A couple committed suicide in Venkatraopalli in Ramadugu mandal of Karimanagar district of Telangana on 14th November. The couple was engulfed with poverty and ill-health. Vedira Muthaiah, 95 and Latchavva, 90 died in their dilapidated house by consuming poison, The Hindu reported.
According to the government of India data, 8.6% of India’s population is above 60 years of age. The literacy rate among this 103 million strong group is 43.5%. Additionally, the old age dependency ratio increased has from 10.9% in 1961 to 14.2% in 2011.
I visited two slums, Bhoomiheen Camp and Navjeevan Camp in Delhi’s Kalkaji. The milieu of the area is unsurprising. Delhi’s Agewell Foundation has identified a few elderly individuals living in these two camps and has been assisting them with wheelchairs, adult diapers and rations, depending on their needs. Agewell Foundation is an NGO that was established in 1999 and interacts with 25,000 old people daily, through their network of 7,500 primary and 80,000 secondary volunteers, spread across 640 districts of India.
The founder Himanshu Rath told me that sometimes he receives calls from affluent old people, who use the foundation’s helpline to simply make conversation. On the other hand, there are underprivileged elderly, who find it difficult to make ends meet. Himanshu says that as long as your mind and body are working, one must continue to be financially independent. In India, the retirement age is 60 years. With increasing life expectancy, one has to plan survival for a longer period of time. India’s life expectancy, according to the World Health Organization is 67 years.
The Bhoomiheen and Navjeevan colony residents are a very small part of a vast pool of the elderly who are illiterate, are illness stricken and have no help, except from their children and sometimes, spouses. The doors of all the houses were unlatched, all the elderly people were briefly excited to talk, some of them asked me to stay for longer while some of them offered tea and water. The common element in all the conversations was hopelessness since illness and perpetual poverty has left little for them to be grateful about. The narrative of these individuals is no different from millions of others that can be found in a country such as India, it is only as unique as one individual is from another.