We must look after our elders

“Who is responsible for the care and nurture of our elders – the government or the society or the children? Are elders purely at the whim and mercy of their children? Where are the traditional values? What has happened to the traditional family structure? Why are nuclear families becoming selfish?

This article starts with a true story about an educated, 70-year old lady at Jammu – a retired gazetted officer, with two Bachelor’s degrees under her belt, including Bachelor’s degree in law. After she lost her husband about 18 years ago to cancer, when she was in her early fifties, she has been living alone at her home in Jammu. Her two sons lived in Delhi with their wives. The bossy (ex) wife of her elder son did not tolerate her in Delhi.

The lady is diabetic and, over time, has developed several health issues, mainly due to a serious lack of nurture and healthcare. From time to time, she has been spending a extended periods of time with her siblings in Jammu and Srinagar. The general perception is that she is extremely lonely and neglected by her children, seemingly also abused by them.

After her elder son was kicked out by his Delhi-based (ex) wife and his own younger brother from his home in Delhi – for bizarre reasons – he returned home to her some time ago. To make things more difficult for her, he also brought in a new wife from Jammu, who has already two teenage daughters from her earlier marriage. The common perception is he feeds on his mother’s pension (about Rupees 50 thousand per month). Seemingly, he has also taken away her car and mobile phone.

For unfortunate reasons, this lady remains incommunicado for days, sometimes weeks, during which her siblings remain worried and frantically search for her try – through all possible avenues. Every now and then, they have to go and check if she is still alive or dead. Recently, after she had yet again been incommunicado for a few days, the lady’s elder brother visited her home to enquire about her welfare, but her gate was locked from inside. He repeatedly kept calling her mobile phone and knocking at the gate for more than half an hour. She did not open the gate or answer her phone. Finally, out of utter desperation, he requested one of her neighbours to scale her compound wall and knock at her door. When he finally entered her house, he found her in a physically weak and pathetic condition, without her phone or anything. She could hardly walk. Most of her house furnishings were missing. Her kitchen was untidy.

As a dedicated typical mother, despite being abused, she has not, and still does not, complain against her sons. So nothing can be done legally to assist her.

Readers must note that the lady is intelligent and mentally very sharp. Although she is just 70 years old, she looks at least two decades older.

Important questions

The above story is only one of numerous stories that one comes across in Jammu or Delhi or elsewhere on the planet where many elderly parents are being neglected, and sometimes abused, by their children. In many cases, they have been abandoned by their children outside an old age home or a railway station.

The effects of migration of Kashmiri Pandits from their traditional erstwhile home three decades ago have surely begun to undermine their family structures and value system. Such pathetic social tragedies would not generally occur in Kashmir before the mass exodus of Pandits in Jan 1990. A closely knitted social fabric, with proactive involvement of neighbours and relatives, would become a major deterrent against any such occurrence in the valley. But with their exodus, as Pandits became scattered all over the world, as did their close relatives, the elderly members of the community seem to be falling through cracks. Due to political correctness, their (new) neighbours, who may not be Kashmiris, are less likely to get involved –  another classic case of the mainu kee mindset, which has gripped the Indian social mindset in the last few decades!

The big question is whose responsibility is it now to look after this lady and the likes of her? As she does not formally lodge a complaint against her sons, she may not receive any legal assistance. Should she, therefore, be allowed to slip through the cracks in the social fabric?


We humans are born from our parents – parents who strive to protect and nourish us since the time we exist and grow within our mother’s womb in foetal form. After our birth, parents strive very hard – day and night – to protect, nourish and nurture us. Undoubtedly, therefore, for every child, parents represent God. No one has even been, or will be, born or raised by Gods or deities, without the parental support and endeavour.

Parents work tirelessly and sacrifice their personal comfort – 24 x 7 – in supporting and growing their children till they attain adulthood and get educated. Unfortunately, many parents take hefty loans for the education and wedding of their children, which exacerbates and prolongs their financial instability, whilst adding to their physical / mental distress. They do it as their duty, so they think, and unconditionally, mainly due to the love and care for their children.

After the completion of their education, most grownup children find jobs and gradually become financially independent. They marry and have children of their own. In the meantime, their parents also grow older. A time comes when parents retire from work. As a natural process, all humans become physically weaker after attaining a certain age, and parents are no exception.

When children are young, they constantly need physical, emotional and financial support, which is unconditionally provided by their parents. A time comes when the roles – of care and nurture – reverse and when parents too need to be looked after by their grownup children. In many cases, unfortunately, grownup children withdraw support from their parents and send them to old-age homes.

Why are old age homes being accepted by our community? Do we find it acceptable to abandon our parents because old-age homes are now commonly available? Do such facilities absolve us of the accountability and responsibility towards our parents? What has happened to our values and common conscience?

Shame on any community that tolerates all those rotten individuals who abandon their parents! No parent deserves to be sent to an old-age home. There is no bigger sin than abandoning one’s parents at a time when they need their children the most.

In Kashmir, Kashmiri Pandits lived in joint families and the community did not suffer from the disease of parental abandonment. However, after their exodus, they got dispersed across the world. Joint families broke into small / nuclear families. Grownup children started competing with their siblings. They also developed a sickening tendency of washing their hands off their responsibility towards their parents; some stared handballing their parents to their siblings. What has this resulted into? Many parents having several children have, in effect, no one to take care of them, they feel left alone and abandoned. Most parents chose to accept it as their fate; they remain quiet and suffer alone, due to social shame and public embarrassment. One thing leads to another.

A simple question arises, ‘Why are many unfortunate parents being abandoned by their grownup children?’ It is important to understand the psychology underlying this social sickness. In many cases, the finger may point towards the parents themselves. Perhaps they failed to set personal good examples for their children. Perhaps they did not show enough love and care toward their own parents. What goes around comes around. Perhaps they encouraged their children to be too competitive and selfish. Perhaps they never inculcated good social and ethical values in their children. In a nutshell, it is extremely unfortunate to see many old parents abandoned by their well-off children, seemingly a direct result of degradation in the social and ethical values within the community.

Instead of facilitating the abandonment of parents, with the availability of old-age homes, we must endeavour to kill this menacing nuisance at its very roots, so that this malpractice does not acquire an epidemic form within the community. The only way to do so is by holding every individual responsible and accountable or the wellbeing and the security of his / her parents. No one individual must be allowed to escape.

Don’t we need social policing?

A dedicated social policing force is the need of the hour, which must be raised in every city / country of the world, the members of which are elected / chosen by the local communities. To function effectively and serve its core objectives, such force will require regular donations / contributions, which must be voluntarily made by the members of the community. The social police must aim to keep an eye on the families and individuals within the community and monitor their social behaviour. It must endeavour to inculcate social and ethical values, and promote social responsibility within the members of the community.

Recently, a group of four, representing a sanstha in Jammu, visited my father for his contribution towards the construction of an 80-room old-age home in Jammu. I advised my father against making any donation. Why? Because, I strongly believe old-age homes potentially encourage many people to abandon their parents.

My father told me that this group had been advised by some people to start private educational / technical institutions for the community, to which I represented to my father that our community does not need any special community-specific educational institutions. All we need is a strong community policing force to monitor the traditional cultural values and the language of this dispersed community. I believe a social policing force is the need of the hour to bring about a number of urgent social reforms in the community, including:

  • Enforcement of simple wedding functions (costing not more than Rupees 1 lakh at the most);
  • Prevention of occurrence of divorces;
  • Penalisation of individuals who abandon their parents – through legal avenue, followed by social boycott;
  • Use and promotion of the traditional Kashmiri language at homes; and
  • Promotion and maintenance of the Kashmiri spiritual, cultural and religious traditions.

In this materialistic day and age, given a high probability of abandonment by their grownup children, parents are strongly urged and encouraged that, after they have discharged their parental duty till their children reach the age of 21, they must also earnestly work to safeguard their own personal interests and secure their own old age – by saving as much as possible and spending the least possible on their grownup children. Children should be made to wait to inherit the wealth of their parents – of course, at parents’ sweet will and discretion – and only after the natural death of their parents. Similar to western countries, all youth must be encouraged and expected to work and meet their personal expenses after passing Year 12. In India’s case, one may extend the parental support to the completion of the child’s first degree (Bachelors). Thereafter, it must be an individual’s responsibility to fund his / her personal costs and expenses related to his / her post-graduate degree, wedding and the house. Parents, of course, may make token contributions – but out of their own sweet will – like in western countries.

It is strongly emphasised that every parent must be the responsibility of his / her children, and vice versa, and not the government or any other social organisation. No person should be allowed get away with the maha paap of abandoning his / her parents (or children), whatever be the reason. Old-age homes are meant only for those elders who have no children or any family to support them. In no case, old-age homes are supposed to house those elders who have healthy and well-bodied, grownup and financially stable children. Let sanity prevail otherwise our community will perish.

A warning for grownup children: As per the Law of Karma, your children will do to you exactly what you do to your parents. Time flies fast and it will not be long before you see yourself in the shoes your parents. It is does not matter how much cash you have or how many bungalows you own and or how many cars you drive; you are nothing if you don’t have a family to go to. Your family is the only real wealth you are blessed with and your family includes your parents. Without your parents you are zilch – nothing! Cherish them.” … Bill K Koul

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