We had a gardener couple working in our condominium. They were senior citizens who went about their work diligently. Recently, the maintenance was outsourced to a different company and so many changes took place. Many inefficient employees were sacked off and new ones were recruited. The old couple also fell victim to this trade off. As always, the complex which has many people with different views started pouring their thoughts on our community portal. Some felt that though old they were the only people who worked sincerely. Some felt, they were old and could not tend to the plants and could not be given hardwork like spading, turning the soil etc( this voice was unfortunately raised by senior citizens). Overall, there was lot of communication back and forth regarding this issue on our site.
Finally, a consensus was reached, where all the residents decided to offer 25rs per flat each month. The money thus collected could be given to the couple like a pension.
But, the self respecting poor old couple refused the amount stating that they were fit and can continue to earn a living for as long as they were productive. They had children who offered them help but they preffered to work and be independent. It is not the case with these couples alone. Many senior citizens themselves don’t want to live with their working children and prefer to be independent. I have seen the senior citizens of my own complex whose children are settled abroad and they prefer to make short visits rather than stay there longer. The average reason is here. Infact, i had made a post about many of them here.
Today in Indian society, the retirement age is fixed at 58 or 60. Government or non-government, nobody employs the old even if they are physically fit and can be productive. While they are young and energetic, they enjoy the benefits of the perks their jobs offer. Some of them may be having the additional perks of a driver, orderly, helper, cook etc. With old age and retirement all these benefits are gone and moreover with most families disintegrating into nuclear families, there is no choice but for the old to be emotionally, physically and financially independent. The irony is when one is old they are in need of all these perks and not when they are young.
According to statistics, the average life span of an Indian is 65 and thanks to medical advancement it is now common for people to live beyond 80 years. Easily, twenty years after retirement. With the rising inflation, they have to take care of themselves with the meager pension or with the retirement benefits for the approximate next 20 years. In case, of any medical emergency it would be a huge financial strain for them. (Insurance takes care only for major hospitalization)
Most of these elders of today’s generation are with single or two children, who are employed in most cases in some other part of the country or world. Even if they stayed in the same house, their child and their spouse would be working, what with most homes having dual incomes and the working children unable to offer emotional support due to work pressures. In some cases, of course they end up as parents for the second time taking care of their grandchildren. There is no proper support system to take care of them. Can’t blame the children either. It is the question of survival and they have their own occupational demands. If they don’t work who will secure their lives?
As long as the elders are physically fit and ready to work, why should the retirement age be fixed? Moreover as long as one works, they are physically and mentally fit. They are also occupied with no time to brood. And for those of them, who are unable to work, there must be recreation centres. I remember my uncle telling me that a community van comes and picks up all the senior citizen (in wood bridge, New Jersey) and they congregate at a recreation centre where the elders speak to each other and indulge in talk therapy, counselling, play bridge, read books, learn new things like networking, creative writing etc., They have time to pursue their hobbies. This could be a huge emotional support for these people while their children are at work. And the children can also be happy while their parents are happy, else the thought of elderly parents feeling bored at home gnaws their mind.
I think like in many advanced countries, for the issueless couples and all those who are ditched by the children or unable to be independent and feel insecure in their old age, we should also be open to the retirement homes concept. Where people of similar age live together and in case of a medical emergency , they don’t have to wait for their son or daughter who is away on a tour to some other corner of the world. These houses which are designed with huge windows and come with all geriatric facilities would be convenient for these people. Every necessity like a market, recreation center, place of worship, doctor’s care are within the reach of elders. In case, of any medical emergency, the huge windows or alarm bell of these homes sounds the community center and they are picked to the nearby health center in no time by the maintenance staff.
In India, retirement homes are picking up in some major cities and tier II cities, but these are mostly habitat for NRI parents. At more affordable or subsidized rates and with basic facilities these should be accessible to most elders and BPL families like the gardener couple. Why not the government allocate time and money and offer senior citizen concessions? After all, we will be reaching there after some years, won’t we? I hope by then, the infrastructure and facilities for senior citizens will be structured and organized.
Don't miss this 1.5 minute movie "Ageing: Beyond old sterotypes" by United nations TV and WHO Check this movie here.