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An old father lived with his own son’s family. The family did not very much care for the old father, though they were enjoying the house, lands and fruits of his hard labours. The old father was asked to stay in the portico of the house and food was served every day in a plate. He was considered as a burden and nuisance for the family, though he spent his life to educate his son and secure a job. One day the plate in which they served the meal disappeared. The father scolded the elderly father with abusive words, saying that he is not able to keep even his plate safely with him. Hearing the scolding of the grandfather by his father, the son appeared in the scene and confessed to his father that he is the one who is keeping that plate of the grandfather. He said that he has taken it and keep it safe to be used later for his own father. Hearing these words of his son the father realized his mistake and ashamed that he had treated his father badly. Such kind of treatment of the old called Ageism.
Ageism is a prejudicial attitude that stands from the assumption that age discrimination and sometimes neglect and abuse of older persons as an acceptable social norm. Such discrimination shapes how older persons are perceived and treated by families, societies, including medical settings and work places. Infact, such a perception and treatment of the elderly, limit their potential and impact their health and well-being.
Earlier it was predicted that India would be the youngest country in the world by 2020 with a medium age of 29 years. In April 2016, the ministry of statistics and programme implementation released a report, “The Elderly in India 2016”. This report highlights a few significant things, which we need to take into our consideration. First, the elderly persons above 60 years in India, 71% are living in the villages and 29%living in the cities. Secondly, there were 7.66 crores (5.6%) elderly were in 2001 and in 2011it has increased to 35.5 crores (8.6%). The quantum leap is 35.5% in ten-years period. It is estimated by 2050, one of every five Indians will be 60 years old. It is a grim remainder to us that India is ageing too.
One of the legacies passed on to us by our parents was deep respect for the elderly. We have been taught that old age is not something to disdain, but it is to appreciate and revere. But these attitudes are slowly vanishing because of the dwindling of the joint family, the rise of the dual- carrier families in which both the spouses have carriers, the increasing life expectancy with greater chances of prolonged age, characterized by poverty and dependency. Hence, the elderly are considered as nuisance and burdensome and are more susceptible to abusive treatment.
As society develops materially, the old are more neglected. Nowadays we see the growth of “Homes for the aged”; if one can afford them. Some families are too happy to “dispatch” their parents to such homes. If one cannot afford them, the old are just sent out of their own homes and left to hunger and die in the streets. Some of them, land in some of the charity home run by religious trusts and philanthropists.
Every year the international Elders day is celebrated on 1st October. The Former UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon says, “It is now our chance to take a stand against the destructive problem of ageism. Ending ageism and securing human rights of older persons are an ethical and practical imperative. The global population of older persons is expected to rise 2.1 billion by 2050… I condemn ageism in all its forms and call for the measures to address this violation of human rights as we strive to improve societies for people of all ages”.
Archbishop Nichols, Head of the Catholic Church UK says, “Age is something that comes to us all. It brings its joys and diminishments, but it is still me – here is the critical message in providing care for the elderly by the community… The elderly are not a burden but a gift. Without them, our lives and the society would be impoverished and diminished. They have a right to our resources and our care”.
Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose
Bishop of Thanjavur