Old age is a stage of life when a person is at their most vulnerable. At a time when they need maximum love and care, some of them sadly are subjected to abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, in India, where senior citizens form more than 100 million of the population, this problem assumes serious proportions.
On the occasion of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15th, HappyAging met Rajeev Kulkarni, Head of the HelpAge India, Pune Branch, where he shared about the grave reality of elder abuse in India and the laws that help protect the rights of older adults in the country.
About HelpAge India
HelpAge India has been consistently making lives better for needy older adults in India for the last 41 years. They assist the elderly in distress by providing counseling as well as taking care of them when they are abused or abandoned. They have a huge network of people working for senior welfare. They also provide emotional support to lonely elders and even give legal guidance when needed. HelpAge runs a medical camp yearly for testing older adults for cataract and operating those in need at subsidized rates. They have a number of mobile medical vans complete with a doctor and a pharmacist. They visit remote rural areas and treat patients.
Old age and abuse
After retirement, a major portion of the country’s elderly chooses to live with their children. Some get pension and have retirement funds, while a lot of them are dependent on their children for monetary or physical support as well.
Indian culture has always upheld the service of parents in highest stead. However, in recent times, there has been an alarming growth in the cases of elderly being abused, neglected or simply sent to old age homes. There are different types of abuse. Some are intentional – physical and verbal abuse, neglect, isolation, disputes over property and assets – while some are unintentional – leaving parents alone at home while relocating for work, not giving them enough time, not paying attention to what they are saying, saying something hurtful.
Rajeev Kulkarni shared with us the statistics of cases of abuse, both intentional and unintentional. According to their survey, a shocking number of older people are forced to live a life of humiliation, poverty, abuse and isolation. 37% of older adults face bad treatment, while 20% have a restricted social life. 13% are mentally and emotionally abused and an equal number are denied basic necessities. These numbers bring home the fact that elder abuse is more common than we think. It may be happening with people we know. There are a number of ways of elder abuse like denial of food or medical attention, abusing, insulting or humiliation, physical abuse like hitting or tying up (in case the parent is physically or mentally disabled), forced to do household chores or take care of children, emotional blackmailing, not allowing to meet their relatives or grandchildren, limiting or cutting off social time, ignoring basic needs and taking away or selling assets or property.
Why any kind of abuse is harmful?
Physical abuse is not the only kind of harmful abuse. Neglect, isolation, inadequate time, separation, verbal insults can all hurt the elderly. Keeping them financially dependent on oneself, and then denying assistance, is also harmful.
Rajeev talked about stories where a parent had to face not only physical abuse and mental torture, but also was duped out of their life’s savings. Several other heart-breaking stories of a father who was brutally beaten with a cricket bat and thrown out of his own home and another who was enrolled in an old age home because his children could not take up his responsibility anymore came forward.
Rajeev Kulkarni with his organization has actively helped such tormented people through all possible means to get their peace of mind back. In some cases, lawyers are appointed to fight cases on behalf of the elderly who have been abandoned by their families, while in some cases they personally visit and patch up things between the two parties.
Laws for Elder Abuse
There are laws for protection of the rights of the elderly. The Maintenance of Parents Act passed first in 2007, then amended in 2013 and 2014, states that the children are legally obligated to take care of their parents. If the parents live separately and are financially dependent on their children, they can demand a monthly allowance to support themselves.
However, Rajeev Kulkarni said that many parents are reluctant to talk about abuse. They are sometimes denied even the basic necessities and are insulted or stopped from socializing. Yet, most seniors try to overlook their hardships because they do not want to besmirch their child’s name. They often tend to look at the positives, like attachment to the grandchildren, to overcome their own pain. HelpAge India’s 2018 report on elder abuse states that 82% of elderly never report being abused and of which 52% do it to maintain confidentiality, while 34% do not know how to deal with it.
How can you report abuse?
If you are a parent, not happy with the way you are treated by your children, or if you have seen someone ill-treating their parents, you can call the HelpAge India helpline number 1800-180-1253 or the national elderly abuse helpline on 1090/1091.
We at HappyAging are taking steps towards making senior citizens in India happier. We hope everyone steps up too, to make India a better place for older adults.
This World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, let’s make more elders aware of their rights and make a difference.
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