In India, we talk a lot of our burgeoning young population. The median age of India's population currently is 28 and India’s workforce, those between 15 and 64, is expected to rise from almost 64 percent of its population in 2009 to 67 percent in 2020. While all of that is fine, what is invisible is the other truth – A report released by the United Nations Population Fund late last year found the number of Indians over-60s will increase from around 100 million currently to more than 300 million by 2050.
The sheer number of people will put an added strain on families and health and welfare services. The report also predicted the number of over-80s will increase sevenfold and of course most of this population will not be economically productive as the young people are.
Going further, by 2050, women over 60 years would exceed the number of elderly men by 18.4 million, which would result in a unique situation that can be termed the feminization of the elderly population in India. The nature of ageing is such that around the world, women tend to live longer than men.
In the advanced age of 80 years and above, widowhood dominates the status of women with 71 per cent of women and only 29 per cent of men having lost their spouse. Already, The Registrar General of India's latest statistics from the Sample Registration System, 2010, had found that the percentage of women in the age group of 60 years and above is higher in 17 out of the 20 large states.
For all our cultural norms underlying respect for the elderly, the reality is not always pleasant. The Kumbh Mela at Allahabad has recently concluded. Supposedly a purely religious festival, where people come for a ritual dip, it is also estimated that this is also an occasion where elderly people perceived to be a burden are brought on a pilgrimage and deliberately abandoned.
Writing in the National Geographic, Anshu Malviya, an Allahabad-based social worker, confirmed that both men and women have been abandoned during the religious event, though it has happened more often to elderly widows. Vrindavan and Varanasi, two other pilgrimage centers have also gained notoriety for being places where the infirm and ageing are left, particularly women.
Even while staying at home many pan-India surveys reveal that almost 30% of India's elderly are subjected to some form of abuse or neglect by their families. Ironically, in spite of this, only one in six of the abused elderly reports the injustice. Shockingly, 47.3% of abuse against elders is committed by adult caregivers, partners or family members, while 48.7% of all abuse cases imply neglect of an elderly person, abandonment, physical, financial or emotional abuse.
India’s National Policy on Older Persons has recognized the importance of family for the wellbeing of older persons and has decided to have programmes to promote family values, sensitize the young on the necessity and desirability of inter-generational bonding and continuity and the desirability of meeting filial obligations. There is also a law obligating family members to provide for the maintenance of senior citizens - Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act of 2007. But then given the demographic projections and the current national focus on paying attention to the economically productive age group of young people who contribute to economic growth and pay taxes (the elderly typically don’t either), the sun has perhaps indeed set on past traditions and cultural norms.
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