Representative photo: Pixabay/Pexels.
In India’s value-based, joint family culture, the ill-treatment of elders is both taboo and widely unacknowledged. In the 2011 Census, India’s elderly made up 8.6% of the total population, and is expected to rise to nearly 20% by 2050. This rapid rise in ageing population has been accompanied by a silently growing pressure on all aspects of care for older persons – financial, health and shelter – as well.
Concomitantly, according to the WHO, 1 in 6 people aged 60 years and older face abuse in the community setting.
According to the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, ‘abuse’ refers to a single or repeated instance of causes harm or distress caused to an older person. It can be physical, emotional (including negligence), financial or sexual. The fourth National Mental Health Survey 2015-2016 also noted abuse as a risk factor for suicide among the elderly.
The Longitudinal Survey of India (LASI) is a national survey that studies ageing at the population-level in India. It was conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai – an autonomous organisation of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. (Note: The author is a research scholar at this institute.)
According to the survey site, LASI’s first national wave “is a nationally representative survey of 72,250 older adults aged 45 and above across all states and union territories of India. The data collection activities for [the wave] were carried out between April 2017 and December 2018.”
This data provides a useful glimpse of the extent to which India’s elderly are mistreated.
According to the survey report, one in 20 – i.e. 5% – of people aged 60 years or more have experienced ill-treatment in the last one year. Among them, 53% experienced it occasionally, 14% frequently and 33% only a few times. State-wise, the most abuse reports originated from Bihar (11.7% of the 60+ population), followed by Karnataka (10.1%) and West Bengal (7.6%). The northeastern states of Mizoram (0.1%), Nagaland (0.3%) and Meghalaya (0.8%) are at the bottom of this list.
In addition, of those who reported experiencing abuse, more than three-fourths experienced verbal or emotional abuse, a fifth faced physical ill-treatment and around a third said they were economically exploited.
More than 90% of those who reported emotional or verbal abuse were from Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Tripura and Telangana. Economic exploitation was highest in Chhattisgarh (52.9%) and Delhi (52.4%). And around 87% of the elderly in Andhra Pradesh, 69% in Tamil Nadu and 68% in Telangana faced negligence and ill-treatment.
The people perpetrating the abuse are usually the caretakers, whereas stigma and fear of losing support leaves the elders reluctant to complain or protest. In nearly 40% of reports of abuse, the offenders were children or grandchildren, followed by sons-in-law and daughters-in-law. Spouses and siblings were offenders in 6.7% and 3.5% of cases, respectively. Relatives, friends and neighbours, collected under the “Others” category, made up the rest.
Curiously, 83% of abuse reports from Delhi had been perpetrated by children or grandchildren; 68% from Chhattisgarh by sons- or daughters-in-; 84.9% from Tripura and 65.7% from Himachal by “others”.
A recent study conducted by the Agewell Foundation found that during the COVID-19 epidemic, as many as 71% of the country’s elders believed ill-treatment towards them had increased during the lockdown. So it has become all the more important to create an environment in which older people have the right to live a life of dignity, free of abuse and exploitation.
Harshita Chari is a research scholar at the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai.