44 per cent of India’s aged treated badly in public: Survey

Ambika Pandit| TNN |


  • 44% of the elders surveyed for a HelpAge India study said they were treated badly in public
  • 53% said they believed that Indian society discriminates against elders
  • Delhi emerged as a comparatively caring society, with only 23% elders facing any abuse in public

NEW DELHI: Respect for the elderly is supposed to be ingrained in Indian culture, but it may not be reflected in daily life, if the results of a countrywide survey released on the eve of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day are any indication.

At 44%, almost half the elders surveyed for a HelpAge India study said they were treated badly in public, while at 53%, more than half said they believed that Indian society discriminates against elders.

And, for those above 60, living in the Garden City of India is not a walk in the park but a nightmare. In Bengaluru, 70% of elders said they had experienced abuse and mistreatment in public spaces.

On the bright side, however, Delhi emerged as a comparatively caring society, with only 23% elders facing any abuse in public.

Worryingly, 64% believe it is easy to get away with being rude to the elderly. This discontent is highest in Bhubaneswar (92%), followed by Guwahati (85%), Lucknow (78%), Hyderabad (74%), Bengaluru (71%), Chennai (64%), Kolkata 62% and Mumbai 61%. Delhi’s where it is the lowest, at 16%.
Read this story in Gujarati
Rude Delhi is kinder to senior citizens

Sharing the findings of ‘How India Treats its Elderly – A National Study 2017’ released in the Capital on Wednesday, HelpAge India CEO Mathew Cherian said, “The findings worry me. Elder abuse is a sensitive topic. Over the past few years we have been studying and researching elder abuse within the closed doors of one’s home. This year we decided to move out into the much broader area of public space, where mistreatment and abuse is inexcusable.”

On most parameters, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Bhubaneswar and Chennai emerged as the worst five cities where elders are ill-treated in public spaces.

Delhi, usually seen as a place marked by indifference and rudeness, seemed to be not doing so badly on this front. But on one count the Capital punishes the elderly the most – bad behaviour of government hospital staff towards the old, at 26%, followed by Bengaluru at 22%.

The study is based on a sample survey of 4,615 elders (2,377 male and 2,238 female) across 19 cities and covers four main areas — actual experiences of elders as they interact with people, elders’ perceptions of ill-treatment of the old, general state of mind of elders as they step out of their homes and a wishlist of their expectations from society.

For instance, the report has a section on the challenges the elderly face on roads. It turns out that 89% of them find the behaviour of motorists and bikers a challenge while 66% feel threatened by the general law and order situation.

Sadly, even as the study shows that a large section of the elderly like going out and cope with challenges, a massive 42% said they avoid stepping out as far as possible.

The biggest concern for 38% of the outgoing elderly was fear of mishaps due to negligence by others. Twenty-two percent cited lack of medical help in emergency as a major worry while 10% feared theft and snatching of valuables. A key concern for 6% was inadequate restrooms/lavatories.

Among other aspects of public life, the study also brought to light the elderly’s experience ranging from public transport, banks, post offices, interaction with vegetable vendors, chemists to hospitals both private and government and bill payment counters.

The experiences are varied reflecting that small interactions too can be anywhere from good to bad for an elderly person. For instance, the study reveals that it turned out that 17% of mall staff behave badly with elders, the worst with any service delivery point.

Besides the bus, the study also looks at the newest form of transport — the metro. Nearly 43% of those surveyed use the metro and 78% use buses. Of those who use the metro, 72% said that almost always or very often they were offered a seat, but a significant 28% said “sometimes”, and 1% even said “never”. For bus travel, more than 62% said they were offered a seat.

The study also touches upon a critical fact related to the desire to work after retirement. While there were just about 14% who were in favour of continuing to work, 60% of them did not get the job they applied for.

In terms of support system, 72% of the elderly said they shared their unpleasant encounters in public spaces with their families.

About half of the men (49%) shared their experiences with their wives though only 32% of women shared their encounters with husbands. Around 55% women shared their experiences with their children.

Speaking on the concerns raised in the study, Manjira Khurana, country head, Communications and Advocacy, HelpAge India said, “The core of it all is ageism, which is discrimination on the basis of age. Few understand it, but practise it knowingly or unknowingly. Simple things like assuming elders don’t understand technology, or being impatient with elders are examples.”

Khurana said that Help-Age is running a campaign against ageism and it is aimed at making people aware of their own transition to senior citizenship. The voluntary organisation has data on cases of elders facing abuse within the home. This is not uncommon and elders are in need of care and protection as they face abuse within their own homes. HelpAge’s study on public spaces, additionally, reiterates the enormity of the social problem confronting the elderly outside their homes.

Abused and abandoned: The ageing population in India faces a scary future

HelpAge India survey revealed 44 per cent elders face abuse in public spaces of India. Photo courtesy: HelpAge India (Others)

WION Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India Jun 15, 2017, 05.29 PM (IST) Subuhi Safvi

Ageing comes with a loss of independence, a loss of power and all that with a loss of physical and mental ability. Traditionally, Indian parents relied on their children, specifically their sons, for support after their retirement. India’s population is ageing. There are almost 104 million elderly persons in the country. The number of people over 60 has increased from 5.6 per cent in 1961 to 8.6 per cent in 2011.  The advancements in medical science combined with the lower birth rate has left a larger number of elders dependent on fewer children.

In the earlier set up of a joint family, the elderly men remained the head of the households, making decisions until their deaths. In this age of nuclear family, people might make their life decisions with advice from their elders but it is not necessarily the only advice they will look for. This shift in decision-making power from the elders to the next generation is the consequence of a confluence of social and economic factors, such as increasing mobility and early economic independence. But a sad and, perhaps, unintended fallout of this shift has left a significant number of elderly population in India either abandoned or abused within their homes. The worst part of the story is, increasing number of elders are getting abused for their property.

According to the WHO, elder abuse can be defined as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person”. This abuse does not have to be physical, sexual or mental, it can also take the form of neglect and can be intentional or unintentional.

Elders worry about having their valuables stolen, about not receiving help in case of an emergency and even being purposely manhandled in public spaces

Often the mistreatment comes from the growing frustrations of a stressful life. For instance, people come home from a difficult day at work after facing seemingly unending traffic with little patience to spend time with their ageing parents. The isolation or the loneliness of the elderly people is often exacerbated by their remote connection with the rapidly changing world of technology. Most of them are not well-versed on modern gadgets and, thus, find it difficult to stay in touch family members living far away.

On the occasion of UN’s World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2017, Help Age India has released a report, “How India treats its elderly.” The report found that 64 per cent of elders enjoys going out but they find it difficult to navigate the public sphere. On top of this, 44 per cent among these elders reported experiencing abuse in public spaces. Bangalore was the worst among the 19 cities covered; 70 per cent of elders experience abuse in public spaces of Bangalore.

“I want to go out but the problem is that I cannot drive myself and my family is not always free to take me. As a result, I end up staying at home for weeks on end. My body is not as it was. So plans for outings have to include good toilets and resting places since I get tired easily,” said Hasan*. “Of course when I was younger, I would be out every night, playing bridge with my friends. Now, I have to wait for my children and grandchildren to visit even for conversation.”

Elders have reported being ignored when they asked for help or directions. Despite the seats assigned to them in public transport, they are often yelled at by younger people, unwilling to give up that space. Some have reported being shoved or pushed aside and have had their feet stepped on by people in a rush.

I can see in their eyes they are getting annoyed and that frustrates me even more

In the separate lines for senior citizens at banks, 13 per cent reported rude treatment from bank staff and 10 per cent reported facing rude treatment from the other customers at the bank. Elders worry about having their valuables stolen, about not receiving help in case of an emergency and even being purposely manhandled in public spaces. As a result, despite their loneliness and social isolation, 36 per cent avoid going out of their homes.

Of course, as their own bodies fail them, their value decreases even to themselves. Apart from the physical frailty and motor slowness, many also have difficulty remembering the simplest things. Consequently, they often repeat the same question much to the annoyance of their families. “I know my family is being patient with me but it is frustrating having to live with the loss of memory,” said Lata.* “I can see in their eyes they are getting annoyed and that frustrates me even more. It is like when I taught my child a difficult maths equation, it took a long time but I was patient, of course, the difference is that I am an adult.”

In the years before nuclear families, grandparents would spend a lot of time with their grandchildren. And grandparents played a nurturing role: teaching morals, playing with them, singing lullabies. Spending time with an elder also taught kids to have more patience, since they saw for themselves the kind of physical restrictions elderly people have. These days children usually only visit their grandparents occasionally during holidays. Even if the grandparent lives with them, the kids will not always end up interacting with them a lot, being busy with school and countless tuitions.

Unfortunately, our consumerist culture seems to have little space for anyone or anything that does not give us any benefit. Spending time helping the elderly appears to be one of the casualties of this development. But having said that, we also need to keep in mind that the issue of negligence might be a generation gap that could possibly be addressed with an open mind on all sides.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the speakers