Unheard cries

Amal Chatterjee
11 min readJul 18, 2019

Source : Google photo of unheard cries of old people

Synopsis: Old age comes with its own set of challenges that vary from one social group to other from one country to the next. The challenges are related to the values that are practiced by the people who have to take care of their old parents so either they keep them at home or admit them to old age homes for a fee if they can afford. When the old people are utterly abandoned by their own sons and daughters and are left to die in the old age homes, it becomes a social issue that needs to be paid attention to.

There are some 90 million people in India who are old. This blog looks at the challenges some of them have to face in their old age and exposes the bitter reality of their plight so that people can hear their cries and feel compassion for them because tomorrow it may be your turn to live in an old age home where your children do not go to visit you.

The old age spares no one so most people who are old meaning over 75 years of age become dependent on their sons and daughters and live with them although some old people receive their pension which may be just a pittance considering the cost of living now. By and large most old people manage to live with their children who look after them and their needs but not all old people are so lucky.

Today I want to discuss their status in the society and how taking care of old people by their children is facing serious challenges that the younger generation is failing to meet resulting in a serious social nightmare for the old who feel neglected and abandoned by their own children they raised with love and care.

The neglect of old people by their own sons and daughters is a worldwide phenomenon that is a very serious subject for discussion because it affects a very large number of people who need help. The degree of neglect varies from country to country ranging from some care for the old people in old age homes to extreme neglect and even physical abuse of the parents who are feeble and in need of serious medical attention.

The businessmen have opened up private old age homes that are run purely as money making ventures and have proliferated in many countries including India where they are run professionally by competent staff . There the old people are well fed, well taken care of and have 24 hour nurse and medical service available. The old people live together and play chess or other games, read books or write. They celebrate each other’s birthdays or such events and have their own comfortable rooms for privacy. They are surrounded by beautiful green gardens where they can go for walks and enjoy the nature.

But such homes come with a heavy price tag so it is not for those who have no money of their own or no one to pay for them to stay at such pricey homes so where do they go? There are some NGOs that run old age homes where they shelter such people and do what they can to feed them and care for their medical needs but they depend on charity so they can only take care of a few people. In India such NGOs are restricted to receive foreign funding so they have to depend on their local resources that may be a limiting factor.

Then there are the religious institutions that run old age homes due to their duty to help the poor and the destitute but they too depend on charity and the donation money they can raise from the kind and charitable people so they too struggle from day to day to give shelter, care and medical help to the poor old people who have been abandoned by their own children. Many temples in India feed the poor everyday but do not provide their shelter. The Sikh gurudwaras feed thousands of people for free but they too do not provide the shelter.

Lastly there are some government run old age homes that are poorly funded and poorly run by indifferent staff so we hear of neglect and appalling conditions under which the old people stay and suffer. This kind of neglect due to lack of funding and incompetent staff who are indifferent to the plight of the old people is found in many countries including the so called developed countries.

Today I want to focus on India that is rapidly growing economically and industrially to become one of the top 5 countries in the world in terms of GDP growth but this rapid transformation of India has brought with it a fundamental change in the social structure that had previously supported the people in their old age. I must say that there has always been the problem of how to take care of old people in India but now the degree and the extent of abuse seems to increase as more and more people become selfish and neglect their filial duties towards their own parents.

Now it seems that people are increasingly becoming self centered and are motivated by their greed for material well being for themselves and their children but not their parents. In the patriarchal system found in India, the parents usually stay with their sons in their old age and feel ashamed to stay with their daughters because the daughters leave the family after marriage and call another family their own. But in some cases where they do not have sons to take care of them, they are compelled to stay with their daughter who in her turn depends on her husband for the living expenses so it complicates the matter further. No self respecting person likes to depend on his son in law for his sustenance.

Where the old people stay with their sons, a second factor emerges when the sons get married and bring a third person from an unknown family to live with them. This person who joins the family through the arranged marriage system is not expected to show any care or concern for her in laws if she is not compassionate , is very selfish and who thinks only of her own welfare creating problems for the old people. Those who can afford can live in fancy old age homes and pay for it from their savings and pensions but not all can do so.

There is a sad story of an old woman who lived in a poorly run old age home where she was often neglected. When she was about to die, the manager of the home informed her son to come and visit her before it was too late so one day her son came to visit her which was rare when she said that he should put an electric fan because it was so hot and keep a refrigerator for some food to be kept.

The son asked her why she was telling him so when she was about to die, she answered “ Son, it is not for me but one day you too may come to live in a home like this so my soul will cry for you because you will suffer from the heat and lack of food”. As your mother it will cause me anguish to think of you suffering here like me in your old age.”

It is pity to think of old people as useless because in their prime, some of them were great artists, pianists, musicians of note, authors and athletes. Some were great thinkers, philosophers and astute politicians and some were the leaders in their own right but the old age makes them feeble with numerous medical problems that need constant attention. If they managed their financial affairs well when they were earning then they could pay for the pricey old age homes where they could retire in comfort keeping their dignity intact but this is true of only a few people.

The vast majority of old people still depend on some one to take care of them because their small pension does not pay for all the expenses specially the medical bills. Those who were self employed and do not have any pension or savings find themselves in dire straits when they are old so they seek shelter in old age homes run by the NGOs or some religious organizations.

I feel sorry for those men and women who in their hour of need totally depend on someone but do not get the help they need and are forced to beg on the streets to survive. There is a case of a once well known movie star in the Philippines who was abandoned by her children in her old age so poor and destitute, she took shelter in a grave yard where she covered herself with plastic sheet sleeping on card boards and scavenged for scraps to eat. People had totally forgotten her and no one could recognize here in her present state. There are many such cases that come to notice every once in a while when a reporter notices someone unusual and reports.

Women who are dependent on their husbands for their sustenance are perhaps the most vulnerable to abuse in their old age when they become widows and are often chased out of their own homes by their greedy sons and daughter in laws. I mentioned the daughter in laws who do not show any compassion toward their mother in laws and treat them badly but the sons are also complicit and cannot escape social disapprobation.

A beautiful woman who becomes mother and raises her children with love and care finds herself living the life of poverty and neglect someday when feeling abandoned by her own children. This is the cruelty of those who have lost all love and compassion for the very person who gave them life and nurtured them.

Why such compassion and love is in short supply in societies where people have become so greedy that they have lost their moral compass? Is it because the parents did not raise them well and teach them good values? Is it because they were aloof parents who were very busy running their own affairs and relegated their children to the care of nannies who acted as surrogate? It is not unknown in some societies where women refused to nurse their own babies and hired lactating nannies to feed the kids but normally the poor women do a better job of taking care of their kids than the rich.

Such kids who are raised by their nannies also become aloof to their parents when they grow up and feel no bond with their biological parents which in some cases explains their behavior. I have seen this growing dependence on nannies to raise the kids in families where the parents have no time to look after their kids. The result can be seen later when the kids grow up learning nothing from their illiterate nannies who come from poverty and have no good values themselves.

Children absorb like sponge anything they observe and are taught meaning they absorb good as well as bad things . Good parents teach good values that they themselves practice. They teach compassion if they are compassionate toward others. They teach frugality, honesty and love for others if they are frugal, honest and love others. You cannot teach others what you do not know yourself or practice.

I think this is the root of the evil that later comes to haunt them in their old age. But a mother instinctively loves and cares for her children even if the father may be a complete rascal so people tend to love their mothers more than their fathers in such cases and become very defensive toward their mother. An abusive father who beats his wife and children , is alcoholic and squanders his money on gambling and bad habits can except no love and care from his children when he is old because he is hated.

But a mother is rarely hated unless she too was neglectful in her duties toward her children. What then causes the rift the kids feel toward their parents when they are old and why we see more and more old people who feel abandoned and seek shelter somewhere when they should have been at home and looked after?

The answer may lie in the changing structure of the traditional societies where old values are discarded in favor of self interest and excessive greed for money that allows people to buy the modern comforts like a nice home , car and other things. The sharing, caring and nurturing others is sacrificed because now the focus is on self and no one else. You will see this in a family where a son lives in comfort far away from his family where his other brothers or sisters and parents continue to live in misery.

He and his wife feel no compassion for them because the focus now is on themselves and not others. This selfish focus is often encouraged by the woman who comes from a different family and feels no responsibility for her in laws as I wrote earlier. His children learn the same thing and feel nothing for their grand father and mother. This scenario is particularly true in the patriarchal system that still practices arranged marriage where love is not required. A woman who marries a man for love is not normal in such societies where such marriages are called love marriages that are not encouraged.

One boy was seen making a coconut shell bowl for his father who asked him why and for who he was making the bowl. The boy answered that he was making it for him for his old age because he saw how his grand father was treated by his father and made to eat from a coconut bowl.

But I have also seen the pitiful conditions of old parents in the matriarchal system as well like here in the Philippines where you will find neglect and lack of compassion for the old people no matter how much they brag about their families. There are pitiful old age home here as well that are poorly funded and managed.

I found this video where the old people explain their sorrow, their grief and their pitiful conditions living in the old age home where no one comes to visit them. Once the proud, beautiful people with talents are now reduced to this so watch it and try to understand their unheard cries.

Behind Closed Doors; India’s Elderly are Abused and Neglected

Source : U tube video https://youtu.be/pQ6Zuxrt8xg

The following blog called Old age deserves respect is perhaps worth reading in this context.

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