Do we need old age homes?

Shifting economic forces are displacing our traditions fast, reshaping our residence patterns
Aged people sitting at dinning table inside an Old Age Home in Jammu on 13 September 2018. [image for representational purpose only]
Aged people sitting at dinning table inside an Old Age Home in Jammu on 13 September 2018. [image for representational purpose only]File: Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

It has become a custom across the globe to observe special days recognised by the world community irrespective of their culture and geography. The aim of celebrating such special days is to forge unity among people beyond geographical boundaries.

However, we find the culture and norms of a country embedded in most of these special days without compromising on the basic and fundamental aim of observing such days.

This way, these days create a festive mood and opportunity for people to express their feelings and respect to someone they love. For instance, on Women’s Day, which falls on March 8, people celebrate the equality between men and women.

Family members and friends give flowers and gifts to women members, to let them know they are valued. On Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, people give their parents gifts or greeting cards to express how they love them. On Teacher’s Day, students show their love and respect to teachers.

A few days back, a buzz was observed on the World Senior Citizens’ Day, when people around the world got together to voice their concern over the plight of elderly population.

Special programmes were held to commemorate the day. If the media - be it electronic, print or social media - sacrificed their time and space to show their respect to the senior citizens, banks and financial institutions launched special schemes exclusively for them loaded with incentives for a particular period of time.

Remarkably, each year World Senior Citizens’ Day is marked on August 21. The day is observed with the intent to highlight the contributions of elderly people in human society and honour them. The day is also celebrated to bring attention to various issues that affect the elderly, such as health issues and abuse by younger people, whether from the family or outsiders.

Over a period of time, the plight of elders at the hands of their family members or outsiders has emerged as a major concern in societies across the globe.

In a scenario when inventions in medical science have extended the life span of humans, it has resulted in a bane for millions of elderly people in the country as they find themselves subjugated and exposed to more miseries in the extended span of life.

Considered as a spent force, they mostly remain outside the radar of any welfare measure. All around people talk about empowering individuals, specific genders and overall societies for ‘better future’. But amid this empowerment breeze, I hardly come across any emphasis on empowering elders falling in the senior citizens’ category.

What we have observed is that when an individual assumes a senior citizen status, he loses empowerment which he would have enjoyed during the prime years of his life.

Almost all empowerment machinery comes to a halt for him at this later stage of his life. For all his life he accumulates every comfort for his family, but is left uncomfortable as an elder. Of course, this doesn’t happen with all, but most of them suffer.

The celebration of the World Senior Citizens’ Day reminds me of a debate where college students dished out their opinions on various social issues. Actually, some time back, I had an opportunity to listen to a group of college students who were debating social issues during an innovative session organised by the college management.

The students deliberated on serious issues like child labour, need for an old age home in Kashmir, moral values etc. The 3-hour long deliberation was a strong reminder for all of us to address the problems eating up our society well under the nose of our consciousness.

Among the varied topics debated during the programme, it was a thought provoking question when the need of having an old aged home came up for discussion. Do we need such homes in Kashmir? A quick unanimous response is a big ‘No’.

Apparently, the ‘No’ is based on the argument that ours is a society where parents are not deserted by their children. Of course, the argument holds ground. But it’s not a deserting phenomenon alone which ignites a need to have an old age home. The fact is that in a geography like ours, unforeseen conditions have left elderly parents, whether rich or poor, in a lurch.

It’s pertinent to mention that all of us, whether rich or poor, in one way or the other traverse life in misery and poverty. We as poor are desperate for our survival, while being rich makes us suffer the fear syndrome of losing wealth.

If we have power we remain panicked by potential instability. We have a huge chain of rich people here who turned out to be poor when some misery confronted them at the later stage of their life.

Meanwhile, it’s a fact that our elders at the fag end of their life have no insecurity because of the social setup which has always reserved huge space for their comfort. But over a period of time this space stands squeezed and it’s the financial insecurity which today remains a major concern for them.

For example, they own a house, but remain financially poor owing to lack of regular income to meet their day to day needs. Here I am trying to make a point that getting old without any proper financial backup to meet day to day expenses can be upsetting.

With the rising cost of living and no regular income at old age can turn problematic. It’s here the need for an old age home arises. These homes can take care of their health and financial problems.

It’s worth mentioning that over a period of time shifting economic forces eating up our tradition are fast reshaping our residence patterns. A trend is in motion where children are distantly moving away from their parents to shape their careers.

This has created a new section of the population of ‘alone parents’. Once this section of population steps as senior citizens, a sense of lacking empowerment begins to haunt them.

Increasing urbanisation and fast growing nuclear family culture begins to further compound their miseries and they are forced to fend for themselves. This situation further deteriorates by increase in the cost of living accompanied by longer life expectancy.

Precisely there is a huge segment of elders who have no one to fall back upon for support. Be it any mode of travel, matters related to their health or availing financial services, elders, these senior citizens deserve a special home.

Apart from looking at old age homes as a solution to address the plight of suffering senior citizens, there is another alternative for them to ensure a comfortable life in absence of a family support.

There is a financial security scheme introduced in 2007 by the central government where an elderly owner of a house property can have funds against the mortgage of the property without repaying it almost during its lifetime.

However, a borrower can prepay it at any time during the tenor of the loan. Otherwise the loan is recovered after the death of the borrower by putting the house on sale. The scheme in vogue is the ‘Reverse Mortgage’ loan scheme.

We have a good chunk of such elders who have property but no sustained source of income or lack financial support from the children to fend for themselves for the rest of their life.

It’s also a fact that most of our elders have developed a tendency to live separately, preferably without depending on their children for their amenities and medical needs. So the reverse mortgage is a financial cushion to such elders to fall back upon for assured financial support.

To conclude, we need to understand that elders are a treasure to our society. They form a rich repository of knowledge and experience which we cannot afford to ignore. Let’s empower them to lead an active and participatory life.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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