Jenny April 24, 2013

In 2050, India will have a population of more than 300 million seniors. Only three countries in the world are estimated to have more people – Pakistan, USA and China. India is already today home to 1/3 of the world’s poorest, and with a population that’s getting older, safeguarding the rights of seniors will only to be more important.

These are things I was told earlier today, when meeting with the enthusiastic Prakash Borgaonkar, director HelpAge India’s Bombay office. He shared interesting facts about India’s old population, and why it is growing day by day.

First of all, the country is aging. Due to family planning which has brought along some pretty drastic changes – today, many Indian parents bring up one or two kids, not five or six like they did in the past – there are more and more old Indians, and fewer youngsters to follow in their footsteps.

Today’s young generation is leading life differently as well. Like elsewhere in the world, people in their twenties and even thirties are focusing on building a career and putting of marriage.

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Prakash Borgaonkar said that, out of the roughly 100 million elders in India today, at least 90% are retired from the private sector and have no pension at all. “So they have to survive however they can. Some depend on their children, others have to work.”

He continued sharing some numbers: seniors spend on average 60% of their money (whatever they have) on medicine. Their physical health, but also their emotional and psychological well-being, is the most pressing thing for India’s old.

Then, things in society are changing fast. With urbanisation, both urban and rural areas are seeing old patterns redefined. Kids work in other cities, or abroad. The idea of “the joint family” is under scrutiny, and families organise themselves in new, different ways. For many elders, their role in the family appears less clear than they thought it would be.

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Prakash Borgaonkar mentioned a few interesting initiatives. Himself he is spending a fair amount of time helping people personally. Elders contact him with their problems, and he tries to help however he can. While poor seniors have pressing problems like proper nutrition and health issues,  affluent elders too struggle with being treated fairly, Prakash Borgaonkar said. He told me about one woman whom he is helping, who was kicked out of her own home by her sons right after handing over large sums of money to them. She ended up at the railway station with her bags in hand, telephoning him to ask for help.

He also mentioned an old age home in Tamil Nadu, in India’s south, where more than 100 seniors who lost their families in the tsunami live together. Another similarly uplifting initiative is the matchmaking service that started in Gujarat, the western-most state of India. Divorced or widowed seniors who are tired of living alone get to meet others and see if they might find a new big love of their lives. One Bombay couple, said Prakash Borgaonkar, “ran away together” when their children did not approve of their choice.

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Will head tomorrow to see how one of the organisation’s projects works: the “mobile service unit” which provides poor seniors with medical help delivered to their homes. The 60+ story: to be continued!