By Jyots Bhattacharjee
In modern terminology “Senior Citizen” is a relatively new coige, possibly to give a boost to the sagging morals of the old. If we describe somebody as an old person, it seems to be a rough and crude description, lacking in polish and the concerned person may not like to be described as an old person. But the term “Senior Citizen” sounds more polite and is a refined way to describe an elderly person. Some may say, what is in a me? In whichever way you choose to call an elderly person, he remains the same old person. As William Shakespeare said in his epic “Romeo and Juliet”, “What is in a me? That which we call a rose by any other me it would smell as sweet”. The new nomenclature of “Senior Citizen” does give a boost to the sagging spirit of the old people. It seems to soften the blow of being regarded as the relict of humanity by giving them some tinge of respect.
Since the last few decades the world’s population is graying rapidly. In face of the population explosion, a new set of demographic trends is set to recast the world’s population profile in the current century. The most important trend is that the world’s population is ageing. Due to scientific advancement and modern technological progress, the longevity of mankind has been extended. In the present era we see a large number of people above the age group of 70; so many of them live up to eighties and nineties. Some even live up to 100 years if we go by the newspaper reports. The scientists have apparently usurped the power of God by extending the life span of mankind.
In the past there was the joint family system and every family had a good number of children. Now there has emerged the single family system and may be due to all these birth control measures adopted by the modern families, each couple usually has only two or three children. Thus the number of young people apparently is decreasing, while the number of old persons is increasing. In some newspaper I saw that the report of the United tions Population Fund has projected that by 2050 the world’s elderly will number around two billion. In that case perhaps there will be more older persons than young people. This trend is expected to continue through the years and there might be more and more elderly people in the near future.
India can boast of having a large number of young people. According to a report today more than half of India’s population is under the age of 25, with more than 65 percent of the population under 35. Hence India being the second populous country of the world, it can boast of a large number of young people. But here too the population of senior citizens is growing fast and at present there are many elderly people above 65. From the emerging trend it appears that India’s burden of non-working people to be borne by the working population is lower than the rest of the world. But its successive generations might have to carry a bigger burden.
The emergent demographic reality is the larger ratio of elderly people. The fact is that the changes in societies are made not by the actual size of the population, but by the changes in the distribution of different age groups. When the babies grow up and become adults, they join the workforce and from their vigorous activities, societies experience enormous productivity gains. But when the same generation becomes old, they become uble to adapt to the new technology and new demands for flexibility in the workforce. Thus the graying population leads to a decline of efficiency in the work force. Then the productivity will be less and the same generation which clamoured for revolutiory changes and many welfare measures in their youth would demand higher pension cheques and various health care measures for their well-being.
It is an accepted fact that human beings do not want to die, they all want to live for a longer period. Whatever we may say about our wish to leave the earth, the truth is that we do not want to die, though it is known by everybody that death is a certainty, which cannot be evaded. As Lord Sri Krish stated in the Bhagavad Gita to Arju,
Jatasya hi druvo mrityur
Dhruvah janma mritasya ca
Tasmad apariharye arthe
tvam socitum arhasi
(One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. There, in the uvoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.) It is certain that one day we have to die. In spite of knowing this ultimate truth, people want to linger on this earth for as long as possible. Now modern science and technology have offered longevity to mankind, which may be welcome to some. But longevity causes many problems, and the scientists have not been able to solve them.
After a certain age people become frail and senile and consequently dependent on others for any little thing. As Lord Buddha said life is full of suffering. Even if a person has money and all the luxuries in the world, he cannot avoid suffering, because he cannot escape from disease, old age and death. Hence according to Lord Buddha, suffering accompanies life. It is the law of ture that when one is born, he must go through disease, old age and death. Science may have granted longevity to mankind, but it has not been able to grant immortality which is in fact a blessing in disguise. Imagine what chaos and horror will occur if nobody died.
Old people have to die one day, when the time comes, for their own happiness. Longevity creates more problems for themselves as well as for others. The graying population cannot be a part of the working populace and they remain as parasites to the dismay of the younger generation. Besides that, the countries would have to bear the burden of larger age-related expenditures, chiefly in the form of higher outlays on health care and pension support in their old age. Due to the cost of providing long-time care for the aged and for their pension the country would lose enormously in the fincial sphere. The old people need proper health-care; they also need money to survive in these difficult times. Above all they need sympathy and compassion from the society besides their respective families. Human society will fail in their test for civilization, if no decent provision is made for the old. Longevity without the necessary adjuncts like physical welfare and mental happiness amounts not to a blessing, but to a curse.
At present there are many old people in the world including our own country, where social security system for senior citizens is woefully idequate. Now people live for a longer period. In India we have many old people in the age group of 60 and 80 years, who need care. But it can be seen that many elderly persons are leading a very miserable life. They are considered as a worthless burden by the family and the society. Often they get thrown out of the house like an old tube of toothpaste by their own children. Some of them have to beg for their livelihood. Surely it is a fate worse than death.
Whatever me you choose to give to the old people, it does little to ameliorate the plight of the elderly people. After leading an active life for so long, they find it difficult to depend on others for everything they need. In this respect the central and state pensioners are slightly better off than the rest of the multitude comprising men and women above sixty, who get very little from the government. The old age pension sanctioned by the government does not go far in alleviating the sufferings of the senior citizens. For one thing, not everybody is getting it, and for another, it is too small an amount to cover the necessary expenses of the unfortute old people. They suffer and fade away in depression, disease, disability and loneliness.
For those senior citizens who belong to the affluent section and who have money of their own, life may not be so tragic. But for the others the fincial problem is acute. They have to depend on others for bare survival, which is an extremely difficult thing for those, who never wanted to be under obligation to anybody—not even their own children. Besides that even if an elderly person has money of his own, he has to face the hazards of old age. He loses his physical strength and mental equanimity.
India’s social security system is awfully idequate compared to some economically advanced countries. The pressure on public finces for ensuring social security for the senior citizens is prohibitive. Under the circumstances I do not really know whether the elderly people would wish to live in the world for a longer period. I myself fall into the category of the senior citizens. If you ask me whether I would like to extend my life span and live for a longer period in this good earth of ours, my honest answer would be in the negative. It is not that I have been neglected by my family or anything like that. Truly they are very considerate and generous towards me.
The truth is that after a certain age a person may not want to live longer in this world. It is for the simple reason that though science has granted a longer life span for the elderly people, it has not given back their youth and strength. So after a certain age we feel idequate to move with time. Even if a person is old he or she may want to do many things that they did in their youth. Though the body may become old and feeble, the mind does not become so. I want to travel, go shopping, buy new clothes, go partying and do all those things which I did in my youth and in the days when I was not marked as a senior citizen. I loved to go to diverse places during holidays and we had a whale of a time. I loved to go shopping specially in the festive seasons. But my advanced age has robbed me of those delightful activities. Today I cannot do any of those attractive things, because my feeble body refuses to cooperate with my active and vibrant mind. Hence I do not really wish to extend my stay on earth. What is the use of living without the joys of life?
Even children may not be happy to be saddled with their parents, who hamper their life style. In their time these old parents struggled and sacrificed all their life’s pleasures in order to give proper education and comfort to their children. But once they grow old, the children do not care for them. turally they feel neglected, unwanted and isolated. Once in ancient India old people were venerated by the younger generation. Their word was law to their children and they did not dare to disobey their parents, who were supposed to be founts of wisdom. But now it can be clearly noticed that the time-honoured attitudes towards the elderly people are slowly and steadily changing.
The welfare of the senior citizens should be a tiol task and responsibility. It needs to be accorded higher priority, because they have given the best part of their lives for the welfare of the society and the tion.
For living a happy life you need physical strength, capability to meet any rough situation and the challenges of life. If one is uble to do it then there is no pleasure in continuing to live up to 80 or 90 years. Hence I do not consider longevity of the old as a blessing. Because of my own experience, I understand the pain of the old. For me it is undignified to be treated as an unnecessary burden. I think death is preferable to a lonely sad life.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)