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A Safe Habitat
by Anjali Anand Seth Bookmark and Share
One of the bleak realities of the present era is the burgeoning of old age homes across the world. Traditionally, Indians have lived in a joint family set up, together sharing life�s trials and tribulations. Often the space constraints demonstrated their telling signs on human behavior, yet the warmth of the relationship lasted for generations. Over a past decade or more, with globalization, the western culture slowly crept into every facet known to the Indian way of life, leaving its indelible impressions on it. From clothes to eating habits, television to lifestyles, it permeated our lives forever. However, it is the employment regime which got most effected. The search for lucrative job opportunities led to the migration of people from rural areas to cities, even abroad.

This has had two major effects on the Indian social system. First was the disintegration of the joint family set up in favour of nuclear ones. Secondly, due to the increasing financial pressures of maintaining a decent (read high) standard of living, the obvious axe has fallen on the older generation, leading to the alienation of the elders. The fast pace of the present generation has little patience towards the slow, yet steady, pace of the yesteryears. Occasionally the elders unwilling to give up their responsibility to their children, has led to a tussle between generations, with the youth being resentful of the attitude of seniors. As a result, there is often a lack of willingness to accommodate them.

He sat on his chair watching the world pass by his poignant eyes. She sat besides him sharing his contentment and distress as she had promised decades ago. Together they had grown a family, which existed but was never present. The images on the television had blurred with the vision, but the mind could see more clearly than it could ever before. The heart could understand the abysmal truth that the mind had been enlightening it with all along�..No one had a moment in time to be with the very parents who had sacrificed a lifetime to make a human out of an infinitesimal seed. Their new home appositely epitomized their status�..OLD AGE.

Considering the senior citizens as spokes in the wheel of personal development, a burden on the pocket, or even a barrier to the modern way of life and enjoyment; the concept of living with older generation has often met with apathy than enthusiasm. Moreover, the availability of better medical facilities while increasing the average age of the population has also led to the urban population adopting family planning, thus altering the percentage of older people vis-a vis the younger generation. It is no surprise then that old age homes are mushrooming in India much the same way they are in the western countries. While such homes could be a good place to ensure the safety and security of the senior citizens living alone, especially if medically incapacitated or unwell; for many, it proves to be a blessing in disguise, where for a particular sum of money, one can be devoid of their social duties towards the elderly. It�s like existing for your parents, but never being present for them in their hour of need!

How and when this emotional surgery was performed in our society, none can tell. In reality today, the elderly find themselves lonely and alienated. Not surprisingly, for the youth, it now considered quintessentially �normal� to live separately, despite being in the same city. Unwilling to gain from the experiences and skills of the elderly, the fastidious youth often lacks the forbearance needed. Wishing to create their own niche in this competitive jungle, they are foolhardy if they believed the branches could flourish by cutting the roots of the tree. On balance, it�s these very senior citizens who, as parents, gave up their present for our bright future.

Realizing the want for elderly care, UN General Assembly adopted Res. No. 46/91 on Dec.16, 1991 laying down four principles for the older persons, including Independence, Participation, Care and Self-Fulfillment. It upheld the rights of the elderly to safe environment, income-generating opportunities, health care, human rights and fundamental freedoms including the ability to live with respect and dignity, free from exploitation and physical or mental abuse. On the individual level, we need to respect the elders and value their experience and wisdom independently of their economic contribution to society. The generation gap can be tapered with compassion if both the generations respect the times gone by and also understand and accept the realities of changing times. It is the grandparents who then become the best channels to help grandchildren espouse a sense of responsibility, moral values and the significance of tradition and culture in our lives. Let�s give them a secure home amongst their own and be exemplary in behavior. The lack of respect shown to ones elders today could be our own fate tomorrow. The wheel of life would soon catch up with all despite our fast pace; for man can fight anything in the world, but not his age! 

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