Just by managing their care based on financial help, you cannot assume hundred per cent execution of, and exemption from, your duties
According to the Population Census of 2011, there are nearly 104 million elderly people (aged 60 years or above) in India, which has a ratio of 53 million women and 51 million men. A report released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) and HelpAge India suggests that the number of elderly is expected to grow to 173 million by 2026, which is roughly, 18 crore by the next seven years. That’s just a figure, though scary enough to tell the story of the challenge we have right in front of us: Our elders and our responsibilities towards them.
Today, the world is facing an unprecedented crisis caused by an invisible virus, which has the worst impact on the elderly. However, this susceptibility is not just limited to the Coronavirus as their immunity gets compromised as they age.
I would specifically like to draw attention to the elderly in Himachal Pradesh as I belong to that beautiful State. The number of elderly people in Himachal is growing very fast. According to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report, Himachal has seven lakh people aged 60 years or more, which is 10.2 per cent of the total population of the State, higher than the national average of 8.6 per cent. The elderly population in Himachal is projected to grow at a rate of 3.1 per cent annually and is expected to reach 1.1 million by 2026, which will be about 15 per cent of its total population by that year. A whopping 90 per cent of the population lives in rural areas, so it can be said that an increasing elderly population is a major phenomenon in the rural areas of Himachal.
The significant thing here is that this elderly population is equally distributed in these districts. As per Census 2011, Hamirpur has 13.8 per cent of the total population of the elderly, followed by Bilaspur (11.9 per cent), Kangra (11.7 per cent) and Auna (11.5 per cent). Solan and Sirmaur (8 per cent) have the lowest proportion of the elderly. About three-quarters of the elderly (71 per cent) live with their family members and they play an important role in family decisions such as arranging social and religious events, buying household items and property.
If we look at the lockdown that was imposed for more than 100 days to deal with the Corona epidemic in a positive light, then it has given us an unprecedented opportunity to communicate and commune with the elders.
Things like sitting with them, listening to their experiences, eating together may seem to be insignificant or too small but through these, we are seeing the social institution called family strengthened in society. Recently, in an online discussion held by the Dadi Dada Foundation, a not-for-profit social organisation working for the rights of the elderly in India, I put forth some points that can help create a good environment in society for the elderly.
Give them your time: First, increase communication with the elderly and spend time with them. Often we leave the elders to live in their own world. Even if they want to say something, we tend to ignore it. This leads to a communication gap, which further gives rise to many psychological complexes in them and that creates social disorder.
Discharge your duties towards them: Fulfil your duties towards the elderly and give them care and service. The obligation is to fulfil the moral and social needs of the elderly. Do not forget that to make you reach this point in life, they have discharged small responsibilities by depriving themselves of many worldly satisfactions.
Learn the rites, rituals and values from the elders and adopt them for life. Our children spend so much time on their mobile phones, gadgets and so on but taking out time for grandparents is not one of their priorities. Motivate children to receive values from their grandparents. But first of all, apply these morals to your lives as you can teach children more from your actions than words.
Make them your role model: Share the achievements of the elderly when you talk to the young ones in your family. Today, our society lacks role models. We continue to seek role models in movies and books. Whereas in every household youngsters can be inspired by the achievements of their elders, from their real life experiences and hard work.
Take them along through the changes in life: Often the elderly are left out because of the rapid changes occurring in our lifestyles. To deal with that, we must include the elders in our lifestyle changes. Often we assume that they would not be interested in technology, fashion and social media and so on. However, it is not like that. At one time, our elders were the drivers of change in their generation. So we need to introduce them to changes in technology, lifestyle, innovation, social media and fashion in our generation.
Take advantage of their experience: Take suggestions from them at every turn of life. Later, it depends upon you whether you fully accept their advice or not. But certainly, their experience will enrich your decision-making process. Experience-based on age cannot be acquired from a book, so take their opinion whenever there is confusion or a new turn in your life. You will see that some positive solution will always come out of the conversation to the challenge you are facing.
Don’t leave them alone: Today, the biggest challenge for the elderly is increasing loneliness and mental depression. In the metropolitan cities in their pursuit of material things, children are lagging in the discharge of their duties towards the parents and grandparents.
Just by managing their care based on financial help, you cannot assume hundred per cent execution of, and exemption from, your duties. After the birth of a child, until he/she begins to speak and walk, the presence of the mother is indispensable for the kid. In the same way, elders expect the same affection and intimacy from their children after a time.
Financial support is a must: As age progresses, the needs and preferences of the elderly change. They will have to be provided with financial security for every requirement including medicines, treatment, food and clothes. Support them financially if they are not independent and get banking services and facilities for those who have pension and other social security assistance from the Government or other organisations.
Do keep in mind that the elderly are the pillars of our society. The stronger we make them, the stronger the all-round development of our society and nation will be. For the welfare and care of the elderly, we must protect the already existing social support systems and traditional social institutions such as the family and kinship, neighbourhood bonding, community bonding and community participation.
Recently we celebrated Senior Citizen’s Day and Ganesh Chaturthi. Remember the mythological story of Ganesha? To prove his superiority, Ganesha’s brother Karthik went off on a journey of the three worlds while Ganesha simply circumambulated his parents. When asked why he did so, he answered that his parents Shiva and Parvati constituted the three worlds and thus he was given the fruit of knowledge. Do give your parents and grandparents that status in life.
(The writer is General Manager, Corporate Communications, with Power Grid Corporation of India)