"Our financial dependence on our son and daughter-in-law has turned us into their servants."- Ramanna*, 68, Bengaluru.
"My own Nephews beat me so brutally that I couldn’t move out of bed for 7 days."- Gautam Das*, 62, Kolkata.
"I don’t receive a word of love or affection." - Dayavati*, 72, Hyderabad.
"At my son’s place, I am given just two chapattis in a day." - Mansi Devi*, 60, Delhi.
These stirring accounts, published in a report by HelpAge India, an organisation that works for the welfare of senior citizens, is reflective of a larger and deeper problem that senior citizens in the country face today - elder abuse.
There are over 100 million senior citizens - individuals over the age of 60 - in India. A 2014 survey conducted by HelpAge India found that 50% of the elderly surveyed, including 48% men and 52% women, reported suffering abuse.
The main abusers, it found, were daughters-in-law, followed by sons and daughters. The reasons for abuse were mostly emotional and economic dependence of the victims on the abusers.
Just recently, the Delhi High Court passed an order stating that adults who live in their parents' house and abuse them can be evicted from the property.
"Abuse can be verbal, physical and emotional. It can be neglect, disrespect and abandonment," says Rekha Murthy, Karnataka Head of HelpAge India.
The organisation receives scores of calls from senior citizens on its helpline, but most of those who report abuse are reluctant to file a complaint.
"Many people don't report it because of fear of retaliation. Plus they don't want to complain about their children or project the family in a bad light. They think it is a natural part of growing old," she adds.
But what is even more concerning is that not many are aware of a law that protects senior citizens from abuse and abandonment - the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.
The Act was enacted "to provide for more effective provisions for the maintenance and welfare of parents and senior citizens, guaranteed and recognized under the Constitution and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto."
The Act states that parents and grandparents who are unable to maintain themselves from their own earning can seek maintenance from their children.
Childless senior citizens can also demand maintenance from a "relative" who is the legal heir of the former and is in possession or will inherit their property after their death.
If the children or said relatives neglect or refuse to maintain the senior citizens, the Maintenance Tribunal can order the former to make monthly allowances that shall not exceed Rs 10,000.
"Maintenance" includes provisions for food, clothing, residence, and medical attendance and treatment.
The Act mandates state governments to constitute Maintenance Tribunals and Appellate Tribunals to deal with proceedings under the Act. "Though most states have implemented the Act, the awareness of it is still very low," Rekha says.
Maintenance applications can be made in a Tribunal which will have the powers of a Civil Court.
A significant provision in the Act deals with the Transfer of Property, which can be made void under certain circumstances - like if children/relatives refuse to provide elders with basic amenities and physical needs.
This is only applicable in cases where the property was transferred after the commencement of the Act - in 2007.
According to the Act, such a transfer of property "shall be deemed to have been made by fraud or coercion or under undue influence.”
Section 24 of the Act deals with offences related to abandonment.
According to this section, any person who abandons a senior citizen they’re responsible for can be jailed for up to 3 months, and/or be made to pay a fine of up to five thousand rupee.
Right to a dignified life and careful planning of post-retirement life
A majority of calls that they receive, Rekha says, are enquiries about old age homes by both senior citizens and their children. "Everyone has the right to live with dignity. But the people who call for enquires, never say they need it for themselves. They mostly say that they are asking on behalf of a friend."
She suggests that individuals need to plan their post-retirement life early on, to ensure they are financially sound, and to avoid such situations.
"We start by educating children, give pre-retirement training programme to people, and also conduct sessions for housewives because they are usually the natural caregivers in a family and they too have to deal with their own stress," Rekha says.