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International Day of Older Persons: If you're ageing in India, prepare to be abused

Shriya Mohan | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:47 IST

The first day of October is marked as the International Day for Older Persons by the United Nations. Voted into establishment on 14 December, 1990, the first International Day for Older Persons was observed on 1 October, 1991.

The day is usually celebrated to raise awareness about issues the elderly face


age-related sickness,


, elder abuse etc. It is also a day marked to celebrate the contributions the older citizens make to society.

International Day for Older Persons has a different theme each year and for 2016, it is - Take A Stand Against Ageism. It challenges everyone to consider ageism - the negative attitudes and discrimination based on age - and the detrimental impact it has on older people.

In India, while the day is being celebrated by a handful of functions across the country, this is perhaps the best time to really look within. For the elderly in India, things are not looking up.

Those stories

Dida turned 80 some months ago. Nobody knows her real name. For all the families in the para (locality) in South Kolkata, she is simply Dida - the frail, wrinkled and hunched Dida who became a widow early in life, who never stopped cooking snacks for her neighbours, who stopped by homes and chit chatted with everybody on her evening walks.

But Dida and her daughter-in-law had a strained relationship. According to Dida when she was about to descend down the stairs one evening, her daughter-in-law gave her a purposeful nudge that sent her tumbling down. Writhing in pain, she was hospitalised for her broken hip bones and has been bed-ridden ever since the accident.

The neighbours also quietly testify that each day the son and daughter-in-law's verbal abuses at Dida grew in volume in the evenings. Yet, nobody ever stepped up to defend Dida. It's a thought that simply didn't occur to anybody. And that is precisely why Dida's isn't just a Kolkata problem. Nobody in India steps up in the defence against the growing abuse against India's old.

Numbers on the rise

While there are around 100 million elderly in India currently, their number is expected to increase to 324 million by 2050 when they would constitute 20% of the total population.

Reports say that most of the abuse of the elderly is reported from middle-income group families and many cases pertained to elders being harassed for their property.

A national survey by an NGO to understand the youth's perspective on elder abuse found that almost 73% of the youth accepted that elder abuse exists and attributed it primarily to relatives (32.5%), followed by friends (21%) and neighbours (20%).

As per a survey, conducted last year, 34.7% youth perceived the primary abuser to be the daughter-in-law while 23% perceived it to be the son. For most elderly people, the topmost form of abuse was using bad language and talking rudely. Many were also subjected to isolation and emotional abuse.

According to a survey conducted by HelpAge India, the rate of abuse faced by senior citizens has risen from 23% in 2013 to 50% in recent years. The difference isn't much in Tier I and Tier II cities.

According to HelpAge India, on an average, 70 distress calls every month are being registered by a helpline run by them.

Big city issues

Once known as a pensioners' paradise, Bengaluru now abuses its elders more than any other city in the country, according to HelpAge India's 2014 survey.

75% of the elders surveyed in Bangalore reported personal abuse, the highest among Tier I cities. Among Tier II cities it was Nagpur that topped the list with 85% reporting abuse.

N Siva Kumar of Helpage India, Chennai tells


, "When people move into more urbanised settings and become more and more nuclear they are unable to accommodate the old dependents in their busy lives. This coupled with the lack of social security in the old makes them vulnerable to abuse."

Maatru Devo Bhava Pitru Devo Bhava

is what Hindu culture teaches its fledgelings - that parents are the first gods known to man. This International Day of Older Persons, let's take a vow to restore that dignity and respect we once offered the old.

What goes around comes around, remember? Sometimes, in ways much worse than we have imagined.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 1 October 2016, 1:11 IST
Shriya Mohan @ShriyaMohan

An editor and writer of development stories at Catch, Shriya has 8 years of experience as a development journalist, holds a Masters degree in Public Policy from the National University of Singapore and is a two-time winner of the National Foundation for India media fellowship award. When she isn't exploring the universe with her two-year-old daughter, she chronicles public anger and shelters relevant stories that don't hang sexily on news pegs.