We’re a young country, but that doesn’t mean we forget our duties towards our elders, suggests Nikita Wadhawan
We celebrated World Elder Abuse Awareness Day just this month. And it was this month itself that the news of Geeta Kapoor being physically and mentally abused by her son came to fore. Apart from being abandoned, the 58-year-old was subjected to a lot of abuse by her own son; she was given food only once every four days and kept alone in a room. Kapoor wouldn’t have made it to the primetime news if she was not an actor and worked in cine wonder like Pakeezah with Meena Kumari and Raaj Kumar. Thousands of elders like Kapoor, and much older than her, are mistreated and neglected every day in our country.
Respect is in our blood
As Indians, it is ingrained in us to respect our elders. Since childhood, we have been taught to address them with respect or bow and touch their feet for their blessings and so on. At 44%, almost half the elders surveyed for a Help Age India study said they were treated badly in public, while at 53%, more than half said they believed that Indian society discriminates against elders.
“One woman was working as a domestic maid for a family who was moving to the UAE. At that time she was in her late 50s. They lured her with more money, but with a condition that she will have to remove her uterus. They told her that in the UAE, they won’t allow women until she has her uterus removed. The desire for more money and better living for the rest of her family made the woman agree. Not to mention that after she shifted there, she was subjected to a lot of physical and emotional abuse. But things did not end there, the woman finally managed to escape and when she returned to India, her family refused to take her in,” recalls a nun of an old age home in Mumbai. This is just one such horrific incidents; many of our elders have been taken advantage of just because they may not be well equipped to figure out the truth.
It’s a part and parcel life
While the rest may not be brutalised in such horrific manner, many are abused in their day-to-day life. “Young people pass harsh remarks for allegedly taking advantage of our age. Two-wheeler riders often make oblique remarks for our inability to follow the rule of ‘busy roads’,” says one of the people in Help Age survey.
“If you go in the bus, they (young) stamp us on foot. They do not say sorry or do not move away from us. If we ask them to move they shout at us. Many times the young bully us, as they know we cannot do anything,” another one quotes. These are just some difficulties the elders in our family and all over India face. Such distressing incidents in their daily life have made them apprehensive to the outside world and hence, scared to venture out alone. “I do not like to go out, as I’m scared that if I go out and fall, no one will help. Going out is an unnecessary evil,” added another participant.
Recently Rabri Devi, wife of former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, said that she wants a daughter-in-law who respects her elders, rather than a mall going ‘bahu’. While we may mock her statement, she is just reiterating a fear every parent has, that is about their wellbeing in their old age. But what is the reason that causes children to abuse their own parents, people who have given them birth and nurtured them all their life? “This is basically aggression, and it is the other end of anxiety. This anxiety is being acted out as a part of our conditional behaviour, and unfortunately, the people closest to us are at the receiving end of it. Moreover, this is primarily because of they want an outlet of the baggage that they carry. Some cannot handle their parents’ responsibility and hence, categorises them as a burden,” says Dr Anshu Kulkarni, consulting psychiatrist at Raheja Fortis Hospital.
Albeit being at the receiving end of so much of physical abuse, many victims still want to go back to their abuser. Kapoor even today wishes for her son’s return. “As Indians, we have a lot of patience and are not encouraged to speak up. We want to be surrounded by family no matter what. This is the same phenomenon why a woman does not let go of her husband in spite of being abused for years,” Dr Kulkarni adds.
Over time we have become so ignorant with the sufferings of our elders that it has become ingrained in our society. Social scientist Jaya Goyal believes that such abuse is largely due to their lack of economic stability. “There are a couple of factors responsible for our elders being subjected to such brutality. One is that the family structure has become nuclear and that has led to the deterioration of the core values that bind the family together. There has been a change in the way we care, share and give. The other is an economic reason. In our country, the elderly don’t have a strong monetary backup or a support system. So in absence of this, they rely on their savings, but most of them don’t have a lot as they have invested it in their homes or on children. So without a safety net, they don’t have the negotiation power to demand a certain life and hence are subjected to abuse,” Jaya says.