I think India must be one of the few countries/societies where culturally, and traditionally, there is so much respect for elders. It is probably the only country where we touch the feet of our elders as a mark of respect. Yet on a practical level and in our infrastructure we are far behind many other countries and societies in looking after our elderly. With Indian society changing and with the gradual shift from joint family system to the nuclear family system, our relationship with the elders in our own family is also changing. Today a person working and living in a large city has many demands on him. He or she has very little time for himself and his own immediate nuclear family (children and spouse). In this changing scenario what happens to our elders. We need to plan better for our elders, and in fact for ourselves, because sooner or later all of us, (no matter how much we resist it) will eventually get there. 

The average lifespan in the year 1947 was 31 years! So the number of people living beyond the age of retirement, i.e. sixty years, would not have been very high. Also, at that time, the support system of the joint family was very much prevalent. Today the average life span is around 65 years. So the number of people living beyond 60 years is dramatically higher. It is now fairly common to see people living up to the age of seventy-five or eighty years. That is twenty years of life after retirement. Add to this the remaining living years of your spouse. So, whatever I have earned and saved over 40 years has to last my spouse me and another 20 years! And remember these last 20 years of life will be the years when my spouse and I will have the highest expenditure on health. Of course, I’m not even getting into inflation. So can my spouse and I live comfortably and independently for 20 to 25 years without earning? - Unlikely for most of us. So who is going to look after us? - Our kids? But they might have their own problems. So perhaps one of the things that we really need to look at is, even after I retire at the age of 60 from a government or a corporate job, I must still find other ways to continue to earn a living and continue to be productive for as long as I can.

As a society we have created infrastructures and support systems to help us to look after our children. So, we have for our children 10 years of school i.e., from the age of 6 to 16. Before that, we have kindergarten, before kindergarten we have nursery, before nursery we have play schools and crèches to help look after our children. No such support system exists in our society for the elderly. We need to have more and more professional organizations which bring the elderly together so that they can be productive in their time and how they spend it, and have a good time even after they are past retirement age. Examples of these are some ‘Nana-Nani’ or ‘Dada-Dadi’ parks. Recreation Centres or parks for senior citizens are being run by local self-government bodies, NGOs, senior citizen groups and local area bodies in different parts of the country. They get some grants from the government/municipality and sometimes, funds from donors/sponsors. Delhi has been particularly active in this regard – they have over 75 such recreation centres and the Delhi government offers some financial aid and assistance for starting and the upkeep of such endeavors.

As pointed out by Mr. Himanshu Rath on our show, a huge percentage of our voting population is above the age of 60 and that number is only growing. And most of our politicians are also above the age of 60. Despite this obvious synergy, there are very few facilities or policies designed for the elderly by the centre or various state governments. The Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme (IGNOAPS) was launched by the Ministry of Rural Development. All persons of 65 years (and above) who are living below the poverty line, according to the criteria prescribed by the Government of India, are eligible for the scheme. The pension amount is Rs.200 per month per person. Most states give between Rs.200 and Rs.500 and only to those below the poverty line. Some state governments have been more generous. Tamil Nadu gives Rs.1000, 20 kg of free rice to cardholders and 35 kg to BPL families. Goa gives all senior citizens a pension of Rs.2000 per month, not just those below the poverty line.

In essence we need to remember that just touching the feet of our elders is not enough. It should not become a meaningless gesture which we go through because of tradition, rather it should be a gesture born out of genuine affection, love and respect. And what we should never forget is that where our elders are today we will be tomorrow.

Jai Hind. Satyamev Jayate.