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.
January 03, 2014
NEW DEHLI — 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."
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