RAGHAV, a 66-year-old retired government employee, now lives in an elderly care home in Faridabad, Haryana. Raghav says that his son and daughter-in-law saw him as a burden and refused to care for him.

In another case of elder abuse from Bhiwani in Haryana, 55-year-old Parvati Devi tried to end her life by jumping into an abandoned well, unable to bear the alleged harassment by her son and his wife. After being rescued, she revealed she was regularly abused and made to work at home. She was also refused her husband’s pension, she claimed.

Countless stories of abuse and neglect, some much worse than others, surface frequently from across the country.

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Elderly abuse amidst COVID-19

The aged are among the worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The extended lockdowns because of a surge in infections have impaired their health further, as they have had to forego regular checkups, critical physiotherapy sessions and many had little access to their doctors. In addition, anxiety, loss of appetite, lack of physical activity or social life, sleeplessness, etc are posing serious health challenges.

An increasing number of elderly have also been facing various forms of physical, psychological and emotional abuse by their own family members. The most common are disrespect, verbal abuse, isolating them, ignoring their daily needs, denying proper food, denying medical treatment, siphoning off their funds, forcing them to work and physical violence.

A study by Agewell Foundation, an NGO working for the elderly rights, states that over 70% of elderly people surveyed felt an increase in ill-treatment towards them during the lockdown.

Elder abuse has been prevalent for a long time in our society; the elderly are seen as expendable by many families. But as the Agewell Foundation survey has shown, the onset of the pandemic has increased the incidences and the intensity of abuse against seniors. The elderly are not just isolated from the outside world, they are also abused, neglected and shunned because they are more susceptible to the virus.

No better before the pandemic

According to a 2018 HelpAge India study, around 25% of the surveyed elders said that they were victims of abuse. 60% said that elder abuse was prevalent in society; 20% of victims were subject to extreme forms of violence such as beating and slapping; and 82% said that they didn’t report it as they wanted to “maintain confidentiality of the family matter” or “did not know how to deal with the problem.” 

Whether during the pandemic or before it, the effect of abuse is manifold, causing sustained mental trauma to individuals already gripped by the vulnerabilities of old age. Unfortunately, the elderly are being exploited instead of being protected – a silent social evil around which there is little awareness.

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Valuable members of society

With age, also comes experience and wisdom. American activist Maggie Kuhn puts it aptly, “Old age is not a disease – it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.” Respecting the elderly, empowering them and drawing inspiration from their life can bring us a wealth of teachings.

An old African proverb states that “a youth that does not cultivate friendship with the elderly is like a tree without roots.” India too has a rich culture of passing down heritage from older adults to the younger generation through memoirs and stories. There would be few among us whose childhood was not spent listening to tales from our grandparents. Also, the blessings of elders are said to lay a path towards honour and prosperity. And yet many of them are ill-treated, neglected or abused.

There is an urgent need to sensitise society at large to ageing and related issues as well as create greater awareness about the rights of older persons. Effective elder abuse prevention strategies, stronger laws and policies are also necessary. Alongside, we must build a culture of respecting and nurturing our senior citizens as valuable members.

United against Elder Abuse

June 15th is observed as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day since it was officially recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in 2011. This day, each year, the whole world voices its opposition to the suffering inflicted on the older generation.

On this day, let us work together to improve living conditions for older persons and enable them to be productive members of an inclusive society. You can support our mission: #EldersLivesMatter and ensure that our less fortunate elderly are well provided for. A donation of just ₹1,000 per month will give one aged person the essential rations and medicines they require.

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We are hopeful that raising awareness and creating safer, nurturing environments for the elderly will bring an end to their abuse.

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