The Tragic Tale of Elderly In Our Society

My mother turned 79 on 31st March. The family gathered for simple dinner and for sometime she forgot her dizzy spells, her weak heart and all that the old age brings with it. After my father’s death 5 years back my brother decided to brings ma back to Delhi and since then they stay together ( He does not like to say she stays with him).

There is a person to take care of her and she is free to live her life as she desires. Ma travels, attends events, goes for movies, exhibitions and does all that her health permits. Even after all this sometimes she looses it and the feeling of dependency and loneliness creeps in, making us feel helpless.

She is well-connected to us through phone and we do visit her often. She is internet savvy so connects with old friends too. My brother, in spite of heavy work schedule in TOI, does his best to see her comfortable, healthy and most of all happy but how many old people living in the cities with their children get this?

I have already done a post on Being a daughter, old age and empty nest

Someone told me yesterday,  ” hey you have a long life, you will live a hundred years. I was just thinking about you.”

I wondered ” how many would like to live a hundred year in a society where old people are made to feel redundant ??”

A recent story which my therapist narrated made me write this post.

Mr. Jaganath ( name changed) is a professor (retd) from University of Delhi . He is 97 years old. His wife is 88 years old and both of them are in frail health with old age complications . The couple stays in a posh flat in an upmarket colony and has five children. Four boys, three of them are in U.S.A. teaching in major universities and the fourth son in Delhi itself working on a high position in some company. The old couple stays with their widowed daughter(58 years) and grand-daughter. None of the sons were willing to keep the aging parents and rarely visit them.

The daughter who herself has sever health problems grudgingly looks after them and leaves no opportunity to humiliate and scold them. The only reason she is bearing with them , as per her, is the property in her father’s name. Every day is a struggle to survive for them. My therapist goes daily to help them and the stories she narrates are horrifying. Many a times she intervenes but is told to stay away from family matters.

Things turned worse a month back when the mother fell sick. Since then the old parents are not fed properly, mother complains of being beaten up at night for disturbing sleep. They have lost weight. Hardly any nutrition goes into their frail bodies and the diseases which were brought under control have started to take their grip on them once again.They stay in their room all the time and are never ever taken out to any functions or even to any park etc so they too can breath in fresh air.

On being questioned the daughter says, ” its time for them to leave the earth. isn’t it?”. ” I am stressed too, am unwell myself, it’s too much “, she complained. I am doing all I can, a maid is there for them 24 hours, I am paying for doctors and everything, giving them khan peena but  they are not satisfied” ,  she retorted in anger.

Caregiver Stress was breaking her she said. Amazingly she wants her father to sign the papers for the flat and put it in her name. All the money, jewellery as already been given to her. She managed to get things done her way by forcing them.

” I am feeding them so it is my right. ” she defends.” I am growing old too. don’t have more strength than this to look after them”.

” Is it not her duty to look after them  or if she can’t at least find a decent care home for them ? ”

“What care home? What will people say? They have little life to live why waste money ? was her reply.

The parents stared blankly at her and then looked at the therapist with eyes that told the story of their pain in bold letters.

The son when contacted refused to take charge due to the pressure from his wife who had earlier thrown the father in law out because he wetted his pajama accidently on way to the loo in the night. He was called a dog who pisses anywhere,

The vacant  hurt on their weathered faces, the fear of unknown in their eyes and the tears that well up all the time tell a sad and tragic tale of neglect .

The daughter was advised to put them in some care home but the social image is the most important thing for her. No one knows what goes on behind the four walls but sending them away in this condition will open many debates, also the property and , money etc will not be passed on to her.

The old couple quietly waits for death to knock on their doors to get rid of every day humiliation, pain, sickness and trauma.

I always wonder what exactly can be done in this situation. Even thought of the role of welfare associations of the colonies which can mark the houses where elderly people stay and check their state of well-being but then the other members make sure that they keep their mouth shut and speak only good of the family otherwise face the consequences.

These old people who once lived a life of content and raised their children, educated them and gave them wings now sit huddled in dark , smelly rooms, deprived of even a decent meal and basic health care.

I told my therapist to take some action against the daughter or do something to help the poor parents and she did try but failed. Even a police report would worsen the matters in their case she said with  such pain in her voice. It troubled me. We are still thinking how to change the situation. The woman is well to do so the monitory condition is not the reason.

In a country where familial ties are held in high regards more and more cases of extremely closeted and complex phenomenon of Elder Abuse are coming into notice.

In a country where we preserve our heritage properties, cherish the old relics and heirlooms, the living heritage is being so severely neglected and abused. Economic insecurity, loss of physical ability to work and care for one’s self, falling  health, physical and psychological isolation , often the social and religious taboos play havoc on these elderly people. Sometimes there is a fear of losing the spouse and low self-esteem also makes them vulnerable.

Sensitization of the younger generation in this regard is of utmost importance and it works too but what about educated people like the one above who knowingly neglect and push their ailing parents towards death?

Many a times these elderly people also suffer from self neglect due to many reasons like malnutrition, dementia, depression, over medication and illnesses but those who do not fall in this category are often pushed towards it by the care givers.

The question is why?

Why taking care of the parents who can’t look after themselves, who once took care of you,  become this generation’s latest major agonizing life crises ?

Are we under the  duel pressure of being” sandwich generation” raising young children and caring for old parents?

Two decades ago, caring for the elderly was hardly an issue. The joint family was a harmonious secure haven for both the young and the old so the question arises

Was the system of joint family better than this new age nuclear family system?

Or have we just become more stressed and less tolerant?

Many NGO’s working for the elderly like the Help Age India claim that the reports of abuses and neglect have gone up in recent times. Most of them say that children turn abusive once the family property has been signed over. Then the ” use” of aging parents is over and hence the anger, abuse and neglect.

They have to wait endlessly for the meals, medication and such basic needs. A complaint creates disharmony and that is one reason many old people prefer to stay quite.

There is a parent maintenance act but how many are aware of it or avail its benefits. The fact that we should need a maintenance act for our own parents is such a shame but it does help those who are neglected and abused.

While the youth enjoys the benefits of the economic boom the elder generation is completely out of picture.

Sometimes I feel that Ichcha mrityu or

euthanasia should be allowed.

At least it will end the trauma of ” To be or not to ” in the elder generation.

There are estimated 90 million old people in India.

Their grief remains unresolved and life… it goes on .

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15 thoughts on “The Tragic Tale of Elderly In Our Society

  1. Tiku, among Jains there is a very strong belief in iccha mrityu or Santhara

    I have watched elderly in my family embracing it. But it is a bold choice done with free will. What you are talking about is people being driven to death.

    What this woman is doing is cruel and nasty. I am sure that there must be some association that can take up this case and give it the very publicity that could harm the woman and get her parents some relief.

    yes Ritu , I know about Santhara and I think it should be one’s choice. That is why I said one should have the right to die instead of dying every moment. There are associations that can take up the case but I do not know them personally and my therapists is trying to bring in some NGO and old age care home to help but the lady refuses and shows all is well. The old parents ( check their age ) say nothing against her. there are no witnesses


  2. I recently visited a friend of mine – she is an only child. Her mother is weak now and has moved in with her last year. My friend also has health problems and a young child (born very late) – she said at first she felt she was falling ill because they all stayed up all night and were awake at odd hours, and were emotionally and physically exhausted. She said it felt like she had a new born baby at home, who was never going to grow up – and no matter how much she loved the baby, she felt she couldn’t possibly cope with this for long. Then a time came when she needed a surgery herself (hysterctomy) and she was forgetting her mother’s medicine time, and her child’s studies were suffering.

    Now she has hired two trained nurses – one for the day, one for night.

    When I visited her, the nurse had just helped her mother take a bath, her hair was neatly tied and she was taken gently to her own room, with a sunny balcony attached. Then while we were there the nurse sat next to her mother on the bed and spoon fed her.

    She spends 30,000/- for the two trained nurses ( a little less if one hires attendants) and ever since I have seen this, I have been advising everybody to do this. I realize the cost is not affordable for all, but if all the children were to contribute, this can be done. And legally, inheritance or no inheritance, all the five children can be made to contribute.

    What does the therapist do? Is she a physiotherapist?

    Hi IHM it is really heartwarming to know about your friend’s decision. When ma fell from the rickshaw my brother too had paid nurse who attended to her 24/7 as there was no one else to do so. A little expenditure, a feeling of compassion and a thought that old age is coming for all makes the difference.

    yes my therapist is a physiotherapist and she does acupressure too.

    I wish this lady was not so stingy and kept a nurse but all she does is crib.

    My friend had suggested a nurse but she did not listen. they have a maid for day and night but it is the love and caring they ask for from the daughter who is not working and stays at home all day never even bothering to see if the parents are alive also. This is the state of her own parents imagine if they were inlaws?


  3. The concept of Ichcha Mrtiyu can be misused by putting an old person in a situation where they might want to die, or even forcing them to take their on lives.

    The topic is debatable.


  4. This is a are very live topic.

    it May not be very fair to comment on anyone else’s action because we are not aware of the true situation. it is all a question of correct upbringing…..nurturing parents would have equally nurturing children.

    something is drastically wrong in the present day Society…. and I strongly feel it is going from bad to worse because the way our generation was brought up ( as far as sanskaars are concerned ) was much better than the way we are bringing up our children.

    children these days indisciplined, argumentative and self-centred….largely due to the fault of parents who do not have time for them and schools that teach everything other than sanskaars ….or moral science.

    maybe they would do well to teach something about Santhara :)….practising which is not very easy.

    Wizard I know the truth so I can comment. any way. I don’t think all of us belong to that category as you may have noticed from what IHM said. It takes all sorts to make the world , the point is to bring these people to task in some way or the other. Find solutions which should work for both the care giver and the person for whom it is done


  5. Tiku: after my mom’s cancer returned and she came to know about it- she simply willed herself to die as she hated being waited upon or being dependent upon anyone! she was only 50+/-

    have seen strong in-laws lose their grip and cower as they age and its really sad to watch the all the iron and dignity ooze out of their spine;)

    Hi Bina
    sorry about your mom but all I say is she was brave. I feel the jainism ichcha mrityu thing is religion based. It should be a free from custom and ritual thing and some guidelines should be there. I don’t know what but something. it is a debatable thing , maybe we can post it as another post.


  6. God bless you and your family, Tiku! I appreciate that you shared this with us..Happy Easter!! This offers such insight on the elderly in our society..


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  8. Thanks for sharing this post. Yes, it is shame for the younger generation who not take care of their parents who makes them prepare to face the World.

    It is sad to see most young couples prefer to go for nuclear family system in today’s busy materialized world. I personally feel Joint family is the best system and we need to maintain this tradition forever.

    Your post is an excellent eye opener for all who ignore their parents.


  9. The story is shocking even if it may not be an isolated case. You are right about the elderly who get love and attention from their children and family.

    The problems of old age are too many and the sad truth is that we don’t have a social net for them. It is not always the death of the joint family system that can be blamed. I know of many joint families where the elderly are just servants for the younger generations. It is time this issue was addressed seriously by the concerned parties including the government and voluntary agencies.


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  11. It is a sad tale indeed. The so called daughter is a piece of work. I do not know if she is a widow or divorcee, frustrated with her own life and challenges put forward by society on single women. It seems she is also envious of her happily married brethern.

    Your physical therapist if she is treating this elderly couple can request medical exam by a qaulified medical professional. Where they can be examined for signs of mal nutrition and bruises from abuse. Once malnutrition and abuse is documented the medical officer can file for Parents Maintenance Act in civil court and charges of elder abuse can be filed with criminal justice system.

    Here in the US there are organizations like home help and meals on wheels, where volunteers make weekly visits to the homes of elderly to check if they are safe and if they need any thing- groceries, medical help, company etc. Meals on wheels volunteers make weekly trips to deliver home cooked nutrious meals to elderly. These organizations are running mostly on the backs of volunteers.

    Click to access alc_ea_ind.pdf

    Another point I would like to make is about the myth of good old joint families. From our middle class lenses every thing seems rosy about the distant past. Joint families were and still are oppressive and neglectful of elders. I have seen old men and women being humiliated, pushed around, yelled at and treated really badly in the so called joint families in rural India across the country, not just one state. I have seen an old blind lady drinking water from a blow under her bed that bird were drinking and bathing in.

    Santhara is acceptable in Jainism but other faiths see it as suicide and most faiths do not accept suicides as prefered choice. Given our desi history of family fueds and struggle over limited resources euthnesia is tentative to be abused.


    Desi Girl


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