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Old people are revered in India, not neglected

May 10, 2007

A new bill which makes it imperative for adult children to look after their old parents (The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill 2006) was introduced in parliament a few months ago. If they didn’t, they could go to jail. It could be a fine of Rs 5000/- or three months in jail…and the will made by parents could also be revoked. Apparently there is a jail term for abuse of the old as well.

The reason I didn’t write about the bill earlier was because I wasn’t sure what I felt about it. I wondered if we needed such a bill. People I know look after their parents. Sure, I have heard horror stories of adult kids ill-treating their parents but there is not a single such case amongst my relatives and we have a huge family on both sides. No such case on my husband’s side of the family either. And even amongst my friends, there is no instance of parental neglect or abuse. Sure, there are a few cases of children leaving the country and not being there for their parents in old age…but they send money and the extended family is here to give support. Does being away physically constitute abuse? I don’t think so.

But I have seen many cases of child abuse, some in my extended family, and also amongst neighbors and friends. I know one family where the father used to regularly whip and torture his two sons, send them out on the terrace naked after being beaten mercilessly and the boys had to remain on the terrace the whole night. When the boys grew up, the boys did not throw their father out of the house. One supported him financially, though he did not visit. The other, elder son, needed psychiatric treatment and found it difficult to hold down a job. Another case I know is of a girl being sexually abused in the house, but when she grew up she looked after her parents. She forgave. Then there is another case of a mother who showered only insults and verbal abuse on both her children, but today they are looking after her and visit her regularly.

My driver told me that his parents ill-treated them, made them work since the age of 12, and took their money. Their mother beat them, screamed at them and never cooked them a decent meal in their life. Recently his mother got oral cancer. He brought her home and looked after her for two months when she was dying, bathing her, dressing her and spending time with her. One brother provided money, another brought medicines. Kahi jhala tari, Aai ahe majhi (Whatever happened in the past, she is my mother) he said, with tears in his eyes.

Another example is of a friend who was ill-treated by her mother-in-law, mentally and physically tortured in fact – today this same woman cooks and cleans and tends to her seventy five year old mother-in-law, takes her to the hospital regularly and supervises her medication. And is the mother in law satisfied? Not at all. Whenever she gets the opportunity she tells the relatives and vistors how badly she is treated because her daughter in law ignores her, doesn’t talk to her in the evenings, and doesn’t cook her favourite dishes!

That is why the Bill was a surprise to me. I have long held this belief that Indian society revers the old and unless the parents treat the children in some extreme manner, they are forgiven. And those children who have been brought up with love and care look after their parents with intense love and care.

Latest research supports what I am saying. A study commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, reveals that 53% of the Indian children (who were surveyed) reported one or more forms of sexual abuse! And where corporal punishment is concerned, we have a lot to be ashamed of. As it says here:

The government’s report, based on a survey involving 12,447 children in 13 states suggests that two out of three school-going children in India are victims of corporal punishment. Across different groups, children between five and 12 have reported higher levels of abuse. People who hold positions of trust and authority – such as parents, relations, friends, teachers, and servants – are the chief tormentors. Worse, fear prevents 70 per cent of the abused children from seeking redress…the survey found that 88.6 per cent of the respondents were assaulted by parents and 65 per cent by teachers. Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, and Delhi reported the highest number of child abuse cases in all forms – physical, emotional, and sexual. Contrary to the belief that boys are safer, the survey established that out of the 69 per cent of abused children, 54.68 per cent were boys…When it comes to sexual and emotional abuse, every second child is a victim, and 60.35 per cent children are abused by their parents…out of 2,324 young adults (18 to 24 years) surveyed, almost 46 per cent reported sexual abuse in childhood.

Now how are these abused children, some of whom could be mentally disturbed, be expected to take of their parents in old age? And a law is going to achieve this feat? And its a strange irony isn’t it that we have an Old Age Law, but none on Child Abuse?

One needs research to find out what percentage of Indian parents are actually looked after in their old age, and my bet is that the study will reveal that a fairly high percentage of adult children look after their parents, as high as seventy per cent, inspite of being abused. I am not saying that no old people are neglected or abused, all I am saying is that the majority of adult children take care of their parents. However, the majority of parents do not take care of their children. What does this show? A society which revers the old.

I think what we need is for the government to provide old age homes, better medical facilities and some social security for senior citizens. And be pro-active where child abuse is concerned – as pro-active as the government is when it comes to old people.

Update 25th June 2007: A law to make child abuse a punishable offense is on the anvil, and is being drafted by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development. There will be a national debate before this proposed law takes on its final avatar. This is because experience of such bills all over the world has generated controversy. The proposed law will be called the Offences against Children Bill, and the penalties will include fines starting from Rs 3000/- This law is to protect children against:

1) Kicking, slapping brutally, beating with stick/stave.
2) Sexual abuse, making the child fondle private body parts, making the child exhibit private body parts, exhibiting private body parts to a child and photographing the child nude.
3) Lack of attention to girls as compared to boys, less share in food in the family and gender discrimination.

(Photo in the above article were taken on the streets of Mumbai and are copyrighted to me)

Update Dec 07: This old person’s maintenance Bill has been passed by parliament and is now a law.

Related Reading: Adult children should not depend on parents for financial matters

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. mumbairamki permalink
    May 10, 2007 6:13 pm

    Nita ,
    Statistics need to be questioned.Im surprised that 53% of the children are abused .the definition of abused varies .If they take say ‘Occasional slaps’ as abuse ,i dont agree with them .Parents tend to discipline their children with a bit of physical force .As far as it doe s not cross alimit ,it fine .

    I feel a law for taking care of parents will make things worse – it has to be created like a ‘Idea Virus’ like how freedom movement spread ,how a disease spreads – naturally ..

  2. May 10, 2007 9:45 pm

    Nita,
    like a true journalist, you always write about the problems of society and very often it is a shok to me to learn about what is really going on in my beloved India. But it is good to know for many reasons.
    What i really want to know if all these things /child abuse, being unfaighful in a marriage etc, – all of what you often wirte/ if all these things have been there before(at that mass), or if it is just getting worse…
    thanks for your profound investigations and dedidation to your mission!

  3. May 10, 2007 11:25 pm

    Axinia, I believe that human beings are basically the same all over the world.
    Where unfaithfulness in marraige is concerned, let me assure you that having ‘keeps’ was quite common in ancient India, both amongst Hindus and Muslims. So there was no faithfulness as such. Now I would say the situation has greatly improved, with the middle class morality creeping in. You will find that if there are extramarital affairs, they are hidden, they are usually secret. It is something to be ashamed of.
    Where child abuse is concerned, I feel this has increased. I am comparing to about 50-60 years ago. There are more nuclear families today and more pressure on women to look after kids by themselves, work outside the home and also manage the home and kids. Women are getting indepenent but men are not adjusting .In the olden days men and women had defined roles. And when people had many children, yes, the kids could have been neglected, sometime awfully neglected, but child abuse was less in my opinion. In those days a man could not rant and rave at his wife and beat her and the kids that easily, there were others in the family always watching. In those days even daughters in law got better treatment, for the simple reason that there were usually more than 3-4 daughter in laws. The women lived together, the kids lived together, there was more happiness.
    Today we have smaller families and this is a fairly new phenomena for India. We will adjust, slowly and surely. Its a long process and we are going through the throes of it.

  4. May 10, 2007 11:29 pm

    mumbairamki,
    I do not think that ocassinal slaps are being counted as abuse. Haven’t you seen kids being thrashed? I have seen this on the roads of Mumbai even. Children are beaten mercilessly for minor mistakes on a regular basis. And btw, corporal punishment, sever corporal punishment is common in govt schools in India. This I know is a hudnred per cent true as I have taught children from municipal schools in my home. And they tell me that parents approve of this. Parents do it themselves, if the child does something wrong. Also, sexual abuse is very very common in Indian homes. Sexual abuse by fathers and unlces. Read the book by Pinki Virani.

  5. tanay saxena permalink
    May 11, 2007 9:55 am

    Nita,
    I have started reading your articles for last few weeks only and I like many other really appreciate the information that you publish.Talking about this issue, i feel that here in India parents are given more care than anywhere else in the world.And till date I havent heard or known any of my friends or relatives ill-treating their parents but child abuse, definitely I have heard of.This must true for many others and the fact that this is true with others is in itself a strong favour to the opinion that this LAW was not needed.The only issue is the misuse of this law that may cause unneccesary sufferings to those children who really took care of their parent even in hard days of their life.
    I have seen parent being ill-treated only in movies but child abuse surely is easy to find in day to day life .It is indeed disheartening that still there is no regulation for child abuse.It is high time government should look into this issue rather than coming up with their unsurveyed plans.

  6. May 11, 2007 3:22 pm

    I had blogged about the child abuse report few days back, and am glad to see your post juxtaposing it with the old age care bill.

    I also think we need to be more proactive as parents, and members of society, not only to spread knowledge but also awareness. Hence my focus is more on “what we can do”, and not just accepting the statistics. We need to change the future for our children…

  7. May 11, 2007 10:13 pm

    Thank ouy, Nita, for answering my question! Let s hope evrybody will find the balance of existence, withought harming people around. Having sch strong spiritual roots, Indial will manage…

  8. Neil permalink
    August 6, 2007 11:15 pm

    Hi again

    Child abuse form an ex-pat
    Well I did have the belt at school numerous times and sometimes it hurt others it was a laugh
    They have since stopped it
    Even banned smacking of kids in the country
    Now we are all animals and whilst I have never smacked my kids for anything I do agree that sometimes we people may need to raise a hand to disipline them in the ways of common society
    Only though when all other avenues have been passed
    Is this the diffence in India, does it need to see all these avenues before it understands what they are . I believe that it does and it will see the changes as it moves to a modern society.
    Just dont lose the family on the way though

    Neilc

  9. August 7, 2007 7:24 pm

    Neil, I am afraid that in India, physical punishment is socially accepted and is therefore not used as a last resort, but often before anything else.

  10. Rahul permalink
    December 10, 2007 9:16 pm

    I really wonder who invents such laws and on what basis. Its very clear and evident from that our totally corrupt politicians will so anything to get a vote. They will even invent a law where every family have to pay a percentage of their salary to their respective MPs or MLAs

    In my own case, The biggest mistake of my life was to marry a girl I loved. Today it turns out to be a nightmare that i will have to live for the rest of my life.

    Myself and my wife we both earn money, My wifes parents are seperated and my mother in law did not even have 500 rupees when i got married. No jewels or house for herself. Its been 6 years since i am married now and I have a daughter who is less than a year as well.

    We already got a house for my mother in law(20 Lakhs). I had to pay for my brother in laws college fee. He wanted a bike to go to college so we had to buy one for him. Within a year he wanted another bike as the old bike was not good for him. so again he had to give the remaining money after selling the first bike.

    We have to give monthly maintenance money to my mother in law.Now that my brother in law is working with a very decent salary over 25000 Indian rupees in Bangalore. still we have to take care of my mother in law. Also I had to buy camera, video camera and laptop for my brother in law. Recently there was a marriage in my wife side family(my wife’s mama’s daughter marriage) for which i had to pay 24000 Indian rupees.

    Now it has become too much financial burden for me. When I say this to my wife she just says he will divorce me and file 498a against me if i dont take care of her mother. Her mother has also mentioned she will file a case against me for not taking care of her even though she is just 47 now.

    My parents are working and they are much better life than me. I have not given money to my parents like the way I do to my in laws. Still my parents have no complain as they never ask anything from me.

    Even though i earn 4 lakh Indian rupees a month in US, I still do not own a house for myself or have got a house for myself and have no savings(have only approximately 5000 USD in both savings and checking).

    I am really wondering what more i need to do to please others while working hard here. Our indians laws are just plain stupid and are formed with uneducated and corrupt people who are only greedy for power and money.

    Even though i earn, i have no life for myself now that i have to be afraid of jail term if i dont fullfill others dream at the cost of my own dream.

  11. December 10, 2007 9:24 pm

    @Rahul:

    I am sorry to hear all this and I think it is better that you find a solution to this problem. Buying bikes for your brother in law certainly sounds an unreasonable demand! I honestly feel that you and your wife should seek counseling.

  12. December 11, 2007 2:59 am

    @Rahul:

    Sir, in my opinion, you are being taken advantage of and abused. I agree with Nita that you and your wife should seek counseling. But if your wife won’t go with you, then go alone! A good counselor might show you some options you haven’t yet thought of. Good luck!

  13. vinod permalink
    July 26, 2008 8:29 am

    Rahul, your story is very sad. My heart goes out to you, man.

  14. January 23, 2009 10:57 pm

    I am not going to talk about the responsibility of youth towards their old parents, nor I am going to mention the Amitabh Bachchan starred movie BaghBan. I don’t intend to talk about Retirement homes or retirement resorts or new-age retirement senior citizen communes.
    It’s not always that the senior citizens have been driven out of oppressive homes or treated badly by offspring and relatives. More and more, the aged are discovering that they need a place that will give them security and camaraderie without the sacrifice of personal space. And yes, I am talking about the security of individuals, not only the security of old citizens living alone, but security of any individual in any circumstance.
    Although every city is facing the growth of senior citizens to some level, Delhi Police has taken some initiatives regarding the security of senior citizens in proper manner. To increase the efficiency, help lines and Senior Citizen’s Security Cell have been established with a proper set up for the identification of senior citizens living alone in NCR, proper verification of employees particularly domestic servants is also provided by the police, while the Police Station House Officers and Beat Staff is instructed to periodically visit the residence area of senior citizens. The officers of Senior Citizen Security Cell keeps proper contact on either personal level or via phone lines to increase the feeling of security and emotional support for each identified senior citizen and proper educative and informative meet ups and liaisons program to educate them about their safety and welfare related laws are also been held.
    But above all this, the provision of Gun for the purpose of self-defense is not free and easy.

  15. leona permalink
    May 3, 2009 4:46 pm

    Where I live, it a felony to hit a child. I have no respect from India after seeing the movie depicting the violence against children and women and the greed.

    • rags permalink
      October 23, 2009 6:06 pm

      DId you watch slumdog? No wonder.. Indians are filthy greedy pigs who live in shacks isn’t it?

  16. Lakshmi permalink
    October 23, 2009 1:50 pm

    Nita,

    I think some of the conclusions you draw are a little naive. I think the abuse of the old is quite prevalent and grew up experiencing it in my own family. But one does not draw conclusions from my family or yours – but I think this abuse is true – a real survey would be good.
    One point is that you probably belong to the upper middle class where it is relatively easier to take care of the old. Money can help ease a lot of situations. Servants and nurses and cooks can ease the burden on the woman in the family who can otherwise be frustrated. In a middle class family where a couple are working, the challenge of caring for parents can be great.
    Another point is that just because people live in joint families it does not mean that these families function as they should. There are a host of issues. Women are not respected much in our society. And these women are expected to care for their in-laws. Men still are reluctant to care for their wives’ parents. The liberated women of today can flout these norms. Moreover, when housework is not shared as it happens in India, the physical burden of caring for the old can freak out any woman.
    And last, caring for an old sick person is very hard without the help of technology which only institutions can provide. This care can never be good enough at home.

    • October 23, 2009 2:04 pm

      Laxmi, I agree that a real survey would be the best. True, I am talking from my own experiences and what I have seen. That the old are more or less revered in our society, although this is changing. However one needs to know what one would term abuse. I do not think a person living by himself/herself is being abused. You have mentioned this in another way, that those living in joint families are not necessarily happy. But what you said is right. I am speaking only from my own obeservation, amongst the middle classes. And I see that the old are respected, even revered. They are looked after, not spoken back to, etc. However the looking after is done with whatever means that are available. For example, a poor driver whom we know, well, his mother got cancer. They had no money for her treatment but they tended her until she died. I know of many cases like this, of what happens in the homes of family servants etc. The thing is, you are also speaking from your own observations, of what you have seen around you. So the thing is to do a proper sample survey of households in India and see what is happening. I think I am right. But I am willing to be corrected.

      • Lakshmi permalink
        October 23, 2009 5:07 pm

        Well I think you are wrong:-) The helpless anywhere are oppressed – children, the old, the handicapped…unless the system/govt steps in to protect them and ensure their rights…

  17. April 2, 2011 12:04 am

    mumbairamki : According to me slaps should also be counted in abuse.In fact anything that inflicts emotional as well as physical pain is an abuse.Why do we need to slap our kids .That will not serve any purpose instead,i strongly believe that we should love our kids most when they least deserve to be loved but at the same time make them feel that they did something which you do not approve.

    @ tanay saxena: Yes and moreover when u grow old u need love more than anything.What if I give my in-laws 10000 rupees but not even a single word or a glance in a day…would they be happy….old people just need 3 meals and any small amount of money can buy themthe meals but kids’love and care …no parliament can ever frame a law for that.

    @Rahul : u are in pathetic situation.be stern with your wife.talk it out and tell het that u took care of her mom but now its her brotherz turn.he is earning right…then why should u bear her burden?isnt ur wives brother ashamed…

    @Lakshmi : yes,it is not the matter of being a child or old…itz the matter of being “HELPLESS”….a helpless person-child,old,adult….whatever is always oppressed.

    @Leona and Rags :Please dont leave such comments on any indian blog….not acceptable…we are filthy …we are greedy…we are poor yet we are indians and proud to be one.and it is not a question of just my country but you should never talk like this for any country…calling someone filthy…greedy in a public forum is too much of an insult…

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