A video of an elderly woman being allegedly assaulted by her daughter-in-law and the accused's mother has gone viral on social media. Hyderabad Police is now reportedly probing the incident which was caught on a CCTV camera and has led to nationwide outrage. However, this isn't the first incident of elder abuse caught on camera in our country. Every time such a video emerges, there is a demand for harsh punishment for the perpetrators. But we still do not see elder abuse as an issue that needs to be dealt with immediately. Why does the plight of elderlies in our society fail to move us, beyond the minutes for which such videos last? Why is India so apathetic towards its ageing population?
According to an article in India Today, the assault survivor is a resident of Mallepally area and her son has been working in Saudi for the last ten years. The woman in the video seen assaulting the survivor has been identified as Ujma Begum, the survivor's daughter-in-law, her son's second wife. The daughter-in-law had been reportedly abusing the elderly woman for some time now. The viciousness with which the old woman is assaulted made me nauseous. (We have chosen not to share the link to the video in question to preserve the survivor's dignity.)
I still remember the case from 2018, in which a Rajkot-based professor was charged with the murder of his ailing mother, whom he reportedly threw off the terrace of their four-storied apartment building. An educated man, who apparently couldn't take care of his bed-ridden mother, and thus resorted to such a gruesome act. These are not isolated incidents. The elders in our community are vulnerable, both outside and within their homes.
According to a WHO report that came out in June 2020, one in every six people who is 60 years of age and older experienced some form of abuse in the community setting during the past year. However, the report further says that these figures may be an underestimation "because older people are often afraid to report cases of abuse to family, friends, or to the authorities." And before you argue that these are global statistics, a shocking 2019 study conducted by an NGO working for the rights of elderly people found that nearly 71 percent of elderly people in India face abuse in one form or another, at hands of their family members.
Now imagine how difficult it must be for elderly people at risk of emotional, financial, verbal and physical abuse to be trapped within their homes with their abusers due to the pandemic. The added risk of contracting coronavirus due to advanced age and the fear of its consequences must be so stressful. What these people need right now is love and attention, not loathing, hatred, viciousness and a sense of being a burden on their loved ones.
Which is why it is crucial that elder abuse is given the attention that it deserves. According to the 2011 census, India has 104 million elderly people in the country. So the number of elderly people who are at risk of abuse right now runs into millions. Numbers, big or small, do not matter. What matters is that every elderly person out there is not dependent for their care on those around them, but also for their survival.
So just as we talk about the importance of tackling domestic abuse, child abuse and harassment during the pandemic, let us also check on them whenever we can. Their plight shouldn't catch our attention through gruesome CCTV videos, because they deserve prompt action on our behalf.
The views expressed are the author's own.