LIFE expectancy of Goans has been increasing, as has been of people in other parts of the world. However, as Goans live longer, a growing number of them are also victims of neglect by their own families. They have been forced to live in old age homes as their families do not want to take care of them. The Minister for Provedoria (Institute of Public Assistance) Francis D’Souza has expressed serious concerns about the plight of the elderly, especially the mental health issues among them. The Institute of Public Assistance (IPA) has taken an initiative of creating awareness on the issues with a launch of a programme called ‘Sneha Bhav Sanskar.’ The IPA runs 10 old age homes in which 280 old people have been lodged by their families. Among the inmates are 25 old people who have been sent by the Institute of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour, who were apparently abandoned by their families. There are 24 old age homes run by non-government organisations and missionaries. The number of inmates in these homes is not known but could be in excess of 2,000 on a rough estimate.
The IPA set up homes for the welfare of the underprivileged and downtrodden Goans and they are now taking care of the unfortunate old citizens of Goa who are forced to stay away from families. The number of such homes has increased and many NGOs and missionaries have set up homes to meet the growing needs. Social and religious leaders have been using various platforms to call upon the families to give love and take care of the old and infirm. The pleadings appear to have had little effect on the younger generations among Goans who would seize the first available opportunity to drive away their elders so as to live in peace and enjoy life. The number of old age homes is likely to rise as more and more senior citizens are removed from their family homes. It is not the financial condition that makes younger generations to abandon their parents and grandparents. Despite having good bank balances, people send their parents and grandparents to old age homes. It is just that they do not want the trouble of looking after the elderly when they are sick and infirm. While the lucky ones at least land up in old age homes, others are forced to wander on the streets.
Over the last few decades, it has become common in the state to find that the old are ‘unwelcome’ in their own homes because of their physical and mental illnesses and constant demand for care due to old age and their ‘incompatibility’ with the pace and style of the lives of their children and grandchildren. Goans are known to be hospitable and caring people, but today’s life appears to have taken a toll on the age-old traditions and many Goans prefer to abandon the practice of living in joint families. The trend is nuclearisation of families so as to avoid taking care of aged parents. Many young people migrate to distant places for greener pastures in hope of a better future, abandoning the old at their ancestral homes or at the old age homes. A number of old people have been deceived and deprived of their properties and earnings by unscrupulous elements in their own families and then dumped in the old age homes. Despite there being a law to deal with the negligent children, parents shy away from reporting abuse and neglect.
At the time of the launch of the Sneha Bhav Sanskar programme, Francis D’Souza emphasised the need for the families to be more loving and caring towards elders and senior citizens. It is hard to disagree with his exhortation that the number of old age should be reduced. Given the present trend in the society, expectation of reduction in number of old age homes appears to be farfetched. However, the programme could help achieve desired results if there is change in the mindset of younger generations that currently makes them treat their elders as burden on them. The younger generations have to bear in mind that old age is a phase of life which cannot be escaped and in days ahead they too could be examples of a similar plight. While the government tries through the Sneha Bhav Sanskar programme to curb the trend of abandoning of the elderly, they should also use provisions under various laws to ensure that the elderly are not ill treated by their families. Only with such a two-pronged strategy, the government can hope to bring down the number of old age homes.