Legal Protection of the Rights and Dignity of Elders in India

    Elders are the carriers of customs and traditions from past. They deserve to receive the dignity, respect with which they spent their life. Just because they can’t work because of a natural process, ageing, they should not be left to feel disgrace. The rights of elderly to get sustenance and dignified treatment must be protected at any cost through laws. In Indian constitution, DPSPs are available. Under personal laws, right to maintenance is available. The general problems faced by elders are loss of employment, income deficiency, economic insecurity, health and medical problems, nutritional deficiency, psychological and social maladjustment as well as the problem of elder abuse etc. Such steps have also been taken on international level such as an Action Plan on Ageing in 1982 by the General Assembly.
    Rights of elders, Right to maintenance and rehabilitation, Protection under Indian constitution, Facilities in old-age homes
    The vulnerability of an individual is reduced with the assistance of mechanism built by society such as laws, etc. The main purpose of law and policies is to safeguard all people but especially those who are not empowered to look after themselves. The vulnerable section of the society can be categorized on the basis of age, prone to violence and neglect, wealth, etc. These generally include kids, women and elderly people. There are different provisions framed and enacted by the government to protect this section. Since ancient times, the elderly is respected as they pass on the legacy, the wealth, the knowledge to the younger generations. They are the main link of ours to the past. They are the ones who teach us habits, ways, norms and customs of the world. Today, adults and children are so engaged in their lives that they completely forget about the people who are responsible for their existence and this leads to elder abuse or elders being admitted to old age homes and day care centers. According to a survey conducted by the NGO Help-Age India in 2014, 50% of elderly people are being abused in their homes, amongst those who experience abuse, only 59.47% people made an attempt to report the abuse while 40.53% people didn’t report about the abuse they were facing . The reason to hide such abuses is to protect their children from punishment or embarrassment. The elders are in a dire to be protected and provided with basic rights to survive with dignity without being dependent on anybody. If their children are not ready to accept them, then the law must derive a way to empower them to sustain themselves. This can be done through mandatory maintenance from their children, pension from government, sustenance allowance from the government, old-age homes, etc.
    Legal of protection of rights and dignity of elders under Indian Law
    In Indian society, the elders of the house are prayed and consulted for every decision that is made in the house. The Indian society recognizes the importance of elders in the house and children usually stay in their home even after marriage to take care of their parents. Unlike the western countries, most of the eastern countries have the culture of staying in the same house as their parents, carrying on their legacy and taking care of them. The westernization has to an extent affected our society but the customs are still respected by many. The number of cases of abandonment of elders have increased, the cases of mental abuse and starving has also been noted. Against such acts and omissions provisions have been framed under CrPC, Constitution, personal laws, etc.
    Under Indian Constitution, DPSPs set guidelines for state to make policies to protect old age people. Under Article 41it is provided that the state shall make effective provision to provide public assistance in cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want . Thus it directs state to frame laws to assist old-age people. Further under Article 46 it is provided that state must act towards promotion of educational and economic interests of the weaker sections . The state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
    Hindu Law puts an obligation on all the Hindus to take care of their elderly family members. Parents can claim maintenance from their children under Sec 20 and 23 of Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 . Further, under CrPC section 125, any old age person, regardless of their religion can seek maintenance from their children . Indian government has also enacted the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents Act, 2007 for providing effective measures to protect and maintain the senior citizens. The act includes anyone above 60 years of age. Government has also framed many policies related to pension, health, travel, banking, housing, etc. Such laws are not enough to protect the elders in our society if the protection is not seek by the needy. The elderly has to be empowered to enforce their rights and demand safety. There are also old-age-homes for them to stay in case of abandonment and isolation. But the requirements of these old age homes are not feasible for everybody. Sometimes, the required documents are not present, required fund is not there, the facilities provided are not proper, the elderly are kept in a degrading conditions. The government has to ensure that elders don’t have to compromise their dignity or respect to demand what must be theirs already. Especially, in such times of Global Pandemic which is extremely affecting the people above the age of 50-60 years, the concern of their health has increased. All around the world the death rate of elderly people is on peak. “Older people are being challenged by requirements to spend more time at home, lack of physical contact with other family members, friends and colleagues, temporary cessation of employment and other activities; and anxiety and fear of illness and death – their own and others. It is therefore important that we create opportunities to foster healthy ageing during the pandemic .” We must act towards supporting our elders who were there to have our back when we were young.
    Ageing is a natural process, making someone feel embarrassed and helpless due to their age is just a despicable act. People are embarrassed to tell their age because they think that others will judge them as weak and vulnerable. These taboos have to be removed from our society. Discrimination on the basis of age has to be recognized and rooted out. The development is only possible if everyone is allowed to be themselves and enjoy the freedom to do things they wish to do. Elders are integral part of our families and their health including mental health has to be properly taken care of. A person who has looked after other deserves to die with dignity and without neglect. It is needed to be made sure by the government that the elders don’t have to beg for their shelter, food and other allowance from anybody. The fulfillment of elders need must not feel like a burden. The person-centered care for older people needs to be specifically related to communication, privacy, personal identity and feelings of vulnerability . Also, the same ways should be adopted by policy makers and professionals to tailor policies and practices to the needs of the older person . In the period of Covid-19, necessary health kits and basic amenities must be provided free of cost to the older people who are most affected by this. The death rate is extremely shocking especially of people above 50 years of age. People are not even getting proper funeral by their children after their death to avoid spread of virus. Under such circumstances, the government has to ensure proper application of laws in favor of vulnerable. “To be treated with dignity entails being treated with humanity, being acknowledged as an individual and having one’s autonomy respected. The feeling of being acknowledged and feeling worthy of the staff’s attention influenced patients’ satisfaction: It means a lot that you feel you exist and aren’t being ignored .”

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