Life in our twilight years

Maswood Alam Khan | Published: September 30, 2018 21:06:51 | Updated: October 07, 2018 21:31:15

Sixty years ago, she had struggled to cope with her husband and created a rapport with her mother-in-law as a new bride. She was a typical housewife in a village. She would rise early in the morning, do all the household works and go to bed late at night. It was a long list of chores: she would sweep floors, wash clothes, cook food and refreshments for every member of her family-in-law. When she gave birth to a son she hoped that all her struggles would come to an end. But her toddler son died from drowning. Then she gave birth to a few daughters before she was again 'blessed' with a son. Her dream was fulfilled. She enjoyed a peaceful life with her wealthy son and daughter-in-law for a couple of years. But her dream has, of late, been shattered after her son divorced his wife and got remarried. Something happened. She could no more live with her son's new family and decided to move to her daughter's. I know the lady very closely. A septuagenarian, she suffers from ailments including a nagging back-pain. She rises very early in the morning, does her prayers, takes tea and then goes again back to bed. She gets up again clutching a walking stick, somehow moves to the window, and stares blank into the sky holding the window's steel grills. Tears often roll down her cheeks.

There are many heart-wrenching stories of the elderly in Bangladesh. There are tragedies in families nobody would ever know because they hate to disclose their personal pains.

"Don't please kick on my breasts that fed you milk", the 65-year old mother Farida Begum beseeched her 38-year old son Masud to consider. But Masud was relentless in kicking his mother on her face and breast with his booted feet. At one stage, Farida fainted. Masud didn't stop kicking his mother's collapsed body until some neighbours turned up. The incident took place at Kaliganj, a village in the district of Nilphamari on September 20, 2018, as reported by a Bangla daily. The cruel son wanted to grab her small amount of savings and a small chunk of land -- her nest-eggs -- that her husband left behind for his wife before dying four years ago. Farida with her fatal injuries from beatings is now battling for life in Rangpur Medical College Hospital.

Farida is just one victim out of millions in Bangladesh who are groaning with pains of physical, mental and verbal abuses and insults.

Just the other day, 86-year old Fuzli Begum, a mother of five, from the village Kuchiabari under Narail district was dumped on the roadside, as reported by another local daily, on September 28, 2018. Anyone of her sons or daughters perhaps allured her for an exciting journey only to abandon her at a faraway spot from where, the abductor thought, this frail lady would find it impossible to journey all the way back home -- her own home where she raised her children. Taking pity on the elderly woman sitting and sobbing by the side of the road, some kind residents in the locality helped her find her way to safety.

There are more horrifying stories. A few years ago, there were reports I came to learn in the social media how police in India caught a man striking a deal with doctors and an organ-transplant broker to sell his unsuspecting father's kidney, first taking him to hospital for a 'check-up' and then telling him he needed an operation.

In our elite society, too, in homes full of wealth, where beating is not a culture, psychological tools are deftly employed so that parents feel compelled to leave their own homes for old-age homes. A son or a daughter or a daughter-in-law pushes a father or a mother or a parent-in-law out of home. In most cases, those unwanted parents are dependent on their children for only care and love, if not for money. But a grownup married kid doesn't like a third person to clutter his home. Such psychological maltreatment is traumatizing and more painful than injuries inflicted by physical beatings. Law in such a case cannot accuse a son of abusing his parents.

It's a tragedy that in our society where the old were revered in not so distant past, the elderly are now being abused and left in the cold by a close relation or by their son, daughter and/or daughter-in-law. In most of the abuse cases, the perpetrators are family members, with the son being the primary abuser and the most common reason for the abuses is property-related.

Should we always blame children for their parents being abused? There are of course men and their wives who are ready to sell their blood for the sake of their elderly parents, forgetting all the disservices perpetrated by the same parents in the past. In most such cases, the families are God-fearing.

Dependency on children or parents for livelihood is not written on the walls of nature. Nature has taught a mother in the wild to rear her kid up to a certain level. Neither has nature imposed on a grownup kid to take care of parents till their death. Men and women mustn't have any right on their parents' property and income and in the same vein, they shouldn't be compelled to bear the burden of their parents either.

When my son becomes a father, purchasing a toy for his daughter or cosmetics for his wife should be, to my opinion, more important than buying medicine for me unless I can't afford to buy my medicines. But unfortunately, our culture is such that we envy our married child's happiness with his wife and kids. We demand our grownup married kids to spend their earnings for their parents at the expense of their family's welfare even when we the parents are wealthy enough to fend for ourselves. Shouldn't we be more conscious about our children's rights and the parents' wrongs?

It is the government which must take care of those elderly parents who are penniless and homeless.

The traditional system of living in the extended family is fast eroding, with the younger generation increasingly heading off to cities with their spouses and their children to start a new life, leaving their parents and grandparents at the mercy of the nature. And the rising trend in our urban society is that the elderly, who are emotionally distraught by abuses, are moving from their homes to places that cater to their needs and in many cases, they move from their son's family to their daughter's if they cannot afford expenses of old-age homes. Daughters, by the way, are kinder.

Today, October 1 is "International Day of Older Persons". The Day is being observed to promote public awareness on the needs of the elderly and what the societies and the governments can and should do to help alleviate sufferings of the senior citizens, a growing section of the world population. There are currently around 700 million people over the age of 60. It is predicted that by 2050, this figure will have risen to 2 billion.

On this day, we should remind ourselves of the contribution that the elderly people have made to our society and we must empathise with their special needs as we would expect the next generations to do the same for us when we would be spending our time in our twilight years.

The elderly people are as vulnerable as widows, children and persons with disabilities in both poor and affluent families. There are elderly people, especially the retired ones, who are silently suffering hardships. The pension benefits, especially their medical allowances and festival bonuses, that they are getting are not commensurate with prices of commodities in the market.

On Sunday morning (September 30), I was excited to read in a news item in a local newspaper -- a happy news for those retired people, like me, who surrendered their whole pension benefits at the time of their retirement. The government has been kind (let me pay my heartfelt gratitude to the prime minister) to allow the retirees who surrendered their full retirement benefits to start getting their monthly pensions, effective from July 1, 2017. But my heart sank when I read that only those who are retired for 15 years are eligible to get the benefit. I must remain alive for six more years -- a long period of time! May the government be a little kind to reduce the waiting period of 15 years?

The government has introduced old age allowance, formed National Policy for Older People and Parents Maintenance Act, all for the welfare of hapless senior citizens. Those are undoubtedly commendable first steps.

At the policy level, the government, however, needs to do a lot more to provide robust social security to the elderly in both rural and urban areas. More need to be done for the senior citizens in respect of reduced fare in public transports, subsidised healthcare, old-age homes at district levels and special rehabilitation centres for the old and frail men and women who are dumped on the roadside.

We need to bear in mind that people above the age of 60 suffer from a plethora of serious ailments that demand costly medical treatments. The government alone cannot afford to take care of them. Only their sons and daughters can come to their succour.

Shouldn't a grownup child today ask himself or herself two questions facing a mirror? Why should I ignore the very people who spent sleepless nights when I was ill as a child? Have I forgotten how my parents had spent all their earnings just to provide me a decent education, a home, and the best that they could afford? Your answers in kind words could put a smile on your mother's face.

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