Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Spare A Thought For Those Who Brought You Up

Indian sons, and their wives, aren't treating their aged parents well. A study on abuse of India's elderly, conducted across 20 cities and involving over 5,500 older people, has found that almost 1 in 3 (32%) have faced abuse. The son has been found to be the primary abuser in 56% of cases, followed by the daughter-in-law in 23% cases in a survey conducted by the Hep age India.

While these might be the revelations made by a study, I am reminded of the many cases of the brutal battering that elderly were meted out by their sons. The most inhuman case I ever heard of made a son, who was the legal heir to the property, put his surviving mother in the dog's kennel where she was served food and made to live in forcible fear. 

A woman in India has rights and privileges as a human as long as her husband is alive, since the identity of a woman is recognized with a husband and with the married status. In most cases since a wife is younger than the husband and since women have been known to live longer as per this survey that says that at the age of 80 years and above, 71 per cent of women and only 29 per cent of men have lost their spouse, older people, in this case women end up being alone in their twilight years.

This is because social biases do not allow remarriages and seeking refuge in old care homes, owing to the gender discrimination that Indian women are meted out and the dirty tricks Indian culture keeps playing to mull the ideologies of womanhood. Again for all the sacrifices they make as young women, with many retorting to live as "stay at home" moms, career planning is ignored or put on the back burner which adversely affects financial planning and too much dependency on the husband.

If the husband passes away earlier than the wife, which happens in most cases owing to the higher life expectancy of Indian women, the mother is left in the lurch. And a feud for the family property erupts with the mother complying to the son's demands in most cases, making her a dependent on the son and daughter in law. In most Indian homes, daughters are absolved of all rights in her birth home, the day she gets married and dowry is given to her, which in most cases is seen as her share of the paternal property. In this case, daughters are asked to stay away from their birth homes and consider the conjugal households as the place where their due of the decision making should come into play.

Now to throw some light on what the legality says. Daughters have the same rights and responsibilities as sons and no human force (In this case the brother and his wife!) can hinder them from exercising a liberty the law has allowed.
The day daughters will share the onus of taking care of the parents, they won't be seen as burdens. So also the division of property as son's share and dowry for the daughter can be arrested to allow equitable splitting of rights and duties. Under such circumstances daughters won't be seen as a liability and social evils like female foeticide, female infanticide and dowry deaths would be forgotten fables. 

Somewhere down the line, Indian parents rely too much on sons when it comes to emotional, mental and financial security in the old age. Sadly, this is where the equation has gone wrong. Every adult should plan wisely for the old age with the expectation of living with the son not playing a part while they chart out their retirement. Retirement can be the best time of the life with a bit of saving for the rainy day. 

Even as home makers, women can put aside a small amount of money every month for the future or can invest in pension schemes which won't make them very reliant on their husband's share of the property. There are also investment options that makes the "spouse" a beneficiary in case of a mishap, even those can be put to good use. 
So also, both women and men must learn to live without their spouses in case of an eventuality in the future with the decision making about property left at the will of the surviving partner.

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