The recent case of a veteran actor being abandoned by her son in a Mumbai hospital has brought to the fore issues faced by the elderly in India.
Actor Geeta Kapoor, who starred in landmark movies like ‘Pakeezah’, was admitted to SRV hospital in Goregaon by her son last month. But he never returned to take her back home. Geeta’s daughter too shirked her responsibility.
Geeta’s hospital expenses had shot up to Rs 1,50,000, following which her son, Raja, moved to another house and stopped taking calls from the husband. Reportedly, Raja fled from the hospital on the pretext of withdrawing money from a nearby ATM.
“He used to beat me up as I did not approve of his philandering ways. He would give me food once in four days, and sometimes, even lock me up for several days. I was not ready to go to an old-age home, that’s why he planned all this. He deliberately kept me hungry and I fell ill. Then, he got me admitted and fled,” the veteran actor told Mid Day, adding that her son had been planning to abandon her for days.
When the hospital called up Geeta’s daughter, she picked up the phone but at the mention of her mother’s name, she hung up, saying they have the wrong number.
The hospital authorities then reported the whole incident to the police and a case has been registered against the children.
Meanwhile, two good Samaritans — filmmaker Ashoke Pandit and producer Ramesh Tourani — got to know about the elderly woman through newspapers and decided to help her. After reaching the hospital, they were shocked to see the pitiable condition the yesteryear actor was in. Pandit and Tourani have paid Geeta’s hospital dues and asked the doctors to continue her treatment.
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Pandit and Tourani eventually want to shift Geeta to an old age home where she will be looked after. So they are also looking for her son to sign a No-Objection Certificate.
“Geetaji is getting better but she continuously keeps crying and folds her hands when she sees people visiting her, as if she is telling them not to beat her up. Every time I see her like this, I wonder if she was being tortured at home. I am just hoping that we get the NOC, so we can send her to a better place where she can live with dignity,” Pandit told Indian Express.
Geeta’s is not the only case of a woman being abandoned in old age by her children. A report by HelpAge India published in 2011 reported that 31 per cent of old people are abused and face harm in some way or the other and more than 50% of them feel that their sons are responsible for it.
I have seen these women on the road, just sitting and waiting for their death. They had no place to go to or food to eat. They begged incessantly for two morsels of food. They were treated differently just because they were widows. I always wondered what sins they committed that they had to end their lives like this? – Laxmi Gautam of Vrindavan
The other key finding of the research is that women face more abuse in comparison to men. The report is based on a sample survey done across 20 states of the country.
“Surprisingly, it was found that 56 per cent felt that it was their son who abused them, contrary to the common myth that it was the daughter-in law who did so. Daughters-in-law scored 23 per cent in terms of abuse,” Chief Executive of HelpAge India Mathew Cherian told Firstpost.
While it may seem that financial dependency is the largest reason why children abandon their parents, the abuse happens when the parents are earning some amount of money through pension, rent etc. There are real stories of parents turning into servants for their children just because they are financially dependent on them.
All this despite there being a law to protect the rights of senior citizens in the country. Under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, parents and grandparents who are unable to maintain themselves from their own earnings can seek maintenance from their children. And those who are childless have a right to ask for maintenance from their relatives, who are legal heirs and will inherit their property after they die.
Organisations like HelpAge India are working very hard to protect the rights of the elderly. Also, people like Laxmi Gautam, a resident of Vrindavan, provides shelter to abandoned women, takes good care of them and saves their lives. 52-year-old Gautam has been doing her bit for the elderly since 1995 when he was in her 30s.
“I am the daughter of Vrindavan. Since childhood, I have seen these women on the road, just sitting and waiting for their death. They had no place to go to or food to eat. They begged incessantly for two morsels of food. They were treated differently just because they were widows. I always wondered what sins they committed that they had to end their lives like this?” Laxmi had told SheThePeople.TV in an interview last year.
“After death, nobody cared to conduct their last rites. I then took it upon myself to try to improve their condition,” added Laxmi.
She was honoured by President Pranab Mukherjee on International Women’s Day last year with the Nari Shakti Puraskar and then by the Women and Child Ministry with the Stree Shakti Puraskar for her tremendous work of improving lives of old women. She is literally called the ‘Angel of Vrindavan’.
While angels like Gautam are few and far between, it should be the conscious responsibility of every child to care for their parents for the love, affection and care they gave when s/he was/growing up. No amount of money can come close to what parents do for us, let’s not forget that.