By Nilambar Rath
India is aging! Young India is aging! Are you listening, Young India? Are you concerned? Do you really know how the elderly persons are living in the country? Have you ever spent some time to really know how the aging members of your family are living (especially those who are living far away from you or you are staying far away from them!)? If you are not, then one day the law might take its own course!
I was intrigued to read a news report on China recently passing a law to meet the rights of elderly population in the country. This law specifically says that the family members should regularly pay visits to their elderly relatives. The law has been passed by China’s National People’s Congress on December 28, 2012 and will come into effect from July 1, 2013.
The law further elaborates that the family members who live separately from the elderly should visit them often. Not only that, the law also ensures that the employers should guarantee right-to-home-leave to the people matching the direction of the regulation. Though every country has some coverage to safeguard the social security of the elderly mass, but China could be the first country to bring a formal regulation.
Before analyzing the global picture on aged people, let’s have a deep look at the regulation made by China, especially its context and the need. Though the said regulation does not mention any penalty, in particular, or does not also specify the meaning of ‘Often’ but one thing is clear that if in any case the rights and interests of an elderly person is violated, the law can direct action. China is aging! But probably China is concerned about the future of the elderly population.
India is Young! Vibrant! Now very rich with young population! The population of ‘Old India’ is about 9 million as per 2011 census. But as expected, it is going to touch 173 million by 2026. Can you believe, that by 2050 India and China are going to have one third of world’s total elderly population, i.e. people aged 60 years and above! This figure was released by United Nations Population Fund. It says that by that time China will have the maximum number of old people in the world. But what about India? It will also have an old-population consisting of almost one sixth of the world’s elderly population. India is aging! One can say: the Young India is aging.
Today, Japan is the only country where 30 percent of its population is above 60 years of age. But by 2050, 64 countries will reach the same state. By 2050, the projection says, that world’s 80 per cent of old people might be living only in developing countries. As already mentioned, only India and China will be housing one third of world’s aged mass.
Let’s have a deep look at the state of the old people living in our own country. A report released by United Nations Population Fund & Help Age, on the eve of ‘International Day of Older Persons’ says that out of the 90 million (2011 Census) old people in India, 30 million are living alone. The report further revealed that, 90 percent of the ‘Old India’ is working for a living.
Does it sound good, Young India? In this context, nobody would perhaps debate with me if I boldly say that the Old India is gradually becoming ‘homeless inside home’ (in many cases)! Now think about about the new regulation framed by China Government, to protect the life and interests of the elderly class. Though there are so many social norms and practices in the Indian society, but who knows if the Government would not be stressed to frame a law in the line of China, any day in the future?
To get the insight feel on the issue, let me present some popular stories from Indian literature.
Story-1: The King Who Killed the Entire Old Population
I had read a story during my school days which very well connects with the old age population. There was a king in a kingdom who announced one day to kill all the old people of his country to make the land full of young people. The order was carried out seriously across the kingdom. But there was a young man who dared to save his father and somehow kept him inside a bunker.
After some years a great famine came and nobody found any answer to meet the situation. But the old man, living a life in darkness, could guide his son and advised him to sow the grains on the field nearby his home. So when the snow melted the field got watered and there was plenty of harvest. The king got this news and finally realized his mistake. The old man was then welcomed to live a dignified life thereafter.
Story-2: ‘Daka Munshi’- by Fakirmohan Senapati
I remember another short story written by the father of modern Odia literature Late Fakir Mohan Senapati. The title of the story was ‘Daka Munshi’. The story narrates that how a father, who had spent all his life for the comfort of his son, gets ill treated in his old age.
The story was written almost 100 years from now. But I am so happy to say that the writers and thinkers of our society have always noticed the issues which we are discussing in international reports and seminars. Can the ‘Young India’ read the moral of the story ‘Daka Munshi’, written by one of the great writer and thinker and social reformer of our country?
Story-3: When You Will Grow Old…
It is a very poplar story and might be there in all languages. There were three generations living in a house. The members include the gentleman, his wife, his son and his old father.
The gentleman and his wife do not care about the health and comfort of the father living in the same house. The grand child has been watching this for a long time. In one winter, when the old man was seeking to have a good quality rug to fight with the bitter cold, he was given an old one which was about to be thrown as a waste material.
One fine day, the couple saw that the son is collecting another old rug which was thrown on the backward of the house and which was about to be disposed off. But when they asked the child about the same, the boy said in a bold voice, “I am keeping it for you. I will give it to you when you become very old”. The couple suddenly got an emotional jerk!
Literature has always been the reflections of the society. The above three stories might demonstrate three different plots or situations. But all have the same story to narrate, i.e. the bad state of living of old people across generations. The key point behind the issue here is the attitude of the younger people towards older ones. Especially, ‘Daka Munishi’, the evergreen story by Fakirmohan points finger towards the changing attitude of the first generation Indian Babus (they are ruling on their own land after the British!) who do not bother about their root! They do not care about the comfort of their own parents in the name of their so called social status and modern life. I believe, the story of Fakirmohan’s generation is still prevailing in our society after 100 years and the scene might be more critical by 2050. Social security, health and general comfort of the older generation are going to be one of the big issues then.
We always talk about ‘Indian Value System’. But we are not sure, what is the state of the same today and what will be there by 2050. If we observe and learn from the life the elders are living today and follow the call of the society, then probably we can protect ourselves when we grow old! Young India, are you listening?
There is a popular global saying, relating to aging: “Life begins at 40”. Today the meaning and mode of life has been modified and the new slogan says, “Life begins at 60”. Yes, if we take this in a positive direction, today we can use the elderly population for the good of the society by meaningfully channelizing their knowledge and advice and also by treating them well. The society shall be really happy when the children and the older generation will be leading a happy and comfortable life. The ‘Young India’ will have to now take the call!
(The author is a senior journalist and media faculty and can be reached at [email protected])