The number of elderly people (age 60 plus) in India is around 138 million (male: 67 million and female: 71 million) comprising approx. 10 per cent of total population. This is a significant number and is only projected to grow in future. With such a large base of population above the age of 60, there are various dimensions to the issue. Government and society have a responsibility towards well-being of elders at large and more particularly those who are physically incapacitate and cognitively impaired. At the same time, elders who are relatively well placed in terms of health and mental ability have an equal responsibility to society. Our interaction with elderly who are otherwise physically totally fit / mentally agile reveals that quite few of them are not interested to pursue even a semi-active life towards doing something that is material to society. They believe they have done enough, and it is now time to relax and enjoy. The 3rd age elders between age of 60 & 75 are best suited in terms of their accumulated knowledge, and competencies to contribute to growth of society. While this type of contribution sometimes may not directly contribute to GDP, they will add to to “social development” of the nation which is need of the hour for a country like India that has miles to go in terms of education and other parameters of social development. In fact, seniors should take this role seriously so that they are considered not as mere burden but respected as a useful resource actively engaged in societal development. True and prosperous India will only emerge when the seniors actively become integral part in its growth story.
Ways in which Elders Can Contribute:
There are several ways in which elders can contribute to country’s development. Some of them might be totally pro bono or some may be partly compensated in financial terms. A few of these roles are as under:
1. Acting positively as FAMILY MENTOR by guiding younger generation in own family. This involves spending some time with generation next or next to next, may be in weekends and sharing life experiences. In our childhood, we used to listen to good classical stories from our grandparents that carried a deep sound morale. Those helped us at building our character. This type of storytelling mentoring exercises have lasting impact. The other types mentoring could be in active communication channel with family members all the time and showing willingness to offer advice whenever asked for. Elders as family mentor can play a significant role in transforming productivity of families. And a productive family is the primary source of a nation’s growth.
2. Spending some time with needy young children as SOCIAL GUIDE on a regular basis. This has two dimensions: teaching as well as overall growth of child. The very presence and wisdom sharing by a senior can have a magnificent impact on overall well-being of a child. In India, there is often a mismatch. There are thousands of NGOs who work for development of poor and needy children from deprived sections. There are seniors who are interested to work as volunteers. What is needed is a means to bring them together. All of us who can bring the two parties together should try to do so. There are many schools in India where we have children who would like to hear stories on science or history or civics or military or Indian heroes. And who can be a better storyteller than an elder. These part-time fun teaching sessions (not actual teaching) are extremely important for holistic development of students. Similarly, elders can plan some ancillary activities like plantation, bird watching, etc. for children in association with the school.
3. Taking up some SOCIAL ACTIVITIES for some philanthropic / useful purposes. This could be for few hours a week / month. Besides keeping busy, these acts will also contribute to some social / charitable purpose that itself is societal contribution. I have a friend from college days who keeps himself busy in social activities in a temple in Ahmedabad. I have another colleague in MRLF who used to work actively with an NGO in Mumbai to undertake social surveys. These activities give them great satisfaction. There are many others who are involved in such meaningful activities contributing indirectly to nation building.
4. Finally, every elder must spend some time in helping other seniors in need. “SENIORS FOR SENIORS” is an important concept. If we seniors can not help other elders, why would others do. We should therefore try to do our bit in whatever way we can. Needy elders look for three (3) main types of support: financial, emotional, and physical. We as elders should visit needy elders in our own residential societies, communities, senior citizen clubs, old age homes and try to be in company of the people who need help. All of us may not be trained caregivers; but the very empathy and our being in service to elders who need help is testimony to a society’s responsiveness to elder care and that itself leads to social growth.
Elders are equipped with rich knowledge and competencies accumulated over the life experience. Cumulative quantum of the said knowledge and competencies is of immense value to society. And it is the duty of elders to give away the same to the extent possible to next generation. Knowledge is one asset that does not deplete if you give it away. In a country like India that is so divided in terms of opportunities and access, elders are one resource that can be made freely available to fill the gap. Elders thus must realize they have multiple ways to contribute to societal development of the nation. The feeling must dawn on them they are not liabilities but one of the most important assets of the country. They therefore must contribute to development of the nation till their last breath.