The recent tragic demise of 75 year old Shyamali Ghosh in Jodhpur Park, in the heart of Kolkata, once again raises questions about the security of the senior citizens, especially ones living by themselves in various parts of the country. The recurrence of such attacks on the elderly, if media reports are to be believed, naturally strikes panic amongst the elderly living in the country as a whole.
Shyamali Ghosh’s killing is not an isolated incident; on the contrary, it is a confirmation of the recurrent vulnerability of the elderly.
In a shocking instance in 2017, a Delhi based octogenarian was physically abused by her daughter in the apartment balcony. The assault was exposed to the public, as a neighbor did a video recording and posted it on social media. In spite of being physically abused, the lady, much in tune with the tradition, did not want to issue a statement with the police in order to lodge a complaint against her daughter.
Similar video recordings have been reported from various other states too, off and on surfacing on the social media.
A video emerging from West Bengal witnessed a woman thrashing her aged mother-in-law – a lady who reportedly suffered from loss of memory. This video too was recorded and posted by her neighbour on social media which subsequently drew the attention of the law enforcing authorities. Surprisingly and shockingly, in certain cases, these assaults have been triggered for trivial reasons, revealing the sheer intolerance of close family members.
In this particular case, the cops revealed that the daughter-in-law beat her as she had plucked flowers without her consent. Beyond domestic violence senior citizens have been targets of violent attacks from outsiders too. These cases too have been persistent throughout the country. From snatching valuables and jewelry from morning walkers to negotiating hired assailants (often appointed for the task by near ones or business tycoons with vested property interests), life has not been easy for the elderly in the country.
In 2016, a 70-year-old Pune based architect, Eknath Nimgade was shot dead in broad daylight by unidentified goons. With cops unable to crack the case, the central investigative agencies had to be called on.
The declining quality of life of the senior citizens in India can be evinced from the alarming rise in criminal activities reported against them as recorded and confirmed by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). As per the 2016 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) crime against senior citizens in the metropolitan cities is on the rise with Maharashtra topping the list. The range of crimes includes murder, inflicting grievous injury, rape, extortion, robbery, dacoity and cheating among several others. What is most worrying is the fact that the perpetration has come from known quarters. Often the executors of crime belonged to the trusted inner circle of the elderly.
The considerable increase in crimes against senior citizens can perhaps be attributed to the isolation of the old people in the society. For the anti-social elements, senior citizens are easy targets, easily vulnerable for larceny, fraudulence, physical assaults, housebreaks and murders. The modern urban lifestyle that promotes isolated existence, further exacerbate the plight of the elderly. Isolation is further compounded by other factors like paucity of neighborhood associations, gradual attrition of traditional long-established values, dissolution of the joint family structure and the mounting over-ambitious cravings of a materialistic society. In the absence of extended families, the dependency on external domestic help is naturally on the rise. While certain domestic help are a source of great strength, support and succor; others, if crime records are to be believed, have frequently been involved in heinous crimes.
The chronic reliance on domestic help is one of the key factors that often contribute to crimes against the elderly. Most domestic helpers come from economically challenged backgrounds, hence the lure of materialism is perhaps difficult to resist for some of them.
In the given circumstances, how does one ensure the safety and enhance the quality of lifestyle of senior citizens in the country? There is perhaps no easy solution to this problem. At the outset, it is imperative to remember that most of the crime statistics that are available to us is from urban metropolitan areas. One still remains uncertain about the rural and suburban belts of the country. The state must come forward to ensure the dignity of the aged through various social welfare schemes. A minimum means of subsistence allowance especially for the poverty ridden, the disorganized working sector and the rural belt would be a welcome step in this direction. Proper health coverage too has to be ensured in the twilight years. In the urban space the problems that ail are somewhat different.
Although the law and order machinery is trying its best to evolve various security schemes to ensure the safety of the elderly, it is imperative for our senior citizens too to consciously take measures to ensure their own safety and well being. Senior citizens who live alone or are feeling isolated in their families should consciously work towards building a community. They can do so through various means, especially through neighborhood or activity oriented socializing which would, in turn, provide them with the much needed emotional support. To cut down on their vulnerability and ensure security, they must provide details of their domestic helpers or tenants to the nearest police station. Where economic factor is not an issue the problem may lie elsewhere. Here, the family members and the society at large would perhaps have a key role to play.
Mere financial stability is not enough to ensure quality of life. Emotional and mental support also holds the key in enhancing quality of life. Elderly people should educate themselves so that they can keep track of their rights. This would help them to deal with any kind of unpleasant situations occurring within the families. They should not cover up the ill behavior meted out to them by their close family members.
Shaken by the news of repeated attacks, today, most senior citizens have resorted to diverse means to ensure their safety: installing CCTV cameras, video doorbells, installation of home safety apps and a host of other measures. Yet security often lies in the mind; and till the entire milieu inspires a sense of belonging and wellbeing, the aged would not feel secure.
The helplessness and repeated attacks also raise the question about the efficacy of the social security network in the city and the country at large. It is the responsibility of all individuals and the state to act together in ensuring peace, respect and dignity of the senior citizens. Legal reinforcements, ensuring safety and protection of the elderly from the state would be a welcome step in this regard.
(The writer is the Dean of Arts, St Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Kolkata)