The plight of the elderly in India

Did you think that Alzheimer’s or any kind of form of dementia affected only elderly people? Did you think the patient was the only person affected?

Think again!

Did you think that India had put in place measures to protect its senior citizens from all sorts of matters ranging from elder abuse to dispossession?

We had hoped so, we had heard so but now we are thinking again.

The story starts when we realize a couple of months ago that we are not able to contact our father in India despite numerous calls to his landline. Of recent he had started to become very secluded and did not respond to many invitations sent to him by our relatives living in India. It is also true that his maid had always made sure that none of the visitors to my father’s house felt welcome and many of the phone calls of my relatives had never been passed on to him. We, however,were not given that treatment as we were paying the bills in the literal sense. You can imagine our surprise when the phone went unanswered for almost a month and a half.

We are three sisters and a brother working and living abroad and sending money to our father to indulge his wish to live on his own in India. Parents can be as stubborn in their wish to live alone as young adults can be with their new found independence when they graduate. Those of you who have tried to get your parents renounce their independence and live with you will understand what I mean.

With the help of our relatives who actually went to check the status, we are then informed that he has gone with no address left behind.
A few weeks later and with a lot of field help, we are able to know where he might be and I, as the closest to India, living in Dubai am mandated by my siblings to assist in recovering him. We finally find him in a remote village some 8 hour drive from his residence. He seems haggard, very thin, with dazed eyes and looks drugged. His clothes are in tatters, his speech is incoherent and his mind is clearly elsewhere. After some effort, his mind is able to refocus and we get him out of there and back to my cousin’s house. My father believes he is going back to his house and I have to explain on the way back that he no longer has one and that he will have to live in a cousin’s house until we can sort the matter out.

So what happened in the meantime do you think? Well the maid arranged the sale of his house and tricked him into signing off his house. It is easy to do that with any person suffering from any form of dementia and this is what we all should be aware of and alert about. She then kidnapped him to her hometown where she had maintained him captive until we rescued him.

So why not go to the police you would say?
Well here is the catch. She has taken all his documents and hid them. The police in India will not hear you out even as a senior citizen of the country if you cannot prove who you are.
If you have no documents in India, you don’t exist, virtually, you cease to be heard. You can be right in front of the police with your daughter who is volunteering her full ID but you will not be heard as you don’t exist without your ID. The maid had visibly planned this carefully before she made her bold move and made sure every little piece of paper had been removed from the house.

Nevertheless, I file on his behalf at the police station of the district where we found him and I also include his name. He states in Tamil to the officer what happened but the police officer is not willing to register anything my dad says. He only allows him to sign the English statement I have prepared and gives us a receipt for it in Tamil. However, this is not an FIR as we have to file that at his usual place of residence. My hopes that the police will help us get the documents are also quashed as the officer does not look ready to do anything else than give us the receipt for my complaint and that too after a lot of insisting.

Back to his hometown, we receive the same attitude from the police station next to his house. The sub-inspector finally feels sympathy towards us after a lot of pleading and explaining and calls his superior who comes in 15 minutes later. He hears us out but says that unfortunately no claim may be filed without a proof of residence. It is pointless to keep repeating that the maid has taken away all the documents and that we have close to nothing, just phone bills for a landline that we were paying over Internet. No use says the police, it has to be a formal proof of residence such as a passport, an ID or ration card, all of which the maid has cleverly taken away. Here I am not given the opportunity to file a complaint on my father’s behalf but have to wait for the inspector to finally give us the start of a solution. We should publish an ad in the papers for a lost passport, we should attempt to get some solid proof of residence and then the passport office may issue a document mentioning that my father did at some point hold a passport which had the number I gave the inspector, it would also state that my father was indeed born on the day I mentioned while showing the inspector the original of my father’s birth certificate. My father was standing there in flesh and bone, an 80 year old man, tired, disappointed, stripped of his usual dignity although bearing his plight with poise, standing in front of the inspector but he was invisible. He would become visible and eligible for filing an FIR once he had that little piece of paper that assured that he truly owned a passport once upon a time and was indeed a respectable elderly citizen of our great Motherland India.

We left the police station and headed out to a travel agency who for a fee assured us they would take care of everything. They would do all to make sure my father had that little piece of paper that proved he existed. The lady at the travel agency was very understanding. She spoke at length with my father and reassured him that she would take care of everything. We left with a feeling that at least some things still do work and somehow we would find a solution.

The morale of this is that you cannot leave an elderly family member on his own however strongly he may voice his wish to be independent. The decline into total dependency can be very quick and you cannot prepare for it. The only solution is to make sure they are protected at an early stage, literally before they display the signs enabling you to identify that they need to be protected. Bottomline is that they have to start living with their family as soon as they start the isolation process, especially if they have live-in domestic help. It would seem that the start of seclusion is one of the indicators of the onset of Alzheimer’s so special care should be taken when this happens, although it is difficult to identify if the person has always been a very private person.

The other morale of the story is that you should keep hard and soft copies of all your family members’ documents and specially the passports and proof of residence. While it may not be so critical for younger working people, it seems that it is most critical for our senior citizens for whom rather than things being facilitated, they are doubly complicated. So start scrutinizing your loved ones, specially as they grow older and more withdrawn and make sure you have those tiny pieces of paper that give you the right to exist. Papiere, Papiere said someone a long time ago while I attempted to voice who I was. We all seem to be but a bunch of papers, nothing more. What defines us, what distinguishes us as human beings is all lost in the rustle of pages turning while some officer goes through the proof you exist before making sure the face in front of him conforms to the only face he can accept exists, the face stuck there at a corner of that oh so precious paper.

Jai Hind! May you remember also your lost citizens. My father will begin to exist again soon but what of the hundreds, maybe thousands of those elderly who cannot complain because they have lost their voice? What of those who don’t have someone to get them that piece of paper which will give them a voice?
I pray that this may be one voice to give them a voice. We should have the police visiting senior citizens to ensure their rights are being maintained. Anybody above 75 should be on a special database and eligible for a fastback solution if he were to face trouble later on. Is it utopia I am thinking of? Is it really so hard to get this organized?
I pray there will come a time where this is possible. In the meantime, reach out to your neighbours. Don’t be shy and ask them whether they need help if they are elderly. For all you know that gruff old man next doors might be one you will save just by maintaining friendly contact. He might be the one whom you will allow to exist again.

Love and light to all

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