Kashmir: Case Studies on Elderly Abuse

At present UN recognizes elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue
An elderly man covers his head with 'pheran', the traditional Kashmiri robe worn during winters, on a rainy day in Srinagar. [Image for representational purpose only]
An elderly man covers his head with 'pheran', the traditional Kashmiri robe worn during winters, on a rainy day in Srinagar. [Image for representational purpose only]File: Mubashir Khan for Greater Kashmir

Nowadays we see diminishing values and irritating attitude displayed by younger crop towards senior citizens. Many senior citizens were contacted and requested their experiences with investigator. Elder abuse can be defined as a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person. We often assume that our greatest dangers are from strangers on dark streets or from violent men who might break into our houses. The sad truth is that the highest perils of brutal and persistent violence lurk within the intimate spaces of our homes from those to whom we are the closest. Economic dependence of older people on their children is of the significant factors of elderly abuse. In our valley we have significant number of senior citizens  who  suffer silently at the hands of daughter-in-laws or sons according to a survey conducted by the investigator.

At present UN recognizes elder abuse as a public health and human rights issue. I shall report here actual case studies where names have been changed to maintain confidentiality. Zahid an ageing painter still spends much of his day painting walls but does not earn enough to meet his basic needs. His son denies him enough food and money for medicines. Mughli an unlettered widow is given only one meal a day. Her son refuses money for her minor eye surgery. Abdul Rashid moved with his wife to live with his son as his health declined. Both old people are forced to work all day, worst than domestic servants, they cannot move out from the quarter without permission of son and daughter-in-law, they feel choked and restless. Abdul Rashid is restricted to go to a nearby mosque for prayers and advised by his son to pray at home. Ghulam Mohmmad worked all life for his family, in old age he needed some money for minor surgery but none of his children was willing to pay, his repeated pleas were ignored. Fazii had desired in her old age to visit Hazratbal shrine once to have a glimpse of the holy relic, her repeated pleas were  ignored, this last wish got buried with her mortal remains. Zoona, a widowed old lady had visited one of our late brother’s house after decades to mourn the death of his wife; she had gone there against the wishes of her son. Her son had the perception that now Zoona is old it is not proper for her to move out of the house. Her other children shared the same perception except her elder daughter who was an odd man out. She was left there for days. Her son did not bother to call her or pick her back from the relatives house. Finally she had to hire an auto and knock the door of her son like a beggar. 

I boarded an over loaded bus at Khanyar there were some seats reserved for senior citizens, a very old lady in her eighties was standing, the younger crop did not bother to offer her a seat. We often see senior citizens waiting in long queue at banks, hospital counters, ration ghats, telephone billing counters, young ones do not bother to give them space. Rather they are pushed, and everyone seems to be in a state of hurry. An old lady partially disabled carrying a walking stick near Athrout Nawa Kadal in the chilly cold morning was asking for a lift. Many cars passed by but she was left un-noticed. No one bothered to offer her a lift.

An old father in his eighties was asking his son some queries regarding mobile technology, his son got irritated, shouted at him, snatched mobile phone from his hand and told him in an arrogant tone that it does not suit his age. We are so much self-centered that we need to re-read and re-reflect on the poem ‘Somebody’s Mother’ which was once part of our English syllabus in class 10th. A gentleman introduced his mother to his office colleagues, while his mother was conversing with his colleagues he was feeling uncomfortable and interrupted her frequently. Ab Karim has a reasonable income by renting out his shop, the income from this shop became the bone of contention for which he was harassed. An old widow requested me to fill the withdrawal slip in a bank. She was entitled to a pension of Rs 10,000 of her late husband. Her son snatched all this money and even refused to pay for her medical costs. One Government employee serving in a city brought her widowed mother from village to city and pushed her into one corner of the room, rarely took her out for outing. She felt choked and caged. The investigator conducted older person’s property victimization survey in some areas of Kashmir.

The survey revealed that houses of elders hide an ugly truth. One in every two elderly person is facing harassment over property. During this investigation I desired to meet one of the veteran teachers of yesteryears in connection with preparing a tribute diary; their family members did not allow me to meet him. I had to return disappointed from the gates thrice. Two months back, I read a small obituary in the newspaper that this veteran teacher is no more. He died as an unsung hero. One day I stopped at Babdem near scrap market. I purchased an old trunk. I found some old books, religious scriptures, diary of academic accomplishments, PhD Thesis and a bundle of original certificates in it. One original certificate was of doctorate awarded in 1969 by Aligarh Muslim University. I wanted to return certificates, books and thesis to the person. After painful search I learnt that person had died three months back. Finally I located his house and communicated with the inmates from the video bell installed on the door.  From this door bell I was told that they had sold the old trunk to scrap sellers and these certificates were of no use to them. Back home I treated these certificates as holy relics and placed them on the highest shelf in my study room.

In my neighborhood at Ali Kadal there was an old blind man who was living in his ancestral home for decades; he even used to lead prayers in the nearby mosque, and was socially  well connected. At the fag end of his life his children forced him to migrate to a new place against his wishes. He felt socially disconnected, caged and suffered a massive heart attack. Few months back my aunt was admitted in an emergency at SKIMS. An old man complaining of severe chest pain was admitted there. He was not accompanied by any attendant. When he entered the bathroom in the emergency at around 4.00 a.m he fell unconscious and died there. Finally Rainawari police station was contacted to trace his residence. I met  a senior citizen lady who was alone at a post office who requested me to  fill a form. 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 three thousand rupees to widows. The deceiver had given her a blank bank account form for five hundred rupees and misguided 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.

When the elderly die a library is lost and volumes of wisdom and knowledge are gone. Love your parents. We are so busy growing up we often forget they are also growing old. The worst feeling is not being lonely, it is being forgotten. Current research demonstrates that the primary abusers of the elderly are adult children and other family members, indicating that violence against elderly persons occurs mostly at home. Research has demonstrated that children exposed to violence, whether they are the intended victim or witnesses to violence perpetration, are more likely to have behavioral problems and later become perpetrators of aggression and violence themselves. Parents are the most influential role-models in children’s lives. If a child witnesses his or her parent abusing an elderly family member, that child learns that acting aggressively toward elders is acceptable behavior.

Finally I call upon all concerned stakeholders to design and carry out more effective prevention strategies  to address all aspects of elder abuse. Let us work together to optimize living conditions for older persons and enable them to make the greatest possible contribution to our world.

We need to deal with senior citizens with patience, love, care and compassion, the same way they dealt with us when we were children.

I conclude with following Quranic Verse (Surah Bani Israel, Ayah 23-24)  ”  Treat your parents with goodness; if either of them or both reach old age in your presence, do not say ‘uff’ (any expression of disgust) to them and do not chide them, and speak to them with respect. And spread for them the arms of humility with tender heart, and say, ‘My Lord! Have mercy on them both as they brought me up when I was a child.”

(Note: The names in the article may not be real)

Dr Showkat Rashid Wani, Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir

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