Old Age Homes: Outsourcing Responsibilities

WHEN objects are put on a pedestal, people, by default, slip to the status of objects. The tragedy with parents and the institution of parenthood in our times very much reflects this paradox. The recent spree of setting up of old age homes and initiating a chain of “senior citizen centres” in Kashmir has not only alerted society to the changes in social dynamics but has also compelled us, irrespective of our ideological predilections, to revisit our social ethics and contemplate the erosion of our values, traditions and morals.

Martin Buber, while writing about the tragedies facing mankind had observed that the relationships which ought to have had “I-Thou” character have transformed into relationships possessing “I-It” status. By this classification, Buber stated, in technical language, the bitter fact that relationship with people has been devalued to the typos of our relationship with material and inanimate objects and the objects have started to occupy the positions which erstwhile used to be reserved for our loved ones.

The morphology of love and the structure of our relationships have witnessed a radical departure from their established age old norms and precedents. All relationships have come to be reevaluated in the framework of material perimeters. The elements of love, empathy, compassion, selflessness, sacrifice and attachment which once decided and defined the contours of our relationships have all been left behind and the perspective of consumerism and opportunism has invaded the landscape of our relationships – the point in case being the relationship of parenthood and the consequent damage foisted on this sacred and pristine relationship by the setting up of old-age homes.

Old age homes are supposed to be the last refuge for the destitute and shelterless elder citizens but even children who are otherwise well equipped to take care of their elder parents often outsource them to old age homes.While the utility and the essential purpose of age old homes is well accepted, people must not take them as sites to dump their parents. We may have fancy reasons to suit our conveniences but the fact remains that making old age homes a norm only breeds a host of social issues that can have detrimental consequences and can set a very odd precedent in the society.

Every evil starts with necessity but once it overruns its legitimate boundaries and starts serving every trifling purpose, it not only self defeats the raison d’ etre of its existence but opens up itself to all sorts and scales of misuse and abuse. Old age homes also emerged in response to the pressing necessity of catering to the needs of helpless and left out section of elderly people in our society. However, selfish values pushed men into misusing this institution and turning it into a space where they can outsource their responsibilities and shun their parents at a time when parents need them the most. The recent mushrooming of these spaces and upcoming projects in Anantnag, Bandipora, Rajouri and other places in Jammu and Kashmir have and will make it quite easy for people to admit their parents in these centres even if they could have easily taken care of their parents. This is not a shallow admonition. So desperate were some in our society to drop their parents to old age homes that the Government had to come up with the statement that “people cannot come and drop their parents there”.

The trend of nuclear families along with the primary and sole emphasis on material well-being and economic prosperity has drastically altered the map of relationships and everything has come to be reevaluated in terms of its transaction value. It should not have taken more than a moment of introspection to understand and acknowledge the sacrifices that our parents make, the risks they run into and the hardships they withstand, for the comfort, joy and well-being of their children. Does it behove us as humans to ignore, neglect and alienate our parents when they need us the most? The maxim that “Do not do unto others what you won’t like to be done to you” sets the standard and touchstone and asks us earnestly, would we prefer to be thrown into old age homes by our children at our turn? If the answer is no, as it obviously is, people who deport their parents to old age homes must ask themselves as to what justifies their behaviour and what legitimises their asymmetry.

  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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