Do not leave the elderly behind: Promote a society for all!
-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*
Today October 1st is once again the day on which the United Nations reminds us to recognize the contributions of older persons and to examine the issues that affect their lives. In a message for this year’s ‘International Day of Older Persons’ on the theme ‘Leaving No One Behind: Promoting a Society for All’, the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon says, “older persons make wide-ranging contributions to economic and social development. However, discrimination and social exclusion persist. We must overcome this bias in order to ensure a socially and economically active, secure and healthy ageing population.”
If we look around, it is blatantly obvious that as society ‘develops’ materially, we tend to neglect the old more and more. There are of course several contributory factors to this: the traditional joint family in most cases is a thing of the past; unlike yesteryears, a fairly large percentage of married couples prefer having just one or two children; apart from the family going nuclear, in growing percentages, both parents work full-time outside the home; above all, with the advancement of technology and the invasion of the ‘idiot box’ into the sacred domain of the family, family members have less and less time for each other and much less for the elderly.
It is therefore not without reason, we see the growth of ‘homes for the aged’; if one can afford them, some children are all too happy to “dispatch” their parents to such homes. There is also another reality: when the elderly really have no one and it is they who opt to go to one of these homes to be cared for in their twilight years. The painful reality is that in several parts of India, old people are just sent out of the homes which were once their own and left to hunger and die on the streets of very lonely cities. A case-in-point is ‘Shanti Nilaya’ in Ahmedabad where the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa Sisters) care for 180 dying and destitute men picked from the streets of Ahmedabad and most of them very elderly.
Pope Francis has condemned the practice of leaving the elderly in such homes for the aged, calling it as a form of ‘hidden euthanasia’. At a special Mass which he celebrated in Rome on Sunday 28th September for the elderly (particularly grandparents) he praised the values of the older generation to society and their enormous - indeed indispensable - contribution that they make, most importantly in their conservation of hard-earned wisdom and experience. “There are times," said Pope Francis, "when generations of young people, for complex historical and cultural reasons, feel a deeper need to be independent from their parents, 'breaking free', as it were, from the legacy of the older generation. Nevertheless, if the meeting of generations is lost and not re-established, and a "new and fruitful intergenerational equilibrium is [not] restored, the inevitable result will be, serious impoverishment for everyone, and the freedom which prevails in society is actually a false freedom, which almost always becomes a form of authoritarianism."
So as we celebrate the elderly in our homes and society, let us pledge today to listen, to learn and to love them as never before. Let us ensure, above all, that we do not leave our elderly behind: but we promote a society for all!
1st October, 2014
(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace)
Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Saffron Hotel, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad-380052 Phone: (079) 27455913, 66522333 Fax: (079) 27489018 Cell: 9824034536
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