Are Senior Citizens a wasted resource?

K B Jandial
Twenty-first August has been celebrated as the Senior Citizen’s Day since 1991. This day was founded by the then US President Ronald Reagan who signed the Presidential Proclamation on 19th August, 1988 which appeared on 21st August 1988. The first ever celebration of the Day took place in 1991. Later, it was adopted by the UNO as World Senior Citizen’ Day
President Reagan had said in his Proclamation, “Throughout our history, older people have achieved much for our families, our communities, and our country. That remains true today, and gives us ample reason this year to reserve a special day in honour of the senior citizens who mean so much to our land.”
Reagan further proclaimed, “For all that they have achieved throughout their lives and for all that they continue to do, we owe our gratitude and sincere greetings to our senior citizens. We can show our gratitude and appreciation better by making sure that our communities are good places where they mature and grow older, places where older people can participate as much as possible and can find the encouragement, acceptance, support and services they need to continue living a life of independence and dignity.”
Reagan’s words have withstood the test of time, not only in the USA but in other countries as well, and 34 years later, older people are leading more productive lives than when the Proclamation was issued. Reagan himself is an example- he was 69 years old when he became the US President and lived till the age of 93. He was not only the oldest elected President (now Biden is the oldest to be the President), he was also the oldest when his term ended at his age of 78.
the USA, this Day recognized the contributions of the seniors who had spent their lives serving the society and impacted lives of the people for the better. With more opportunities available today, many senior citizens can even begin their second career and be an example even for the senior citizens.
The Day is also celebrated in India as well but with not much enthusiasm. One view is that the celebration of the Day is an effort to acknowledge the problems the elders face due to their age, social neglect and to create awareness about the issues. It is also an effort to recognise that the parents and grandparents are the living memory of history. They possess valuable treasure of wisdom experiences acquired as they navigate the many aspects of life, which they can share with the next generation productively.
In India, a “senior citizen” is one, who is sixty years or above. Their population is growing with a rise in life expectancy crossing 70 years. According to the 2011 Census, their population was 104 million. Of them, 53 million were females and 51 million males. This population has been projected at 138 million in 2021 with 71 million females and 67 million males in the Report of the Technical Group on Population Projections for India and States (2011-2036). The population of senior citizens is likely to further increase by around 56 million by2031.
The United Nations’ Population Fund Report and HelpAge India have indicated that their number is expected to touch 173 million by 2026.
The Indian census data shows that both the share and size of senior citizens is increasing over the decades. From 5.6% in 1961 the population has increased to 8.6% in 2011 and 10.1% in 2021. It is likely to increase to 13.1% in 2031. For males, the increase was marginally lower at 8.2%, while for females it was 9.0%. It is interesting to note that up to 1991, the number of elderly females exceeded the number of elderly males but, in the last two decades, the trend has reversed. Male senior citizens outnumbered the females and elderly females are projected to exceed the number of males in 2031.
A real critical issue in India is the old – age dependency which haunts most of the elders and a major cause of distress. The available data indicates that the old – age dependency ratio in India has increased from 10.9% in 1961 to 14.2% in 2011 and to 15.7% in 2021 and projected to 20.1% in 2031.
According to the data available from Periodic labour Force Survey -2018-19, about 65% of elderly men and 18% of elderly women in the age-group 60-64 years had participated in economic activity. In rural areas, 72% of male senior citizens and 21% of the women had participated in economic activities whereas in urban areas, it was only 51% among the men and 10% among the women. Similarly, in the age group 65 years and above, participation in economic activity by the elderly male and female is seen to be at a much-reduced level. It means that senior citizens’ financial dependence on their siblings has increased. But, following decline in the traditional value system of respect and care for the elders, they face a very difficult situation. Society needs to look back and follow the traditional norms and ethical practices as with the changing modern and fast-moving life, the traditional practices are vanishing, endangering the very base of humanity.
The Govt has enacted a Law against elders’ abuse of elders but it hasn’t made much difference. Decent Elders Homes with medical back-up in every town is fast becoming an essential need to ensure dignified life of the elders.
Along with the increasing domestic and social isolation, the senior citizens have to face old age health issues. The common old age diseases include cataract, glaucoma, deafness, failure of special senses, change in mental outlook,osteoporosis and osteoarthritis etc. While osteoarthritis is a complex disease that causes joint pain and reduces joint mobility and function, osteoporosis is the loss of bone mass which causes risk of fractures.Both are becoming very common among senior citizens. Many have certain chronic diseases requiring finances and support which are lacking, aggravating the problems of the elders.
The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment and the state Social Welfare Department are mandated to ensure that Senior Citizens lead a secured, dignified and productive life. These Departments are expected to ensure the elders don’t suffer social inequalities, exploitation, discrimination and injustice. For the purpose, they formulate Policies and Programmes for the welfare of Senior Citizens.
In J&K, some Govt initiatives are worth mentioning. A laudable initiative came from the then Chief Justice of J&K High Court, Justice Gita Mittal who with the help of Legal Aid Authority, Social Welfare and Health Departments, established Day Care cum Recreational Centres for elders named as”Ahata-e-Waqar’, first in Srinagar then in Jammu, Samba and Leh. These Centres have space for entertainment of the senior citizens besides health cover. In fact, such Day Care Centres should be integral to every Housing Colony. Recently, the Health Department Jammu customized a national Health Scheme and issued ABHA card (Ayushman Bharat Health Account) to senior citizens that entails them access to the Consultants and other services including diagnostic facility free of cost & without OPD card but only in Gandhinagar Hospital which has updated infrastructure.
Since the Day reminds the Govt and the Society about the contributions of the senior citizens, but do theyreally care for them? There is no institutional dialogue with the senior citizens even though some senior citizens and pensioners have formed registered Bodies which keep flagging their issues to the Govtwith hardly any positive response. They don’t crave for recognition or appreciation of their past services but definitely expect a positive response to their issues.The present hukamran don’t realise that one day they too would retire and become senior citizens.
This year, the Central Govt. Pensioners’ Welfare Association, Jammu is celebrating the Day with an awareness lecture on “Joint Pain and its Management” by Dr. Sumit Mahajan, MS, DNB, M. Ch (Chief Consultant& Head Orthopaedic & Joint Replacement at Apollo Hospital, Amritsar). This event is designed to help senior citizens to know how to prevent damage to their knees and also about the recent advances in Joint replacement and role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the patients of severely deformed knees. The Association for the Welfare of Senior Citizens,Jammuisalso organising a function to celebrate the Day with a cultural programme and AYUSH Camp.
The National Senior Citizen Day should serve as an opportunity for introspection for the Govt & the society as to what they did for senior citizens who decidedly are a treasure of human resource. They don’thave many demands but would expect their smaller issues to be addressed. There is a need to value their objective and unbiased views on social issues. It is for the Govt to create a mechanism for it. It is equally important for the society to use the knowledge and expertise of the learned senior citizens for social causes. Otherwise, they are a wasted resource.