Do We Ill-treat Our Senior Citizens?

January 23, 2021

Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success.” – Francis Bacon (1561-1626) English philosopher and politician.

Francis Bacon also makes a compensatory statement: “Old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old friends to trust, and old authors to read.”

Just as old age is creeping on apace,

And clouds come o’er the sunset of our day,

They kindly leave us, though not quite alone,

But in good company – the gout or stone.

-Lord George Gordon Byron (1788-1824), English poet and politician.

For age is opportunity no less

Than youth itself, though in another dress,

And as evening twilight fades away

The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”

- Henry Wardsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), American poet and educator.

Writers of prose and poetry had their say on old age down the ages. Now we have national surveys on how the old are treated by their progeny.

Karnataka’s senior citizens are among the worst victims of ill-treatment in India, according to the country’s first nation-wide survey to map multiple health, social and economic issues that the elderly population face. It comes second with 10%, after Bihar (12%), followed by West Bengal (8%) and Uttar Pradesh (6%).

On a national scale 14% of India’s senior citizens experience ill treatment frequently whereas more than half of them have such experience once in every two months, according to India’s first longitudinal ageing study in which more than 72,000 individuals with the age of 45 and above are being tracked since 2014.

The study shows 75% of the elderly suffer from one or the other chronic disease, 40% have one or the other disability and 20% have issues related to mental health. Also, nearly 40% have lung disease, one in five need help for activities of daily living and one in 10 have sleep problems.

In Karnataka half of the older adults with the age of 45 years and above have restrictive lung diseases. Among the 60 plus population in Karnataka, close to 10% have chronic lung disease. Both are among the highest in the country. Nearly one-third of the 60 plus individuals in Karnataka have visual and hearing impairment, which is the highest in the country and double than the national average of 15%.

The first set of results from the study also show that Karnataka senior citizens overwhelmingly depend largely on private healthcare facilities and shell out India’s highest amount of out of pocket expenditure (Rs 1,25,825) among all the states. More than 60% senior citizens in Karnataka face multiple functional limitations in living in a community and almost 40% need assistance. The biggest problem they experience is getting around in an unfamiliar place and the problem is far more acute among women.

Nearly one in five have problems in managing activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, grooming, personal hygiene, changing their positions from sitting to standing and movement on the bed. Difficulty in using the toilet facility is the most common such limitation faced by the elderly.

Karnataka prides itself as a progressive state. These statistics project a poor image of the State. More than the image, it is the human face of the State that is reflected in the above survey. Beyond the image of the state are the individual sufferings of senior citizens in families.

How are we going to respond and rectify the situation so that our parents and grandparents experience our concern and love and care for them?

It is not just Karnataka’s problem. It has deep roots in our history overall. A son was torturing his old father constantly to get out of the house and get lost and would often drag him out of the house, with a cane in hand, down the lane leading to the main road. One day he dragged his father to the edge of the main road when the father pleaded: “Please stop, my son. Even I didn’t drag my father beyond our lane”.

In the home, the son’s son was fashioning a block of wood into a food receptacle. When asked by his mother what he was doing, he said: “This is for my daddy to have his food when he grows old!”

The subject is open to many views. What are yours? Your response, in the format given below (Pl scroll down) is welcome.



Doctors suspect the death of an elderly man in Mundakayam, Kerala (– God’s own country!) to have been caused by long-time starvation. 80-year-old Podiyan and his aged wife Ammini lived with their younger son Reji and his wife Jhansi. According to neighbours, Reji locked up his aged parents whole day without food or water for months.

When Asha workers arrived on a tip-off, both were transported to the hospital where Podiyan died shortly after. Primary post-mortem showed unusual shrinkage of internal organs, a condition when the body is deprived of food and water for an extended period. Also there was no indication of any food having passed down the throat in a long time, said doctors. To affirm these findings, the internal organs have been sent for forensic chemical tests which will tell whether Podiyan’s death indeed occurred from long-time starvation.

Both Podian and Ammni were daily wage workers who ran the house on their money until they were too old and unwell to work anymore. Reji and his wife Jhansi are daily wagers too and would leave for work each day locking the aged couple allegedly without food or water. Unable to withstand the cruelty meted out to her husband, Ammini reportedly lost her mental balance. She is now being treated at Kottayam Medical College.


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By John B Monteiro
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Comment on this article

  • John B. Monteiro, Bondel Mangalore

    Fri, Jan 29 2021

    Thanks to Dr. Urban D’Souza, Udyavar/ Malaysia for coming back to the forum and helping to cross the unlucky 13 barrier. That wouldn’t have been possible if Antony Crasta, Taccode/Sydney hadn’t come on No.13. So, his role is critical in crossing the unlucky number.
    Beyond this, I would like to stress that this column is not between me, as setter of the topic-essay, and the respondents but also among the respondents themselves. That is the rationale and spirit of “Welcome to Reason”.
    The two respondents have cited the example of some countries which take special care of their senior citizens. But, I would like to cite the case of Israel which recruits candidates from Mangalore on highly attractive terms. Apparently, such care of senior citizens is taken in their homes where the citizens go out to earn and the care of the senior citizens is apparently underwritten by the State.
    Anyone to enlighten on this aspect?

  • Dr Urban DSouza, Udyavar/Malaysia

    Fri, Jan 29 2021

    Thanks Mr Anthony for highlighting the system of security cover in the developed countries.
    [ Quote 'Governments, both Central and State, should step in, and help them financially, in the form some sort of pension, say a minimum of Rs. 10,000 per month, depending upon the minimum living cost. In addition, these old people should be provided with free medicines and hospital facilities. After all, India is a fast developing nation, heading to become a third or fourth super power in the world, not in the distance future, where there are millions of millionaires are living, I am sure, this is what the least, the Governments can do, and I am sure they can afford it. This is what is being done by the Western and developed countries like USA, Canada, UK, Australia, NZ and some European countries, where vulnerable old age people are being looked after by the respective Governments by way of various social security payments' unquote]
    The issue is not about only the poor person but if we look back at our own affluent society, how many of us are providing that care and duty to our own elders?
    We wait until we snatch the hard-earned properties and funds from our elders! Some cases, we may remit hefty maintenance in posh old-age homes etc., but if we could recall back, our parents, may be a team of 10, 5 or many more their own children, they nurtured and supported us keeping with them and toiling hard sometime missing their own welfare and even keeping themselves hungry and broken. They could have sent us to government run orphanages/ ashrams and ask the government to open more orphanages and provide some security funding to look after our production?
    Cannot relate the social security of West, where government collects between 30 to 40% tax. In our Country, how many are paying our own income tax?
    Elderly parents need our tender care similar to the care, extended us during our early childhood days.
    Money may buy a posh 5-star old age but not the tender love from children.

  • Anthony H Crasta, Taccode/Sydney

    Thu, Jan 28 2021

    Mr. John Monteiro raises an important social issue in his invaluable article. While, thanks to the Indian centuries old culture, and social family values, most of the old age people are fairly looked after well, either by their close family members, or of their own means, by going for living into the Old Age Homes, etc., it is distressing to note that some do suffer badly during their twilight years. It is for those helpless old people, who are poor, and are unable to look after themselves, especially the daily wage workers, who have to live day-to-day, with their meagre earnings, and who are unable to save anything to sustain and fend for themselves during their evening years, say people over 65 years, the Governments, both Central and State, should step in, and help them financially, in the form some sort of pension, say a minimum of Rs. 10,000 per month, depending upon the minimum living cost. In addition, these old people should be provided with free medicines and hospital facilities. After all, India is a fast developing nation, heading to become a third or fourth super power in the world, not in the distance future, where there are millions of millionaires are living, I am sure, this is what the least, the Governments can do, and I am sure they can afford it. This is what is being done by the Western and developed countries like USA, Canada, UK, Australia, NZ and some European countries, where vulnerable old age people are being looked after by the respective Governments by way of various social security payments. It is high time India follows the example!

  • James Fernandes, Barkur/chicago

    Wed, Jan 27 2021

    One who has a hammer, knocks down every protruding nail (head). Not easy to rise above, in any field,...

  • John B. Monteiro, Bondel Mangalore

    Tue, Jan 26 2021

    Mohan Prabhu, Kankanady, Ottawa, Canada; Dr Urban D’Souza, Udyavar, Malaysia and Ambrose Pereira, Bajpe.
    Thank you for your responses which are interesting, practical and precise which I would rather leave untouched except to commend them to readers for close reading of their responses.
    Thanks for your readable and practical responses and be with this column.

  • Vincent D'sa, Dubai/Shankerpura/Pangala parish

    Tue, Jan 26 2021

    I have initiated a program to address the issues faced by retired/aged people titled "Empty Nest." which is open to all religions. Initially, it will restrict the range to the Udupi city, which will be extended to Mangalore.

  • Vincent D'sa, Dubai/Shankerpura/Pangala parish

    Tue, Jan 26 2021

    Torture need not be physically alone. In a few places, I have witnessed that even though good food medicine is provided, the aged are left alone in their room without any company, entertainment, proper ventilation, and a few other issues. Generally, they lie down the whole day staring at the ceiling.
    I have highlighted these issues in one of my articles on this platform, 'A Date With The Death.'
    For the future old age population, aging will be much more traumatic than in the past. It is because of the way we bring our children without any values.
    Thank you for raising this issue, Mr.Moterio.

  • Ambrose Pereira, Bajpe

    Tue, Jan 26 2021

    We saw this ill treatment of seniors all around us early on and made it our life's mission to prevent this from happening to us by watching/ hearing from our seniors about what goes wrong and why. This is our "life's learning" and think should share here:

    - LIVE SIMPLE. Spending money to show off is a poor choice in life and A SURE way to loose what we earn. If you are the reading kind read Morgan Housel's book "THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MONEY". This book tells you display of wealth (like grand marriage with open bar, big car and huge house) is nothing but an illusion and never generates respect.

    - Never economise on food; that can lead to poor health.

    - Prepare a retirement plan based on worst case scenario assuming you live till 85.Plan should be to keep you on your feet (physically + economically till you live).

    - Make a will that states "WHEN ONE SPOUSE DIES, THE ENTIRE WEALTH GOES TO THE SURVIVING SPOUSE. UNTIL BOTH DIE NO ONE ELSE SHOULD GET A PENNY, NOT EVEN THE KIDS". It is your money and yours and your spouse's only because you worked hard to earn it. Best bet is to create joint accounts with everything to make life worry-free (house, banking, investments).

    In our opinion, it is parent’s responsibility to educate the kids and put them firmly on their feet and not give them wealth till parents die. Kids should work hard and create wealth for themselves and not lookout for hand-downs from parents.

    - Prepare a retirement plan based on the worst case scenario. Become financially literate and learn investments. It is difficult to grow the money than to earn money. Watch your money like a hawk. Don't let the money you earn remain idle, make the money work for you. Don't trust any schemes that give excessive returns and don't fall for sweet talk.

    - Work very hard to keep the marriage together. It is the first three years that are difficult. Later, the life gets routine. Trust each other, be honest and share everything; in the end it's only two and then just you.

  • Dr Urban DSouza, Udyavar/Malaysia

    Mon, Jan 25 2021

    Thanks for eye-opening article. I hope all the progeny of our senior citizens read, reflect and relate it to their own future senior days ahead.
    In a way our senior citizen's themselves have invited the problem of negligence by their own children!
    Every parent wanted their children to be much more wealthy than themselves; educated them, nurtured them and uplifted to the best possible way. The dreams of themselves, parents tried to execute to their children forgetting the fact that, children also have their own dreams!
    Many of us sent them to the Western World for studies by availing big loans and selling their own properties. Parents trusted that their children shall return to India and settle with a good MNC job or work in US, Canada and gradually take their parents along with them. But we parents forgot our children's dream; they dreamt of marrying and settling with an educated modern spouse and in the realization of realizing the dream they happily married but did not forget to replace the old furniture (parents)! When the blood is hot and youthfulness at its prime, every person forgets that, one day he also shall lose the youth embracing the senior citizens age!
    My mom celebrated her 83rd birthday on 23rd Jan. Children, gifted her ancestral family house at Udyavar with modern renovation seven years back. In addition we built a family apartment with 6 flats in a piece of 12.5 cent land at Mangalore each one flat to our 5 siblings, gifting the 6th flat to my mom.
    Not to boast, a well planned long term plan with one of her most smart son taking the lead in executing and realizing the same. Siblings & parents too happy.
    Caring and sharing attitude, I can proudly say that was nurtured by our own parents; witness of taking care of my grandma(Dad's mom!!!) who was bed ridden for 2 years with paralysis. We all the 5 children were the witnesses of parents taking care of grandma in our own home back then. Parents, BE THE ROLE MODEL - REST FOLLOWS. God bless all

  • James Fernandes, Barkur/chicago

    Mon, Jan 25 2021

    World suicide rates
    Over one million people die by suicide worldwide each year. The global suicide rate is 16 per 100,000 population. On average, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds somewhere in the world.

  • John B. Monteiro, Bondel Mangalore

    Mon, Jan 25 2021

    Prescilla, Mangalore: Your analogy of water poured on the head is very apt and hits the nail on the head. I missed your words of wisdom a couple of times in this column.
    Rohan, Mangalore: You have been blessed in your close family circle. You have been beaten by Madam Prescilla for the bony slot. There is no need for the apology so graciously offered.
    James Fernandes, Barkur/ Chicago: If your advice is followed a quarter of world population would have to die by suicide.
    Thank you all early-bird respondents.

  • Mohan Prabhu,, Mangalore (Kankanady)/Ottawa, Canada

    Mon, Jan 25 2021

    You have posed a loaded question. The cases that are reported (perhaps unreported as well) are distressing, to say the least, but happens in a miniscule number of cases. I have read in Daijiworld of cases where sons have killed their parents just to grab their property. But in overwhelming numbers old men (and women) are treated with kindness despite being a big burden for the reasons you mention. It may be that these old folks have pension income which is big enough to feed not only themselves but their children of whatever age and the latter dare not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Perhaps only when the old parents are a financial, physical and emotional burden there is a irresistible temptation to cut their life short not for the sake of those parents (euthanasia) but for their own sake. In these cases, democracy fails to provide support to the elderly and there are horror stories that in seniors’ nursing care homes the old folks get terribly neglected and the operators want to make room for replacements post haste to increase their bottom line – a situation that is an underlying reason for disproportionate fatalities from Covid 19 in Canadian long-term care homes. Poor people, of course, cannot afford to send their aged and chronically sick parents to long-term care homes where there is shortage of places, and here the guilt-ridden public can help by supporting charitable hospices.

  • James Fernandes, Barkur/chicago

    Sun, Jan 24 2021

    Asking for help is an admission of failure.
    Death is better than being burden to others.

  • Rohan, Mangalore

    Sat, Jan 23 2021

    I have heard of many a stories of what you have written but never witnessed first hand. I have seen my grandmother take care of her mother and both my parents taking care of their parents with utmost devotion. Sometimes when we visit the old age homes we get to hear some story lines which are unbelievable. I have also read of some children abandoning their parents with memory related illness at bus stops or deserted places. Whatever the knowledge we possess which may be much greater and in wisdom the close family has always had some contribution towards it specially parents and we are duty bound to serve them...
    I was travelling hence someone did the bony today... I humbly apologise...

  • Prescilla Fernandes, Mangalore

    Sat, Jan 23 2021

    People are forgetting that they are also getting old some day. The water poured on the head will reach the feet. Likewise what you do to your aged parents will come back to you from the children.

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