mystifications of power structure did not allow our Rishi tradition to be pervading, despite being time testing sustainable cultural continuous stream.

It has to be wilfully empowered and incorporatedwith other sustainable traditions. This may save us from cataclysm ensuing and ensure a shared rational existence. It would be a new page added to the notion of framing multiple- modernity for the project of humankind.

Ashok Kaul is Emeritus professor in sociology at Banaras Hindu university

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