Indian society prides itself on its rich culture and heritage. Our society is largely built on the principles of compassion, respect for elderly, spirituality, integrity, unity in diversity, etc. Throughout the world, Indian lifestyle and family system is revered and often considered as a model which incorporates the best of both worlds; tradition with modernity. There are several households across the country which still believe in the concept of joint families. Invariably, in majority of families throughout India, elderly are recognized as threads that bind the constituent units of the household into a unified garland. It goes without saying, elderly are accorded respect in such families and their words are treated as gospels, regulating the manner in which the day to day functioning of household is carried out.

Significantly, the practice of touching the feet of elderly in India is not only a sign of bestowing respect, rather, is also an expression of gratitude for their years of services rendered, in nurturing the family. Considering these facts, it becomes quite appalling when one comes across instances where the elderly and senior citizens are neglected and abused. Unfortunately, in several such cases, parents and senior members of the families are subjected to grave physical and mental tortures; deprived of basic necessities of life and often abandoned on streets or in old age home. Such events are perfect illustrations of apathy of the younger generations towards their progenitors and an ever-growing trend of “use, abuse and discard”. Not only are such incidents reflective of materialistic and self-serving attitude of the succeeding generations, rather, act as a direct blow on India’s cultural and religious principles.

Article 212 of the Constitution of India (“Constitution”) confers one of the most significant rights on individuals; right to life and personal liberty. Significantly, the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution safeguard these rights of individuals from any insidious encroachments and unreasonable restrictions. In fact, it is settled law3 , the procedure, which, in any manner, affects the rights to life and/ or personal liberty of a person must be a ‘procedure prescribed by law’ and that the same should be “fair, just and reasonable, not fanciful, oppressive or arbitrary” It is an equally appreciated fact that the safeguards envisioned under Article 21 of the Constitution are available to all persons/ individuals.

Further, the scope and ambit of the said protection is ever expanding. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in Ashwani Kumar v. Union of India4 , while considering the expansive meaning of the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution, as applicable to the elderly5 , held, “[t]he right to life, we acknowledge, encompasses several rights but for the time being we are concerned with three important constitutional rights, each one of them being basic and fundamental. These rights articulated by the petitioner are the right to live with dignity, the right to shelter and the right to health.

The State is obligated to ensure that these fundamental rights are not only protected but are enforced and made available to all citizens.” In fact the Hon’ble Court, inthe instant case, specifically recognized the right to dignity and adequate compensation; right to shelter and right to medical care/ assistance, as few of the rights available to the elderly under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Hon’ble Apex Court, specifically recognized the “need to continuously monitor the progress in the implementation of the constitutional mandate to make available to the elderly the right to live with dignity and to provide them with reasonable accommodation, medical facilities and geriatric care.”

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, in the year 1999 formulated and declared the National Policy on Older Persons (“NPOP/ Policy”). In the NPOP it was specifically noted, “due to the operation of several forces, the position of a large number of older persons has become vulnerable due to which they cannot take for granted that their children will be able to look after them when they need care in old age, especially in view of the longer life span implying an extended period of dependency and higher costs to meet health and other needs.”

The said policy, inter alia, aimed at strengthening old/er persons legitimate place in society and help them to live the last phase of their life(ves) with purpose, dignity and peace. NPOP further visualized State’s role in extending support towards financial security, health care, shelter, welfare and other needs of older persons; provide protection against their abuse and exploitation; make available opportunities for development of the potential of older persons; seek their participation, and provide services so that such persons can improve the quality of their lives.

The Policy further envisaged providing/ ensuring, inter alia, financial security though pension and legislative schemes; health care and nutrition through strengthening existing medical framework and providing easy access; shelter through group housing schemes; education and welfare schemes; etc. Pertinently, in order to ensure the implementation of the Policy, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment was provided as a nodal agency/ Ministry. The NPOP further, inter alia, provided preparation of Five Year and Annual Action Plan, indicating the steps to be taken to ensure flow of benefits to older persons from general programmes and from schemes specially formulated for their well-being.

At the same time, as per the policy, detailed review on the implementation of the Policy was to be prepared every three years by the Ministry. Pursuant to the NPOP and in furtherance to aims and objects envisaged therein, Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 (“Senior Citizens Act”) was enacted. As per the preamble of the Senior Citizen Act, the said Act aims to provide for “more effective provisions for the maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens guaranteed and recognised under the Constitution and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto” Significantly6 , one of the major aims of the Senior Citizens Act is to provide for the institutionalization of a suitable mechanism for the protection of ‘life and property of older persons’.

The Senior Citizens Act defines parent to mean father or mother whether biological, adoptive or step father or step mother, as the case may be, whether or not the father or the mother is a senior citizen (Section 2(d) of the Act). As per Section 2(h) of the said Act senior citizen means “any person being a citizen of India, who has attained the age of sixty years or above.” Further, under Section 2(b) of the Senior Citizens Act, “maintenance” includes provision for food, clothing, residence and medical attendance and treatment.” As per Section 4 of the Senior Citizens Act, application for maintenance can be maintained by a senior citizen, including parent who is unable to maintain himself from his own earning or out of the property owned by him, against one or more of his children not being a minor, in case of parent or grandparent.

In case of a childless senior citizen, such application can be made by the senior citizen against any his relatives as referred to in Section 2(g)7 of the said enactment. Pertinently, such obligation to maintain a senior citizen extends to ensuring that the parents are able to lead normal life. Further, as per Section 4(4) of the said Act, such obligation of maintenance extends toany person who is a relative of a senior citizen, having sufficient means and is in “possession of the property of such senior citizen or he would inherit the property of such senior citizen.”

Undoubtedly, the significance of elderly in a family is unmatched and cannot be overemphasized. Society and family/ies cannot opt to repay for their years of dedicated service in nourishing their households by abandoning and disregarding them. It is equally imperative to maintain and provide their health, stature and basic necessities, as it is important to respect and take care of them in their fragile conditions. In his renowned work22, William Shakespeare compared old age to second childhood by remarking, “Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything” Life, clearly comes to a full circle in old age.

Those fortunate to pass through all the stages of life, do culminate living preceding a stage of total oblivion, hence, often termed a second childhood. Therefore it is understandable and much required that equally patience, love and affection is bestowed upon those who dedicated the prime of their lives in looking after us. It is not only a social responsibility, rather, a mandate of a State and society built on law order and especially in the case of India, on cultural and religious principles.

No society or nation can progress if it forsakes its roots for a better tomorrow. The debt we all owe in our primes towards our elderly is infinite and the least we can do to repay is to nurture such elderly in their ages of senescence. At the same time it needs to be appreciated that elderly do not amount to a liability rather their wisdom and knowledge of life is to be cherished and gained. As someone23 once said, “The elderly have so much to offer. They’re our link with history.”

Author: jageshwar pateriya,
jagran lakecity university/student


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