Old people are revered in India, not neglected
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