Love is lost, but not for all. Connotations of love are not singular but plural. Mother, father, uncles, aunts, grandparents, all used to describe an Indian family. Over the years, the concept of family in India has gone through a sea change. Now, with growing materialistic desire, families are becoming smaller and smaller. The booming flat culture in urban jungles is a testimony to the fact. The situation has reached such a pass that Assam Government had to intervene in formulating a legislation so that elderly parents are not left to fend for themselves in their twilight years. The Assam Assembly this year passed a bill, making it compulsory for State government employees to take care of their elderly parents and divyang (disabled) siblings. The Assam Employees’ PRAM (Parent Responsibility and Norms for Accountability and Monitoring) Act, 2017, proposes to deduct a portion of the salary of State government employees who fail to take care of elderly parents and siblings dependent on them. The Act mandates that 10-15 per cent of the monthly gross salary of such employees be deducted and given to their respective parents/ divyang siblings for their sustence. This is a first-of-its-kind law in the country. It is not that the problem only exists in Assam; the malady is pan Indian. Last year in Parliament, a private member’s bill was introduced by Biju Jata Dal (BJD) parliamentary leader Bharturi Mehtab, which discussed threadbare the impact of socio-economic change on the Indian family system. Indian society had inherited rich ideals and values from ancient times and parents were equated with gods. But in modern society, marked by increased mobility and growing number of nuclear families, instances of negligence of dependent parents by their children are getting increasingly reported. The necessitation of PRAM legislation that make it binding for offspring to look after ageing parents speak volumes of the degradation of our family value system, which was once the highlight of Indian culture. At a time when young people are aspiring for advanced lifestyle, they are shying away from their responsibilities of taking care of elderly parents.
The mushrooming of old age homes across the country reflects the dark underbelly of present Indian family system. How serious the situation has become can be gauged from the fact that even in advertising space, this aspect of the family system has started to find prominence. Recently, an advertisement by a leading private bank carried a teaser, portraying a mother advising her unmarried son to look for a separate house after marriage to avoid marital discord arising out of staying together with parents. For a society which prides itself on social values, such examples are a black blot. During last century with the rise of consumerism in America, the family as an institution began to break up and there appeared immediate consequences like rise of youth crime and teege sex. The nuclear family concept is an offshoot of the American trait of individualism. Now that the nuclear family has started becoming a norm in India as well, the total number of such households in the country increased by 29 percent in just a decade between 2001 and 2011. Compared to this, the increase in joint families of just 9 percent clearly shows the process of breakdown of this system. The noteworthy point is that in absence of social security system in India, the break-up of joint families has mainly affected elderly people who do not have assured income after they cease to work due to the old age. But even in many well-to-do families with high income levels, elderly parents are neglected by their children and left to fend for themselves. It is surmised that a combition of rising aspirations of women after marriage and people having to leave home to migrate and work elsewhere is leading to a spurt in these in-between types of households that are neither joint nor nuclear. But the increased mobility from rural to urban areas in search of better income and standard of living has aggravated the problem. There may be many theories about the breaking up of families in the Indian context, which presents the government with a problem it cannot avoid. The country does have a law since December 2007 that seeks to provide for maintence and welfare of parents and senior citizens by making it a legal obligation for children and heirs, along with protection of life and property of older persons. But Maintence and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, while a well-meaning law passed by Parliament that has been much seized with this social problem, has been difficult to implement on ground. The courts can intervene to provide succour to neglected and abused parents, but the Union Government needs to ponder when and how it can bring about a credible social security system for old and infirm people. Healthcare and residency facilities for senior citizens along with old age pension and insurance cover are but a few major components of such a system. It is high time to move along these fronts and lay a foundation now. Once India’s demographic dividend begins to peter off and the population begins to gray, it will become a herculean task to manoeuvre with the largest number of people in the world.