Why India Isn't Taking Care Of Its Elderly

Protests are on in New Delhi demanding a bonafide old-age pension. Right now, most Indians don't qualify for benefits, and those that do only get $4 a month.

Average life expectancy in India is 65, but many live much longer
Average life expectancy in India is 65, but many live much longer
Bismillah Geelani
NEW DEHLI â€" Mayni Mossamat is a 75-year-old widow from the eastern state of Bihar. She has trouble seeing, and can hardly walk. She begs for food and spends her nights on the street. But recently, with the help of an activist group, she managed to arrive in India's capital to demand a decent national pension for the elderly.
“I have 4 sons but they don’t look after me," she said. "They beat me and forced me to leave the house just because I asked them to give me some money." Mossamat said she needs the money for medicine, but her grown children say it's a choice between providing for her or for their own children.
"My daughter-in-law refused to give me food because I am not able to help them with the house work,” she added.
Mosammat is now in New Delhi with hundreds of other elderly people who have gathered the past three weeks from across India with similar stories, demanding a universal old-age pension from the government as more and more families are unable to take care of the older generation. The Indian government already has a pension scheme running for elderly people. But it only covers those living below the poverty line, and is a mere $4 a month.
The protest has been organised by a collective of NGOs known as Pension Parishad.
“Every senior citizen should get pension," says Parishad leader Purnima. "The amount paid as pension should be at least $40 a month or the equivalent of half the amount of minimum wages. The pension amount should be increased according to the inflation index the same way salaries are increased.”
India is home to the world's second largest population of elderly people, after China. But a recent global survey also ranked India amongst the poorest nations for growing old. Over the next 20 years, the population of people over 65 is expected to grow to 200 million, as life expectancy continues to increase.
Amna Bi, 65, is from the western state of Maharashtra. She lives with her son but he doesn’t earn enough to feed the family. “It’s a tough life in old age. You have less income and more needs,” she says. "I worked and earned as long as I could, but now I have no more energy left, neither for work nor for the hardships of life.”
The government had promised to revise the pension scheme after a similar protest by the elderly people last year, but has failed to do so. The protesters now want an assurance that the issue would be addressed in the next session of the Parliament.
But the well-being of the aging is not just a financial question, says Manjira Khurana, country head with NGO Help Age India. “We do a survey every year and we find that elder abuse in India is rising. Abuse in urban India has risen exponentially simply because of rampant inflation and because of increasing life expectancy. There’s no social security, there’s no health coverage so they are completely at the mercy of their children.”
Khurana says India needs special laws to protect elderly people. She also urges the government to set up government-run old age homes. “We are no longer a society that prides itself on caring for elders. We are no longer a society where the elders are venerated, where they are treated as fonts of wisdom.”
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!