Organizing Senior Citizens !

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
Developing nations are seen relying upon youth considering them a potential human resource. In this process we are sidelining a huge population of senior citizens who services could be tapped and utilized for public good. Youth are indeed a strong force to bring in drastic societal change but at the same time senior citizens are also a potential resource that can be used to uplift the youth. After having spent last several years in the company of senior citizens , I have always felt the need to organize them for betterment of our state. At a micro level we have tried to use their experience and knowledge, but at macro level their vast experience is not being put into use at all.
A ray of hope has emerged after Hon’ble Chief Justice Jammu & Kashmir High Court Ms Gita Mittal threw open AhataWaqar in Srinagar recently. AhataWaqar is an urdu word which means “center for dignity” has been developed as a day care and recreational center for senior citizens. The space for setting up this center was possible only when three organizations (health , social welfare and judiciary) joined hands together. The space has been provided by Directorate of Health through Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Srinagar at Primary Health Center (PHC) Chanapora Srinagar. Social welfare department and District Legal Services Authority have provided manpower and staff for the center. Divisional Commissioner Kashmir provided furnishing items , books , kitchen items etc and supervised the work. The whole idea was conceptualized by Chief Justice Ms Gita Mittal herself as she had already set up a similar center in Delhi few years back which is known as SwabhimanParisar. Setting up day care and recreational centers is also mandated under Maintenance& Welfare of Parents and Senior citizens Act. This law was enacted by Government of India in 2007 and J&K Govt passed this legislation in 2014. Centers like AhataWaqar will not be mere day care or recreational center , but this can be used to avail services of many senior citizens as well. Different activities can be organized at Ahatawaqar wherein people from different walks of life can get benefitted.
With an aim of giving legal protection to parents and senior citizens who face harassment at the hands of their children the Government came up with a law called Jammu and Kashmir Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2014 (MAWPAS Act 2014). The law was earlier enacted by Government of India in year 2007,but it took 7 years for J&K Government to have a similar legislation in our state. The rules for this law were framed in 2017. This law provides effective provision for maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens. MAWPAS Act 2014 makes it a legal obligation for children and heirs to provide maintenance to senior citizens and parents, by monthly allowance. This law provides simple, speedy and inexpensive mechanism for the protection of life and property of the older persons. Under this legal framework also Government through Social Welfare Department is planning to set up several day care centers across state.
Senior citizens hub
AhataWaqar in Srinagar will act as a center for development and growth not only for senior citizens but for people in general especially youth. After the center was inaugurated some weeks back , I thought not many senior citizens would throng this place initially. Only a few days back I visited this place along with some senior citizens. I was delighted to see almost one dozen people sitting there already. Syed Nasarullah a retired officer from J&K Judicial Services has been a great campaigner for day care centers. He travels almost 10 kms to reach AhataWaqar, if not daily but at least twice a week. I could observe that old men were feeling so much delighted to be under one roof and discussing social and developmental issues of state. Some were busy discussing dilapidated condition of road leading to Chanapora locality where the center is located. Until now they were not organized but now they want to meet Govt officials in the form of a delegation so as to highlight the issues concerning public. After listening to the discussions of these old men I personally feel that this center can play a great role for social development of society.
On regular basis activists of RTI Movement hold formal and informal discussions with veteran senior citizens at our office or outside. We have been benefitted a lot by senior citizens who help people draft RTI applications ,Public Interest Litigations (PILs) at our office. We are now a single unit, a cocktail of old and young people. I am indebted to these people indeed. I am much happier now to see a new place like Ahatawaqar has been set up. I believe more and more senior citizens would get organized and guide the society. I wish more such centers for senior citizens are created across J&K. I would suggest that Panchayat buildings in villages which are not used for any positive work should be used as day care and recreational centers for senior citizens equipped with library etc. There is urgent need to have such centers across the nook and corner of Jammu & Kashmir. I would also appeal Government to keep a separate room for women senior citizens at these centers so that they also come and get benefitted.
Facilities at AhataWaqar
Ahatawaqar is not only a senior citizens hub or a place for discussion but in addition to it Government has kept several services available here. A Geriatric specialist has been kept available by Health Department for senior citizens who comes on every Monday to AhataWaqar. In addition to it there is a specialist physiotherapist available. Along with this there is good library, well furnished rooms air-conditioned rooms (heating & cold both) plus a facilities like indoor games available. Two officials from District legal services authority and Social welfare are always there. There is facility to draft applications etc as well and few paralegal volunteers plus a free counsel would be made available at AhataWaqar. Government is now planning to set up a similar center in Jammu.
After remaining in the company of senior citizens for many years , I have learned and experienced lot of things from them. Be it about our culture , art or history, I can say senior citizens have always guided me and that is the reason I always cherished to see the potential of these enlightened people should be used in a positive direction.
When Mr S C Dubey from Jammu who has been fighting for fair compensation for Ring Road affected farmers told me stories he had heard from his parents,especially the era of pre 1947 Jammu , it was mind-blowing . The train going from Jammu to Sialkot carrying milk and flowers just refreshed my mind. When Dubey sahib informed me how his father introduced Jersey cows in J&K was a great piece of information which we can’t get from books or google. Similarly when Ramzan Khan sahib of Gurez told me about their tribal life in early 60’s or 70s and Syed Nasarullah told me the story about the life in Poonch and Baderwah during his posting in these areas around late 1960’s and early 70’s, I know I could not get this information from anywhere. Unfortunately our younger generation don’t want to sit in the company of elders. Whenever I get time, I record the discussion I have with my old aged paternal and maternal grandfathers who are also a treasure of information, both having served in state administration long back. Last year when my maternal grandpa told me about life in Kishtwar in early 1960’s when he was posted as Tehsildar there. I could not believe when he told me that sheep were used to carry salt and ration to Dacchan ,Padar and Madwa in view of no road connectivity. Even horses and mules could not walk on such a rough terrain those days. I hope AhataWaqar will get all these enlightened people under one roof so that there is dissemination of information and knowledge sharing. Every senior citizen has some skill and art which needs to be disseminated to others. Many are good story tellers whose stories and experiences need to be documented and this is only possible when we create such facilities in nook and corner of J&K. I would urge upon Government to empanel NGOs for creating day care centers like AhataWaqar in J&K, this will make these centers vibrant and successful….
(The author is Chairman of JK RTI Movement)