Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am extremely happy to address this gathering on the occasion of the
International Day of Older Persons.
Let me at the outset itself confess my bias. I turn seventy seven few
months from now. Our Honourable Prime Minister has just celebrated his
80th birthday. Ms. Lata Mangeshkar celebrated her 83rd birthday a few
days back. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer is going strong at the age of 97,
intellectually vibrant and deeply concerned about the welfare and
progress of our nation. Many more illustrious persons can be added to
this list, but I stop here.
There is in this audience and all around us a large number of elders who
are making extremely valuable contributions to our country and to our
society. I salute them and am proud to be one of them, an ‘Elder’
leading a productive and fruitful life. And, I am confident that each
one of these elders has much more to do and give before they call it a
Today, with the advancement of medical science and technology, age is by
no means a disabling factor. If you are healthy, age is just a number.
It is also possible to remain young in mind and spirit irrespective of
how many moons you have seen. As summed up by the famous English writer,
W. Somerset Maugham “Old age has its pleasures, which, though different,
are not less than the pleasures of youth”.
Yet, it is the sad truth that elders such as those mentioned above are
perhaps a minority. It is said that there are over a million persons in
the world crossing the threshold of 60 years every month. The World Bank
believes there is an old age crisis looming large over most countries of
the world. It is with the specific intention of focusing attention on
the problems of the elderly that the United Nations declared October 1
as the International Day of Older Persons. Across the world, while there
is rejoicing over the fact that progress in medical science and economic
development has expanded the life span of human beings, there is also
recognition that ageing is amongst the major economic and political
challenges of the 21st century.
India is a young nation and we celebrate the fact that more than 50% of
our population is under the age of 25. We are hoping that the
demographic dividend that a young population brings will assure our
country’s economic future. However, we must remember that there is a
very significant population of elders in our country, whose needs cannot
be overlooked. According to a forthcoming UNFPA report, 20 per cent of
our population is going to comprise of elders by 2050. We simply cannot
afford to neglect or ignore this section of the population.
The India of our dreams is a kind, caring and compassionate society. Our
Constitution, in Article 41, which forms part of the Directive
Principles calls upon the State to make effective provision for public
assistance in cases of old age, within limits of its economic capacity
and development. I wonder how many other Constitutions would contain
such specific reference to the State’s responsibility to provide support
to the elderly. Though the Directive Principles do not enjoy the status
of Fundamental Right and are not legally enforceable, these principles
are considered fundamental in the governance of the country making it
the duty of the State to apply them while making laws in order to create
a just society.
I have to confess my deep alarm and dismay in this context over the
findings of the 20 city survey conducted by Help Age which reveals that
one out of three elders have faced abuse. It is even more shocking to
learn that those surveyed describe their sons and daughters in law as
the primary abusers. Many report such abuse as having continued for more
than five years and most do not complain to any one in order to uphold
family honour. Elders surveyed have spoken of suffering disrespect,
neglect, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and emotional abuse. Worst of
all, the Survey finds that the most abused are those above 80.
I hope these findings will serve as a wake-up call and goad each one of
us into immediate action. We must do everything possible to ensure that
our elders can live a life of dignity, enjoying the best of medical
attention, economic security as well as emotional stability. Our
culture, history, traditions, religion and philosophy all enjoin us to
respect our elders and to fill their lives with abundant love and
affection. India is what it is today because of the contributions made
by our elders in their youth. If those hands steadied you when you
learned to walk, then you need to support them when they need help and
hope there will be others who will do the same for you when you grow
The majority of older persons in our country are women and among the
oldest, 65 percent are women. Sadly, 58% of the older women are widows.
This gender dimension to ageing is something we should recognize and
address with appropriate measures. I was very pleased to see earlier the
elderly “ Maasis” from Kolkatta who are being taken care by HelpAge
Across India, the ‘Joint Family” is withering away and with it, the
informal support structures that elders used to enjoy. This has serious
implications for the economic, health, emotional and physical security
of the elderly segment of our population. These challenges should be
seen in the context of industrialization and modernization, which has
affected the family size, structure and its guiding philosophy. We
certainly cannot set the clock back but we must evolve solutions that
strike a balance between conflicting demands of elderly and younger
members of the family.
The real challenges that lie in the field of health security are
accessibility and affordability of medical health facilities. Elderly
require special geriatric care which can be available only in the
tertiary hospitals and their medical expenses increases with age whereas
their income decreases or remains static despite increase in inflation.
Private hospitals are reluctant to provide concessions to the elderly
and insurance companies unwilling to insure the elderly. I am thankful
to NGO’s like HelpAge India which provide health care to more than a
million elderly every year through their Mobile Medical Vans.
In the economic field, the full play of market forces in the financial
markets has resulted in lowering of interest rates. Interest is the
mainstay of the income of many elderly who do not get any regular
pension but invest their resources in such deposit schemes that yield
The Government of India in 1999, which was the International Year of
Older Persons adopted a National Policy on Older Persons. This is a
comprehensive document that identifies principal areas of intervention
and action strategies. This policy needs to be implemented in full
earnest by the Government. NGOs like Helpage India and older persons’
organizations must provide necessary support to the Government in this
There is an urgent need to mainstream issues concerning the aged and
ageing in India. The needs and requirements of the elderly should not be
overlooked by society. We need to fight ageism that is so deeply
ingrained in the societal psyche and reinforced by the media. Elderly
should not be considered a spent force and consigned to the history
books but seen as active members of the society contributing to its
Society and government should be sensitized to the fact that old age is
just another phase of life with its special needs and characteristics
like childhood and youth. Though the losses in this phase of life are
more than in any other phase in life but still all is not lost. The
younger people should get to know how the world appears to the elderly;
because that is the future of the youth.
Most importantly, the elderly should be encouraged to get out of a
‘retirement mentality’ and think about old age as a second inning, an
opportunity to complete so many unfinished tasks and expand horizons, to
look beyond the self and the family and work for community. Active
participation and involvement in society is the mantra which can ensure
independence, dignity and self – fulfillment.
A compassionate and caring society values each of its members. If the
youth have energy, the elderly have knowledge and experience. All we
need to do is provide them opportunities to be productive. Under no
circumstances should elders in our society be given the impression that
they are a burden and that we are reluctant to care for them. We need to
ensure their happiness and we certainly need their blessings.
On this occasion of the World Elders Day, I greet all the senior
citizens assembled here and pray that all of you will enjoy good health
and remain blessed with a mentally as well as physically vibrant life. I
congratulate all the awardees present here and express my sincere
appreciation for the stellar work undertaken by them.
I compliment Help Age India’s visionary founder late Samson Daniel who
founded this organization way back in 1975, his successor Shri M.M.
Shabharwal who spearheaded the expansion of Help Age India across the
country and all its members, volunteers and supporters who have
dedicated their lives to the service of the elderly.
I call upon each and every citizen of India to do their utmost to ensure
the welfare of the elderly in our country and to create opportunities
for them to enrich our society and contribute to the growth and progress
of our nation.
I am particularly happy there are many school children from Delhi
schools in the audience. Children, I hope that each one of you will
pledge to bring the maximum possible happiness into the lives of your
grandparents and all others of their generation.
I would like to end my observations with a quote from Henry Wadsworth
“For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day”