Aging is called the second face of a child. Perhaps, a child loves the elders after the parents. Usually, an ageing heart and a child's heart are interrelated to each other. But the basic difference seems to be the acceptance of their demand; where child demands are easily fulfilled, on the other hand, older people face rebuke and neglect. I understood elder abuse when I was a student of class seven. When I talk about elder issue; I remember Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay's ‘Pather Panchali’ where one of the special characters is Indir Thakrun which makes my mind swell and I become emotional. She is the kin sister of Harihar and become a widow at a young age. After many ups and downs, she took shelter at Harihar's house. Although Indir had an intimate relationship with Durga, she became the eyesore of Durga's mother Sarvajaya. Especially the words of Indir that still touch my heart are “Oh sister, don't say such type of speech - give me a little space - I don't know where to go.” Then, I have observed how an elder person is abused every day by their nearest persons.
In our social system, elder abuse has become an Open Secret where the majority of the elder persons face abuse in several ways. When I have done this research, I have tried to understand why they are being abused? From the study, it has been found that two causes are basically liable to elder abuse: 1. ethical degradation and 2. lack of elder-friendly laws. Our research reveals that more than 70% of the elders are mentally abused and 2% of them are physically abused. When one reaches an older age, one gradually loses confidence in oneself. They leave themselves to fate or destiny. They usually forget that the family, society or the state has a great responsibility to give them a beautiful life.
Physical changes: Weight loss without any cause, lack of medical support, development of various preventable diseases, such as growth of wounds, sore or other types of wounds.
Appearance change: Messy hair or dirty clothes, use of broken glasses /frames.
Mental change: Sudden withdrawal from pacification or well-being, leading measurable life having riches or due money in transactions.
A few things can be mentioned as a pinpoint of elder abuse.
1. Loneliness: On the stage of ageing, they become alone (Death/sickness of partner), which is considered as a catalyst of elder abuse.
3. Financial insecurity or unemployment: This status of life often makes the older unhappy and turns into persecution.
Actually, this is tough to decrease elder abuse because of various factors. It is well known that the oppressor is a very close person to the elder— son, daughter, daughter-in-law, son-in-law and so on. So, it is easily noticeable that it is really hard to take legal action against them. Three factors are mainly liable to discourage legal action against them. The first one is lack of security, the second is the unwillingness and the third is mental weakness. But, they should come forward to raise their voices against all kinds of physical and mental abuse. But, the question is— how is it possible. We know that once acid violence was one of the most dangerous social problems in our country. But, by implementing proper legislation it has been controlled over where some factors like awareness building and zero tolerance against the oppressor can be considered successful weapons. If we want to explore the prevention strategies against the oppressor we should make intertwined links of several factors.
Social factors: Social awareness, campaigns should be effective tools to prevent elder abuse. Besides, developing intergenerational relationships can bring expected changes to prevent elder abuse.
Economic factors: As financial insufficiency is one of the most important factors for elder abuse. To eradicate this system, elder-friendly jobs and decent work should be introduced to make them more solvent.
Government initiative: The government’s willingness can prevent elder abuse. Elder-friendly policy, planning and legislation should be formulated.
NGO participation: NGOs’ can play an important role in preventing elder abuse by enhancing coordination and collaboration with government, society, and the elder community in order to bring positive changes to the social, economic, physical or mental status of the elder.
Our society has become more and more complicated, which means that the elder population will be at high risk in the near future. There are a number of strategies that need to be adopted to get rid of this situation.
1. To raise voice for elder rights and stop oppression against older people.
2. The elder generation should be linked with intergeneration so that their experience and wisdom can be utilised to bring positive changes to society.
3. Elder-friendly law should be enacted which will not be compoundable but punishable for the oppressor.
4. Authentic and reliable research should be a procedure for older development. Besides, those findings should be applied for development purposes.
On the consideration of the elders’ situation, we have to work for elders’ rights from now on, because generations are interconnected to each other. If we fail to connect this, our future generations will undoubtedly suffer from ethical degradation from where there will be no scope to recover. So, it is high time to make the right decision to take necessary steps to stop elder abuse.
The writer is the Chairman, Sustainable Disadvantaged Development Foundation (SDDF)