Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Expats discuss the plight of parents back home

Old-age homes in India are not a stigma among the senior citizens anymore, said a man who joined his daughter in Abu Dhabi recently.

"I know several old couples in the Indian city of Mumbai who moved to old age homes, against the wishes of their children," said M.K. Mathews, 65, a widower for the past ten years.

His words get relevance in the wake of growing concern among Indian expatriates in the UAE about the welfare of old parents back home - who have been left alone to fend for themselves - due to fast social transformation like withering of the family system.

The proposals to tighten the family sponsorship rules in the UAE have also given momentum to such discussions. Mathews said many old people opted to make the move voluntarily, because their caretakers could not alleviate their loneliness at home.


"A community life with peers and facilities like medical care and other essential supports prompted them to settle for that option,"
Mathews adds.

He has seen and heard many such old parents consoling their children who are in the diaspora: "Don't worry about us; we are enjoying each other's company at the home for the aged."

Even if parents move to senior citizen's homes at the behest of their children in the diaspora, it is mostly due to unavoidable circumstances, said Mathews, who lives alone in Mumbai, following the death of his wife, ten years ago.

He says it is true some children deliberately neglect their parents. "I know of a rich young man, the only son in the family, who kicked his mother (a widow) out of his home," he said.

But, what about the old parents who neglect mature children? He asks. "Some of them (parents) are neither willing to join their children abroad nor move to old age homes because of the property the own," says Mathews, who was a manager with Reserve Bank of India before retiring. "They could give their properties to their children or grandchildren and take pleasure trips or make pilgrimage journeys to just enjoy their retirement savings. If you are static, you are almost dead," he says, convincingly.

Better names

"The stigma attached to 'old age home' in Indian society, makes old parents to suffer alone at home rather than moving to the comfort of a seniors' home," said Mohammad Mustafa Saidalavi, 35, an IT Professional from Kerala. I think, the name 'old age home' created the stigma, he said. A 'love home' or 'care home,' would have attracted more 'endorsement' from the conservative Indian society, said Saidalavi.

"If I neglect my parents living alone at my home (in India), there will be no issues. But if I accommodate them at an old age home, the society will blame me for 'abandoning' the parents, said Saidalavi who has been living in Abu Dhabi for the past ten years with his wife and two children. Having a well paid job and a spacious accommodation, he brought his parents to Abu Dhabi, but they could not adjust with the situation here.

He made it clear that he doesn't need to send his parents to an old age home, thanks to the support of a good caretaker and an elder brother staying near his home.

"But, what will others who have no such supports do?" As per the social custom of Muslims in north Kerala, he, as the youngest son is supposed to look after the parents, so they are reluctant to move to elder bother's home.

I have heard that old age homes in India do not have many Muslims, said Saidalavi. "It may be because the community is more concerned about impractical social customs than the welfare of its senior citizens." That attitude requires a paradigm shift, he said.

Another Indian expatriate rejects the concept of old age home because it has been misused by 'new generation' to get rid of the responsibility to look after the old parents. "Old parents themselves choosing the old age homes, may be an 'urban phenomena' which will not be true to the majority of the Indian population who keep 'traditional values'," said Ahmad Shabir, 35, an Accountant from Uttar Pradesh. "A few of the expatriates may have such compulsions. But still, even other people who are settled comfortably back home still send their parents to old age homes. This move contradicts the theory of 'compulsion and necessity'," said Shabir.

"You can guess how many expatriates may adopt such 'short cuts' to abandon their own parents," he adds.

For senior citizens, values and sentiments of the previous generations are so important to them as money and comfort is, to the new generation, Shabir says.

Even the people who live in towns are attached to their homes where they were born or spent their childhood, the surroundings and the community, said Shabir.

"And if they want to spend the last moments in life there, can we blame them?" he asks.

Concept: Origin of old-age homes

The concept of old-age home in India developed in late 1990s. There are 'paid homes' run by private agencies and 'free homes' run by voluntary organisations in almost all cities in India. The homes take care of health, nutritional and spiritual needs of the old people.

According to the National Policy's technical group on population projection, by 2013 the population of those over 60 will touch the 100-million mark. By 2025, a whopping 177 million people in India will be over 60 years of age.

Indian Parliament has enacted a law in 2007, which stipulates three months' imprisonment for those who do not look after their old parents. The children cannot go in for appeal against the punishment.

This was done deliberately, considering the helplessness of the old people. The law stipulates to punish those who abandon their parents or relatives whose property they had inherited. It has a provision for establishment of old age homes all over the country.

It states that due to withering of the joint family system, a large number of elderly were not being looked after by their families.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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