In the latest episode of ‘Satyameva Jayate’, actor Aamir Khan highlighted the plight of our senior citizens. The shabby manner in which our elders are being treated by their own children, the barbaric killing of the aged in some parts of Tamil Nadu and the miseries of the widows of Vrindavan as shown in the programme made one wonder whether we belonged to a civilized nation. Respect to elders has been an integral part of our mythology, religion, folklore et al for ages. Lord Ram’s obedience, Shrawan Kumar’s dedication, Bhishma’s vow have all been inculcated down generations, yet we ill-treat those who gave us life. What a shame!
While the activist actor raised issues pertaining to the social security of our senior citizens, infrastructural facilities to enable them to lead independent lives to the extent possible is equally important. After all, no amount of financial security, civil society support or Dada-Dadi parks can help them board public transport including trains,
which are the life line of this country.
At present, only two exclusive facilities have been provided by Indian Railways for Senior Citizens. They include a concessional fare of 40 per cent for males (60 years and above) and 50 per cent for women (58 years and above) besides separate counters for purchase/booking/cancellation of tickets.
According to Dr. AK Agarwal, CEO of a Noida-based firm, who runs The Eminent – a national level NGO set up to strengthen the bond between the young and old, senior citizens suffer in the absence of several facilities such as:
Lack of elderly-friendly railway platforms: Most railway stations have platforms that do not align correctly with the height of the train. This makes it difficult for the elderly to enter the coach.
Choice of berth: Despite option for berths asked during booking, lower berths for the elderly are not assured and they remain at the mercy of fellow travellers for the same.
Inadequate special arrangements: Only a few big railway stations have ramps for wheelchairs. There is no provision of escalators or elevators with foot over bridges for going from one platform to the other in most stations.
Medical cover: A First Aid Box and that too with the Guard of the train is highly inadequate in terms of timely help for the elderly, who may be in need of urgent treatment.
Dr Agarwal has made several representations to the Government seeking not only redressal of the aforesaid grievances but also suggesting among other things, a special coach for elderly in all major trains, list of doctors traveling as passengers to attend to any emergency, provision of Attendants for frail, sick and weak elders, availability of boiled, salt-free and sugar-free options in food for them, pre-paid conveyance booths inside railway stations and information kiosks for senior citizens.
At the fag end of their life’s journey, a safe and comfortable journey is the least a grateful nation can give to these elders, who contributed their mite to the society.
Agarwal also walks the talk. Set up in memory of his late father, The Eminent seeks to provide a common platform for a meaningful exchange of ideas between the young and old, with a view to bridge the generation gap. It provides opportunities for elders to impart their knowledge and experience to enable youngsters to get an edge in the competitive global environment.
The organisation identifies and felicitates senior citizens, who have contributed positively to society in their fields, which may range from professional achievement to home management to putting their own children on the road to success despite insufficient means etc.
Funded entirely by Agarwal, the NGO, which runs a free Ayurvedic dispensary, is now in the process of opening home libraries in different localities and procuring ambulances to help the aged reach hospitals not only in emergency but also for routine check-ups.
The organisation also publishes an awareness magazine called Inspire, which educates people above 40 about health, relationships and financial security, so as to prepare them to lead independent, healthy and purposeful lives till the very end.
More such initiatives are the need of the hour.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)