By: Adrija Mishra (National Law University, Orissa)
Recently there was a case where a woman was burnt by her sons when she refused to give away her property to them. Such incidents make one think about the rich family values that we Indians boast of. Is this what one really has to give to a mother who has spent all her life in moulding her child’s future? Is this really what she deserves after all those years of sacrifices? Since children model their behaviour after their parents, it is very likely that such cruel people can face torment at the hands of their own children as well. There is a dire need to instil the concepts of love and respect for elders in the minds of children today. It is in fact a lesson which should be imparted to the children at every stage of life because they tend to disregard it as they grow older and thus end up ill treating their parents and making already cumbersome old-age unbearable.
Over the years, India has been known for its rich family values. The aspect of respecting the bonds of family and relationship has always been one of the primary foci of the people of India. Since birth, children are taught to respect their parents and all other elders. The very first thing that is imbibed in our minds is to treat our parents as Gods- Matrudeo Bhava and Pitrudeo Bhava. It is quite true and fair as well. They are our very first and probably the only teachers who keep teaching us throughout lives. When a child is born, parents are the first guide. It is the parents who nurture the child and mould their future. And in the later years, it becomes the duty of that child to take care of the parents who need help owing to the infirmities of old age. There are many ancient scripts and texts which talk at length about the duty of children towards their parents during their old age. There have been various instances noted in the Hindu mythology which have greatly explained the relationship and duties of parents and children. Parents invest their entire lives in moulding the lives of their children. No matter how old the child gets, s/he would always be the same innocent, naïve but naughty kid for the parents. And gradually when parents grow old and helpless, they expect the same care and love with which they had nurtured their own kids. However, probably the concept of Shravan Kumar has died a silent death today. Taking care of aged parents seems like an uphill task for people today.
It is wrong to assume that people today have become more qualified than their parents and hence they have to concentrate on their work more at the cost of neglecting their parents.
Gone are the days when children took note of all the sacrifices which their parents made for them. Today parents seem to be a hurdle in the race of their child’s life. Parents are now treated inhumanely and are constantly disrespected. In fact many prefer sending their parents to the old age homes because they don’t have any inclination to provide for them. Many case studies show that children rob parents off their property and then dump them in the house where they live in prison-like conditions. In one case the children made the mother transfer all her property in their name and then dumped her in the garbage bin. She was found after two days. This incident emphasises the severity of the problem.
It is believed that once people acquire the status of senior citizens, all they have to do is wait for death. It always seems that old people are blamed for complaining unnecessarily. There was yet another case where parents were not allowed to meet their relatives or travel to their ancestral lands. Time is such that even after all those years of struggle, parents still don’t get to enjoy the fruits of their hard work in their old age. Rather age becomes a burden on them, as their very own children disrespect and humiliate them. Shockingly, there are households where parents are made to starve for days if they do not adhere to the rules set by their children. The amusing fact is that daughters-in-law torment their parents-in-laws more. Widowed mothers are usually treated as the maid servants of the house. All this happens in a country where the very heart and soul of the constitution, Article 21 promises every citizen the right to life with dignity. It is in fact disheartening to know that women at very old age are getting raped. Women of no age are safe today.
Thus there were several attempts made in order to have a statute for protecting the rights of the elderly. These attempts included presenting various bills to the legislature which includes: Destitute and Needy Senior Citizens (Care, Protection and Welfare) Bill of 2005, Needy and Neglected Senior Citizens and Orphans and Runaway Children (Care and Rehabilitation and Welfare) Bill of 2005, Destitute, Abandoned and Neglected Widows and Old Women (Welfare and Rehabilitation) Bill of 2007 and Destitute, Indigent and Neglected Citizens (Maintenance and Welfare) Bill of 2007. However, all of these bills could not be passed because of several reasons. Owing to such a situation, the UPA government in 2007 decided to draft a legislation so as to make this moral duty a legal obligation on the children to take care of their parents.
The Senior Citizens (Maintenance, Protection and Welfare) Bill was introduced in the parliament, the statement of object and reason of which reads as,
“… to provide for the compulsory maintenance, protection and welfare of senior citizens so as to secure a life of dignity, peace and security for them and for the welfare measures to be undertaken by the State for its aged citizens and for matters connected therewith and incidental thereto.”
This reflects on the fact that the proposed bill, which was struggling to find a place among the statutory books aimed to make it a right for senior citizens to live a life with dignity and respect. It wouldn’t only levy a legal obligation on the children to take care of their parents but also focus on making the seniors aware that it is not a favour which the children would be doing by taking care of them, rather it is their right to live a life with respect and dignity after all those years of struggle. Apart from this it also made it a duty of the state government to establish old age homes in different parts of the districts, so as to facilitate better services to the old. It also made way to setting up of tribunals where the elderly can come up and put forth their grievances. There were few criticisms raised against this bill, which were:
- The bill speaks about two categories of people who are to be included within its purview, the senior citizens who are above the age of 60 years and parents irrespective of their age. This creates a sort of ambiguity. The bill failed to focus on the rights of such senior citizens who neither have children nor legal heirs, nor do they have any property to distribute.
- Wills are changeable in nature. It completely depends on the senior citizen to decide who would inherit her/his property and in such an instance, it would be difficult to figure out that “relative” who has to take care of the senior citizen.
- The use of the word “may” instead of “shall” makes it a discretion of the state governments to either establish or not establish an old age home. It doesn’t really impose an obligation on them to do so.
However, cutting across all the criticisms, it was realized that it is more important to have a legislation which looks after the old than have nothing at all. Hence this Act finally received assent from the President and it came to be known as the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act of 2007. This Act has been notified in 20 states and 6 union territories. The governments which have notified it have brought in their own rules as well. However there remains a whole lot of difference in the provisions of this Act on paper and its implementation. The women who are mothers hesitate in coming to the tribunals against their children because they feel that it is a matter of shame that the same child whom they raised mistreat them. However commendable the provisions of this Act, it misses out on one crucial aspect- gender. A majority of the elderly women are either unaware of the existence of such legislations, or too hesitant to speak out against their own life and blood. What is required to be done with the utmost urgency and sincerity is for the government and the aware citizens to update them regarding such laws, and to explain to them the solutions which can lawfully be reached at – and that there’s no shame in it. Doing our bit to give back to our mothers, it is our duty to ensure their safety and see to it that they get the life of serenity and familial gratification which all senior citizens desire and deserve.
 Pathak, Nilima and Anand Raj (2013): “Why India’s youth are abandoning their elderly parents”, Friday,(23 January). Viewed on 13 June 2014 (http://gulfnews.com/life-style/general/why-india-s-youth-are-abandoning-their-elderly-parents-1.1136422).
 Katyayani (2008): “Elder Abuse in India – a case of Human Rights Violations”, voice4india, (5 March). Viewed on 13 June 2014 (http://voice4india.org/2008/03/05/elder-abuse-in-india-a-case-of-human-rights-violations/).
 Pathak, Nilima and Anand Raj (2013), Note 1.
 (2011), “Agewell Study on Human Rights of Older Persons in India”, Report by the Agewell Research & Advocacy Centre, New Delhi (April). Viewed on 13 June 2014 (http://www.agewellfoundation.org/pdf/reports/Study%20on%20Human%20Rights%20of%20Old%20People%20April-2011-National.pdf).
 Katyayani (2008), Note 2.
 Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Senior Citizens Bill of 2006.