Empower the Old in Society

Empower the  Old  in  Society

Ageing is a natural phenomenon and the old  are  a  very integral  part  of any society. Seen  as  a bank  of  knowledge ,  experience and maturity  they  have  always contributed  to the  development till  a  certain age.  There after  they  need  help, assurance  and  support.  With  the  shrinkage  of  the  family  size  and  the  expansion  of  the  work areas  across  countries , the filial method  of  care  has  failed  abjectly.  It is  time  to  take  a  serious  note  of  it at  the  society  level.

As  per  the  UN  report  on  population by  2030  the  demographic  pattern  is  going  to  get  severly  skewed towards  the  old.  In  a  layman’s  term  the  issue of  old  and  the  old-age  care  is  going  to  be  a  major  matter  of  concern  not  only  for  the  society as a whole   but also  for  the  government. Analysing the  issue  of   old  age care  from  the  Indian point of  view ; as  per Manusmiriti  in  the  ancient  indian  culture  the  old  and  the very old  members  never  stayed  as  intrinsic members of  the  society after a  certain age. They  empowered  themselves well   for  this  phase  of their life  and  the  history  stands  testimony  that  they  were  never  a  burden  on  their  children. The  way  they  tackled  their  old age  was  exemplary.  They   first wriggled    away  from the  social  obligations when  they  crossed  the  age  of  around fifty  and  were  known  to  be  practicing  sanyas  ashram . In  this  phase while staying with  their  family  they would  stay  completely  detached   from  the  society. They would  devote   most  of  their  time  on  spiritual activities.  They  would  form groups  and  go  for  pilgrimages   to   mountains  or  even  far  off  places for worship. And  for such would  stay out  for  months. Such   journeys  would be  long  and  arduous,   some  would  even perish  enroute  and  would  never  return.  It would  be  simply taken  in  stride. Behind  them they  would  leave  their  household  chores  to  their    children  who  would  be  grown  up  enough to  understand  the  work  and  willingly  take  the responsibility to  carry  the  work  ahead ; be  it  farming   , trading  etc. Those  who  returned  from  the pilgrimages  would   be  living   a    spiritual  life  detached  from  the  routine  household  work and profession.

As per these  norms  these years herald into  another  phase  of   very old  age   i.e  beyond  seventy five  . For  those  who  survived  till  then  Manu  had  created  a rule  to say voluntary   good bye    and  move  out from  the  society ,  never to  return again. Such  elderly  people  would  stay  in  jungles ( may be  in  thatched  /temporary  huts) and  lead a   life  like hermits. This  phase  was  called  Van Prasth Ashram.  Obviously by facing  vagaries  of  nature   these  septuagenarians  and  octogenarians   would  not  last  for  long  and   would slowly and   gracefully embrace  death.

The  question is  why  did Manu  separate  the   old  form  the   mature  adults in the society  even  5000  years from  now. Ever  mused what  was  pressing  need  to  make  a  norm  of  such  kind?

First  reason   which comes  to  mind  is  that  probably  the  generation  gap   existed  even  at that time in the  society. The  old  must  have  had  their   ‘old and  trite’ ideas  as  ever and  the  young  their   revolutionary  ones.  And never  the  twain  would  meet. Secondly, if  the  old  continued  to live as  part  of  the  society  they  would  never  transfer  the  power to  the  next  generation. They  would keep a  firm  grip over   it  till  end  of  their  life. By  giving them a freehand  the  newer  and  better ideas  of  the  younger generation would  be  junked.  Thirdly ,  while a  person is  engaged   in any profession  ,  family  life  and  squabbles attached  with it  he  seldom  has  time  to  devote  to  spiritual  things. Manu  probably  believed  that the aim  of  this life was  to  have  purification of  mind  and  soul. To  seek  union  with the  super-soul was  only  possible if  a  person clearly dedicates some part of his life to this cause.

But  what we  see  today  world  over  is a  reverse gameplay of what was there in the ancient times. Varily  the  mankind  has trail blazed a   long  way  on  the wrong  path.

Today  with the plethora  of  diseases the  old are  becoming more  infirm  and dependent and   wish that  they should   be looked after  well.  The mature   middle  generation has very limited time  amidst  their professions  and  other chores. Families too  have  shrunk and the lone  child  feels over burdened  and  sandwiched  between  caring for  their own children  and looking after  the  ailing parents. This has  resulted  in  unhealthy  family feuds  and  separations. The  product of this  attitude  is  that  today  the  societies  world over are battling with  a  large number  of  cases  of  ailing old  being accused of  the  cause  of  the  domestic violence. The apparent reason seems that old   do not  wish  to  snap  their  umbilical  cords  with  the  children. They  demand  time, money and  sympathy  from  their  children  which they  are  unable  to  get.  Hence,   separations   are  pre-ordained . In  ancient times  the  old  did  not demand  sympathies but  rather  they  developed  tremendous  tolerance and  generally  moved  out  of  the  families  much  before  they  faced insult or  isolation.

As  result of  our own  doing  today  we  see   that  a  large  number of  old people are  left  by   their  children  to stay  alone or fend  for  themselves.  The  sad  fact is that this number  is  swelling  year  after  year. Till some years   they  are able to look  after  themselves , then  they  need  servants  and  finally  they are  a  totally  disgruntled,  psychologically   and  physically shattered. They   are  alone, isolated  and  await  death  in  a  very  merciful state.

As  evolved  societies with  rich  heritages  it  is  time  that  we  need  to  re-think,  re-plan  and  change  the  dictums  so that the  old  can  live happily  and  die  peacefully. The  few thing which  the  old  people  need today  are  company  of peers, food,  shelter  and  medicines. And  wisely the society  of  Manu   provided  them  with  all this  even  thousands  of  years  back. Ironically   today  we  are not  able  to  do  so.  The  van  prasth  ashram  was   more  like seeking a  voluntary  death . When  the  old  moved  out  to  live  in the  jungles   they   were  vulnerable  to natural calamities  and  wildlife etc. It was a  well  planned  and  well thought after move  never  to  return  back to their  homes. But  to  perish in  silence  , to  perish  in bliss.

The  message  has  to  be  loud  and  clear the old  have  to plan  to   take  care  of  themselves and  not  be  a  burden on their  next  generation. They  should  detest  form emotional  blackmailing of  the  younger  generation. The  trend seen in the west of younger generation breaking  away  is  not far  from  our  shores  too .    They   have to  understand  and  devise  methods  to manage  their  old  age  phenomenon clearly . Only then  will  their  lives  be  happy ,,  content  and less  burdensome for  all.

The  writer is the  author  of  a  book- 31 December  2078 in which  he   builds  a  utopian society  where  the  old  are  expected   to  leave  the  society at  a  particular  age   and  move  out  into   well  managed  old  age  homes . The  old  and  the  young  generation  are   both in  a  blissful  state.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Gurtegh Singh on August 16, 2015 at 8:46 am

    Well written.

    Reply

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