There are no awareness centres or single-window services available for senior citizens.
"During the interaction, the lady revealed that she had been deceived by someone who told her that the government provides one thousand rupees to widows." [Representational Image]
"During the interaction, the lady revealed that she had been deceived by someone who told her that the government provides one thousand rupees to widows." [Representational Image] Pixabay [Creative Commons]

A UNFPA and HelpAge International report predicts that India’s population will increase by 60% from 2000 to 2050, with the number of senior citizens rising from 100 million to 323 million. However, it is unclear if all seniors are aware of and taking advantage of welfare provisions provided for them by the government.

A study was conducted by one of the authors in Srinagar district to determine the level of awareness among people aged 60 and above regarding various welfare programs and schemes provided by the Government of India for senior citizens.

The study found that 71% of the 100 respondents had poor awareness, 22% had moderate awareness, and only 7% had high awareness.

The research design was descriptive, and data was collected using a structured questionnaire and analysed using frequency and percentage statistics. The results highlight the need for improving knowledge among senior citizens about their rights and available facilities.

Many elders are not aware of health and welfare schemes available to them. There is a pressing need for creating mass awareness about these provisions to ensure their health and legal protection.

One of the authors encountered a senior citizen lady at a post office who requested assistance with filling out a bank account opening form for savings. However, the lady already had an active bank account and did not need to open another one.

During the interaction, the lady revealed that she had been deceived by someone who told her that the government provides one thousand rupees to widows. The individual had given her a blank bank account form for five hundred rupees and instructed her to visit the post office.

The lady also shared that she has been a victim of abuse and neglect since her husband passed away, and that she has to beg her children to cover her medical expenses. The author provided proper counselling to the lady.

The process for senior citizens to obtain meagre financial assistance can be cumbersome. The numerous paperwork and complex online procedures make it difficult for them to navigate the process. It has been observed that senior citizens have to wait in long queues for hours and visit various locations to get their documents attested in order to receive assistance.

There are no awareness centers or single-window services available for senior citizens. One may ask a very important question: What has the socio-political environment of the country done to stop the increasing exploitation and neglect of senior citizens? The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act (MWPSC) was passed in 2007 with the goal of addressing the social and financial issues resulting from the growing apathy of inheritors towards senior citizens.

Although this Act provides financial support and maintenance, it leaves most seniors vulnerable to their providers, who are in line to inherit their property. The Act was amended in 2019, expanding the definition of “children” and removing the arbitrary upper limit of Rs. 10,000 as the maintenance provided to the petitioner. Additionally, the definition of maintenance and welfare was reformed to be more comprehensive and in line with the concept of a “dignified life,” which includes both physical and mental health.

Despite these amendments, this Act is still plagued with significant issues. By placing the responsibility of senior citizens almost entirely on their children, the state should have explored alternative options instead. Providing sums of Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 to senior citizens below the poverty line under the Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme seems woefully insufficient and inadequate to maintain a dignified life.

The absence of comprehensive social welfare schemes for the elderly population has yet to be addressed, taking into consideration the contemporary economic and social structure of society.

Although maintenance officers are entrusted with ensuring the smooth execution of the transfer of welfare funds and handling disputes arising in such cases, they lack the power to take action in instances where maintenance payments are denied or discontinued.

The possibility of appealing such decisions is also limited. Punishment for abandonment and abuse of senior citizens is insufficient, and lack of information about their rights and laws, as well as difficulties in accessing legal channels, worsen this dire situation.

The MWPSC Act, despite its good intentions, has several flaws that must be addressed. It falls within the civil purview, resulting in inherent inertia among legal establishments.

Tribunals needed to resolve disputes regarding neglect of senior citizens are lacking in many areas. The definition of “abuse” itself is unclear, making it challenging to identify offenders. This is further compounded by the prevalence of in-house “settlements” in many cases.

Digital literacy among senior citizens is poor, resulting in a failure to access online helplines and portals. Many seniors are unaware of the provisions of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007 (MWPSC), while others do not report abuse due to fear of legal complications and lack of action.

This narrative needs to be transformed through mass sensitisation. The MWPSC alone is insufficient; policymakers must adopt a “zero-tolerance” policy towards senior citizen abuse, similar to that of child abuse and domestic violence.

The Act requires further amendments to prevent identity theft and address abuse with harsher punishments. Senior citizens need to be empowered to report abuse in a receptive environment, while law enforcement officers need to follow up on every case of abuse with utmost dedication and seriousness.

Mass media can also play an instrumental role in raising awareness in this area. On a larger scale, we all need to strive to reinforce intergenerational bonds so that the younger generation can serve as gatekeepers for healthy and happy ageing. The causes of elder maltreatment are multidimensional and not always intentional.

Senior citizens with mental health conditions and dementia are more vulnerable to abuse and neglect. Sometimes, the abuse is more passive and covert, and the offender may not even be aware of it.

The MWPSC Act needs stricter implementation and should be revisited and made more comprehensive by adding provisions aimed at the holistic development of our senior citizens. It is currently the only Indian Act for senior citizens, making it all the more necessary to improve its effectiveness.

Dr Zubair Saleem is a Senior Geriatric Consultant and a Gerontologist and Dr Showkat Rashid Wani is a Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir

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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