July 23, 2011

INDIA: Family values eroding as Indian society prospers

BANGKOK, Thailand / Asia News Network / Life / July 23, 2011

By Nirmala Ganapathy - The Straits Times

In a culture where the young are taught to respect their elders and old age is celebrated, Indians are quite fond of telling each other that they will live for a hundred years, especially when they run into each other unexpectedly.

"May you be blessed with my age" is another expression often used by elderly Indians.

Though respect for the elders is still ingrained in Indians, the society is changing as people move up the economic ladder and away from the traditional extended family system where three generations commonly live under one roof.

With nuclear families on the rise, more and more elderly Indians - who number 100 million - are forced to live on their own, a notion that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.

Show of respect for elderly by bowing down and touching feet.
Illustrative photo courtesy of  Hindu Wedding

Dharam Gulrajani, 68, had worked as a financial controller for more than 30 years in Europe before he returned to India about four years ago.

"India is the best place for senior citizens to live. It is much better than Europe or America," said Gulrajani, whose son prefers to live in the Netherlands instead of returning to India.

Added Gulrajani, who is happy to be surrounded by relatives: "There is definitely respect for the elders in India but it is changing. If you have good neighbours, they come and help and senior citizens get served first in most places."

Those who work in the area of elderly care say they see a disturbing trend of eroding traditional values as prosperity goes up.

"In underdeveloped areas, the (extended) family system is still intact and there is also a lot of care for the elderly. But the more wealthy and more materialistic people get, the less they care for the elderly," said Mathew Cherian, the chief executive officer of Helpage India, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working for elderly care.

As Indian society becomes more influenced by Western values, some people are also becoming more individualistic, which partially explains why family values are changing, Cherian added.

A Helpage India study on elderly abuse and crime in India released last month found that about one in five elderly people has been verbally or physically abused by family members such as the daughter-in-law or someone close to them.

More than half of those surveyed said they feel they are soft targets for crime, the report added.

Bangalore, where an information technology boom has benefited many families financially, fared the worst, with 40 per cent of the elderly polled saying they had suffered physical abuse.

Chennai came out tops among the nine cities surveyed, with only 2 per cent. Around 38 per cent of Chennai's elderly people were still working after retirement and better law and order was seen as another contributing factor.

Ashok Jain, 67, who lives in New Delhi, said he feels lucky he is not among the elderly who are abused. "There are a lot of instances where children are ignoring their parents. I am fortunate," said Jain, who has two children. His daughter also lives in New Delhi and often visits him.

It is estimated that the number of people aged 60 and above in India will hit 198 million by 2030. Care for the elderly is expected to become a major issue as this number continues to rise with the greying of the Indian population.

At the Agewell Foundation, nearly 25,000 elderly people call the NGO's helplines a month with 70 per cent complaining of loneliness. "The best therapy is to listen to them. We don't need to say anything," said Himanshu Rath, who set up Agewell India.

Elderly care workers say there is a need for greater intervention from the government, which should put up more facilities for the elderly. There are only around 3,000 old age homes in the country.

A law passed in 2007 to punish children who abandon their elderly parents is rarely enforced.

(c)2002 Asia News Network
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