Vintage Has No Value When It Comes To Humans

A major crisis seemingly ignored in this pandemic has been the increasing abuse and neglect of our elderly.

Indians love symbolic gestures and tokenisms, so the celebration of anniversaries and international days dovetails our hypocritical culture. This ‘natural’ culture comprises a huge colonial hangover with chronic frivolity and entails the systematic shoving of all important sensitive issues under the carpet instead of acknowledging them and working on solutions. Such is the way that August 21, senior citizens’ day too was marked.

Hunger and vulnerability

Some recent developments should actually make us realise we have a huge problem on our hands—lack of resources to take care of our senior citizen population. A nurse who was quarantined for a fortnight at a jumbo Covid centre in the city recalled few heart-breaking incidents involving senior citizens. A major crisis seemingly ignored in this pandemic has been the increasing abuse and neglect of our elderly. There were some elderly people who had completed their quarantine but were kept waiting for hours at the gate of the jumbo quarantine centre by their families, the nurse recounted. The families were in no hurry to pick up the ‘burden’ of caring for their elderly. For this latter group, some of the most niggling problems have been the lack of savings, investments, not owning property and finding themselves at the mercy of their children even when they do, the lack of a medical insurance cover and most of all, conspicuously lacking company in a country peopled by 138 crore. The Covid-19 pandemic has only served to exacerbate their already pitiable plight. Increasingly, there are reports of loneliness and hunger. A number of political leaders, non-governmental organisations and activists have been called upon for health, food and medical aid for this section of population.


According to NGOs, there are around 25 million elderly who live independently in India.


In fact, the UNSDG said in its May 2020 report, “The COVID-19 pandemic is causing untold fear and suffering for older people across the world. As of 26 April, the virus itself has already taken the lives of some 193,710 people, and fatality rates for those over 80 years of age is five times the global average.” They are the most vulnerable and neglected section of our society. Moreover, on July 13 this year, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and the Leading Age LTSS Center @MassBoston revealed two major issues. First, food insecurity during the pandemic ‘among older adults and especially older women and people of colour.’ The world over, the phenomenon of older adults suffering from hunger and being pushed into vulnerability is being reported.

The fact is, as it is the older adults find it tough to get work and the situation has been worsened due to the pandemic with the economy having been severely due to the strict lockdowns. According to a UNICEF report, the pandemic has increased fear and uncertainty among the elderly. This is something we have been seeing among our colleagues and families. “They rely completely on social connection and they need it now more than ever. With India practising a nation-wide lockdown and social distancing, vulnerable seniors could be feeling more alone than usual.”

In fact, Khaana Chahiye, a city-based NGO, began Covid-19 relief work in 2020, to help combat hunger in Mumbai. This crowd-funded project first began when the migrant workers began walking long distances to reach home to avoid hunger. Also, many poor who lived in the slums would be starving due to the sudden national lockdown. Though the NGO cannot ascertain how many calls they receive are from the elderly, from the comments section they gather that nearly 25 per cent of these calls for food are from elderly people. Now of course, the NGO is going to shut down its two kitchens at the end of this month and have begun distributing groceries. The demand for groceries hasn’t diminished.


Khaana Chahiye team has served over 60 lakh meals so far in Mumbai and surrounding areas.


Closer home, last year our esteemed friend and colleague, the late Rashid Irani who suffered from Covid-19, also shared his experience of feeling vulnerable and said he had feared he too would die in the lockdown. However, he got by with some help from friends and some senior journalists – they helped him get admitted to a hospital and ensured he was taken care of. He bounced back but on August 2 this year, he was found dead, four days after he had fallen and died in his bathroom. A lonely and tragic death. His friends had been trying to reach him and on not getting any response, took the help of Mumbai Press Club officials who called the police and broke open into his house.

Speaking of elderly journalists, this section of the media too has suffered neglect, despite the highly aware personae of this world being practically pickled to the gills in wokeness. Some are being helped by friends, some by their neighbours and community folks. But there is a large section of elderly journalists feeling vulnerable and in need of financial support. There are quite a few who don’t have permanent roofs on their heads and rentals are getting harder and harder to find. Then sudden move-outs are necessitated because landlords (sometimes overseas) want to sell or redevelop their properties and the constant uncertainty is killing.

Increase in abuse

Speaking of the pandemic, there are an increasing number of reports of the abuse of senior citizens during the pandemic and in many cases, it has been reported against the caregivers. The UN released a report last year which stated, the “lockdown measures to control the virus have resulted in increased gender-based violence, abuse and neglect of older persons confined with the family members and caregivers”.

In fact, in their paper, ‘Elder abuse in the time of Covid-19- Increased risks for older adults and their caregivers’, Lena K Makaroun, Rachel L Bachrach and Ann-Marie Rosland have stated, “An estimated 1 in 10 older adults (age ≥ 60 years) experience elder abuse annually in the United States. This includes physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, as well as financial exploitation (such as diversion of money without permission or scams) or neglect by caregivers.”

In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, around 1 in 6 people who are 60 years and older have experienced some form of abuse in their community setting in the last one year. There is a high rate of abuse in institutional care, such as nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The bottomline is that there has been an escalation in elder abuse during the pandemic. The WHO has predicted that the “global population of aged 60 years and above will double from 900 million in 2015 to nearly 2 billion in 2050.” According to the 2011 Indian census, there were nearly 104 million senior citizens in India, 53 million of whom were women. According to the UNFP and HelpAge India, this population is projected to become 173 million in the next five years.


According to the 2011 Indian census, there were nearly 104 million senior citizens in India, 53 million of whom were women.


This June, a report that was released by Agewell Foundation stated that at least 73 per cent of the elderly population said that they have been abused during the lockdown. Responses of 5,000 elderly people were taken. Another international report by age-platform says there has been a 37 per cent increase in the abuse of senior citizens during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. They have urged more awareness campaigns against abuse.

The undeniable fact is: senior citizens need more access to care and services, especially medical and food. The sudden national lockdown enforced last year took a severe toll on many sections of society and worse, there was no thought or planning to set up delivery services, tiffin services for the aged and the poor, who feared starvation. This year, in April when the lockdown was enforced by the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, at least there were rules framed for food delivery services for senior citizens, to ensure they did not face a crisis like they did in 2020. While the hunger issue is being tackled, vaccination for senior citizens in this state is still a cause of concern. Due to acute shortage of vaccines, the number of senior citizens who have taken injections in the state is lesser than some others. It is time to go beyond token anniversary celebrations of senior citizens’ day and actually take more steps to address the issue of protection and safety of this section of our society every single day.

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