In old age generally, one is haunted by insecurity, depression, helplessness and loneliness. Many people who have lived a good productive life become insecure and helpless in old age due to a variety of reasons.
It may be due to being neglected by their children, perhaps due to the latters own occupational needs when they have to live far away from their parents.
In the past, the joint family system provided a great cushion for senior members of the family. They were considered as treasures and guiding spirits for their experience and knowledge about religion, family history, values and traditional practices. But with the decline of the joint family system in Indian society, senior citizens have become vulnerable and have had to bear the brunt of decaying cultural and societal values.
Globalisation has led to the emergence of nuclear families, where due to occupational needs and professional compulsions, young people have to leave their old parents and settle down in far-off places. Many a time, the elderly decline to live with their children in other cities or countries as they are attached to their village or city.
Loneliness often leads to depression and helplessness. More seriously, old people living alone are highly vulnerable to violent crimes. Senior citizens staying alone are easy victims for criminals, who want to loot them of their valuables. Many of these crimes result in brutal murders and, sometimes reported after a considerable delay when the dead bodies are already highly decomposed. In the last five years, 59 senior citizens have been murdered in Bengaluru city alone. Many of these victims of violent crimes were living alone and the culprits took advantage of their vulnerability to take away their valuables.
The safety and security of senior citizens, especially of those who stay alone, should be a priority for civil society and the government. In view of the large number of murders of lonely senior citizens in the coastal areas in the late 1990s, Udupi District Police initiated a programme called Aasare in 1998 to list all lonely, aged households and special protection was provided to them. Apart from security, help in the form of counselling and running routine errands for them was also done for aged people. Many other districts also emulated this programme as a community policing initiative.
In order to provide for more effective provisions for the maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens guaranteed and required under the Constitution, the Government of India enacted the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. Later in 2009, the Government of Karnataka enacted the Karnataka Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Rules. Some of the salient features of these rules are:
1) The District Magistrate should ensure that the life and property of senior citizens of the district are protected and they are able to live with security and dignity.
2) The District Superintendent of Police and, in the case of cities, the Police Commissioner shall take necessary steps as per rule 21(2)(i) and shall maintain in each police station an up-to-date list of senior citizens living within their jurisdiction, especially those who are staying alone.
3) Police officers at the station level, as far as possible, along with a social worker or volunteer, shall visit such senior citizens at regular intervals, that is, at least once a month. In addition, they shall visit them as quickly as possible on receipt of a request for assistance, listen to their grievances and make an entry in their station diaries.
4) Complaints/problems of senior citizens shall be given top priority by the local police. A committee shall be formed at each police station consisting of senior citizens and they shall meet at regular intervals to redress their grievances.
5) District Superintendents of Police and City Police Commissioners shall submit monthly reports to the Director General of Police about the status of crimes against senior citizens during the previous month, including progress of investigation, prosecution of registered offences and preventive steps taken during the month.
6) The beat police appointed in each area shall obtain the telephone numbers of senior citizens in their area. The senior citizens shall be provided with the telephone number of the local jurisdictional police and beat police. The senior citizens shall be made aware of the necessary steps to be taken during emergency situations.
7) The beat police shall collect information about the cases of property disputes of senior citizens and keep a watch so that they are not harmed by other parties to the disputes.
These rules, if effectively implemented, will provide a safe and secure environment for lonely senior citizens. Apart from implementation, authorities and voluntary agencies should create awareness among senior citizens about their rights and simplified procedures should be evolved to minimise running around and harassment. Love, compassion and sensitive approach will definitely go a long way in ensuring comfortable and safe living for all old people in the evening of their lives.
(The writer is Additional DGP, Crime and Technical Services, and Commissioner, Traffic and Road Safety, Bengaluru)