Kashmir's Elderly Fend For Themselves
25 October 2007
Srinagar: Elderly people in Indian-administered Kashmir have recently got together to set up a home for themselves - the first such accommodation for senior citizens in the area. The launch signifies a major change in a society where parents have traditionally been revered. Traditionally, aged parents have been looked after by their sons and daughters in the extended family. But, now some elderly people in the Kashmir valley have felt the need to fend for themselves. One of them, retired Professor SN Ganjoo, says his son rings him up from Delhi barely once a month. 'Psychological satisfaction' 'It's the age of hedonism,' he says, 'and the new generation is mad after riches. We have lost our values. Therefore, the elderly people who are past 70 or 80 need a place where they can chat freely among themselves and share hearty laughter. 'That'll give them at least some psychological satisfaction, because the youngsters have no time for them.' Old folks' home in Srinagar The home has been so popular it will soon become residential Seventy-eight-year-old Ghulam Mohammad Dar, a prominent businessman, recently took the initiative to set up a Council of Senior Citizens in Indian- administered Kashmir. He says that even those who still live within the nuclear family are feeling lonely, and that the attitude of young people towards the old has been changing. This he attributes to the fast pace of life as well as growing materialism. 'My sons, who are in business, come home late in the evening. Whatever time they have is spent with their own children, with hardly a moment spared for their parents.' Among the elderly, such views appear very much to represent a consensus. Former Indian Administrative Service officer, Syed Ahmed Sayed Qadri, was a big name in Kashmir's bureaucracy until his retirement 20 years ago. Now he says that he would be the first to move into a home for the elderly. At 80 years old, Mr Qadri is quite healthy. He's always meticulously dressed and looks as if he is quite happy with life. Loneliness But he is lonely too. 'My health is normal. I have got enough money to hire the most expensive servant. But I am not getting the support I need. 'Having my meals on time or having things of my choice is not possible any longer - it's rather a luxury.' He says the establishment of a home for the elderly is a noble initiative. An elderly Kashmiri man (file image) Many elderly Kashmiris have to cope alone Mr Dar says the home will, for now, have room for elderly people to sit, chat and play games. Later, it will be expanded so people can actually live in it. But loneliness is not the only problem facing elderly people in Kashmir. Many are also short of money. Ali Mohammad, a carpenter, stopped working four years ago. He still lives with family. But as a result of what he says is corruption and red tape in the administration, he has not received an old age pension and other benefits offered by the government. 'Often the official concerned is not available or asks for money which I don't have,' he says. People like Ali Mohammad have now pinned their hopes on the Senior Citizens Council, which uses a combination of volunteers and paid staff to speak up on their behalf. 'Materialistic values' But the younger generation is not convinced that homes for old age pensioners is necessarily a good thing. Tariq Andrabi, 29, runs a garment shop. 'It is not a right step,' he says. 'Old people are themselves responsible for their predicament because they didn't give religious education to their children, and instead have inculcated them with materialistic values. I have come back to Kashmir for the sake of my parents who would have been living alone Bilal Malik, Software engineer 'The parents told them to become engineers or doctors, and told them to go to the US to pursue their careers. 'Now, understandably, they don't want to go back.' Businessman Syed Mushtaq argues that young people must bear more responsibility for the plight of their parents. 'At the same time parents should also be understanding,' he says. 'I am still unmarried. I leave for work early in the morning and come back home very late in the evening. It does not mean I am ignoring my parents.' Social psychologist AR Rather believes that the elderly are losing out because of changing social values. 'There's greater emphasis on individualism and competition today,' he says. 'The joint family has broken up and youngsters secede from their parents soon after marriage.' But the old values have not been discarded completely. Bilal Malik lived in London for five years where he worked as a software engineer. 'I have come back to Kashmir for the sake of my parents who would have been living alone,' he says.