Empower elders

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Nowadays ’empowerment’ is a buzzword word. All around people talk about empowering individuals, specific genders and overall societies for better future. Amid this empowerment breeze, we hardly come across any emphasis on empowering elders above the age of 60 years. This segment of population is known as the senior citizens. What we have observed is that when an individual assumes a senior citizen status, he loses empowerment which he will have enjoyed during the prime years of his/her life. Almost all empowerment machinery comes to a halt for him/her at this later stage of life. For all his/her life s/he accumulates every comfort for his/her family, but is left uncomfortable as an elder. Of course, this doesn’t happen with all, but most of them suffer. At the moment, the issues of the senior citizens are an emerging global challenge. As per the United Nation’s Population Division figures there are almost 700 million people over the age of sixty years. This population will grow to 2 billion people by 2050. In India, this figure will reach nearly 20 crore by 2030. Currently vast majority of Indians constitute working age population. But statistics reveal that this segment will gradually disappear within the next four to five decades, and we will have a rapidly aging society. Ours is a place where most of us revere and respect elders. In our society, children care for their parents at home. In other cultures, we come across a situation where children put their parents in homes where others care for them. These are known as old age homes. Thank God, we are not engulfed in ‘old age home’ situation. But there’s also a section mingled in our societies who see their elders as a burden and resource drain! And unfortunately, this section is growing stronger. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye that over a period of time shifting economic forces eating up our tradition are fast reshaping our residence patterns. A trend is in motion where children are distantly moving away from their parents to shape their careers. This has created a new section of population of alone parents. Once this section of population steps into as senior citizens, a sense of lacking empowerment begins to haunt them. Increasing urbanization and fast growing nuclear family culture begins to further compound their miseries and they are forced to fend for themselves. This situation further deteriorates by increase in the cost of living accompanied by longer life expectancy. We have some schemes in place for aged persons, but the time has proved such schemes insufficient to cater to their needs. However, a financial security scheme was introduced in 2007 by the central government where an elderly owner of a house property can have funds against mortgage of the property without repaying it almost during its lifetime. However, a borrower can prepay it at any time during the tenure of the loan. Otherwise the loan is recovered after the death of the borrower by putting the house on sale. The scheme in vogue is ‘Reverse Mortgage’ loan scheme. We have a good chunk of such elders who have property but no sustained source of income or lack financial support from the children to fend themselves for rest of their life. It’s also a fact that most of our elders have developed a tendency to live separately, preferably without depending on their children, for their amenities and medical needs. So the reverse mortgage is a financial cushion to such elders to fall back upon for support. Our elders are a treasure to our society. They have worked hard all these years for the development of the nation as well as the community. They form a rich repository of knowledge and experience which we cannot afford to ignore. Let’s empower them to lead an active and participatory life. Time is still on our side. We should right now anticipate the above discussed demographic transition and tailor programmes to bring elders under the empowerment umbrella. The empowerment programmes should enable our elders to lead a healthy, stress-free and comfortable life with respect and dignity. Otherwise the increasing life expectancy will bring miseries not delight!