Last year, Laxmi, a 68-year-old elderly woman was abandoned by her daughter and son-in-law, as they considered her a burden in the house.
Since then, Laxmi has been begging on the streets of Hyderabad.
After meeting with an accident a few weeks ago, she was taken to Osmania General Hospital by locals.
“When the hospital informed my daughter about the accident, they did not even come to see me. I was very depressed and had no reason to live,” she says.
Hospital officials, however, reached out to the Good Samaritan’s India, an NGO in Secunderabad that shelters senior citizens, who are abandoned by their children. With a smile on her lips, Laxmi says, “Now I am happy here. No one hates me here, they talk to me. They don’t consider me a burden.”
Although Laxmi often longs for her family, she has come to realise there were more people like, abandoned by their loved ones as they aged.
“After I came here I found I am not the only one who was going through all this. There are so many similar cases,” she adds.
Good Samaritan’s India has around 150 senior citizens under their care.
“All of them are abandoned by their family. Most of them are victims of harassment by their own children. Shockingly, this is very common,” says George Rakesh, the founder of Good Samaritan’s India.
According to HelpAge India, an organisation which works for the welfare of senior citizens in the country, more than 40% of elderly people in Telangana have been abused by their children.
“We get more than 160 calls from Telangana every month where aged people are found abandoned and in the streets without anyone. More than 1000 elderly people in the state are without shelter,” says Mohammad Raza, Telangana head for HelpAge India.
Raza also observes that parents are abandoned more in urban area than in rural parts of the state.
“When some of them come, they are very depressed, as they are victims of isolation. They are kept in restriction and there will be no one to talk to in their house. But when they start living with others, they find it more peaceful as they find many people they can actually relate to,” he adds.
While George has been seeing cases of abandonment for the past decade, he notes that 60% of the cases come from government hospitals, where children leave their parents following treatment.
The Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment passed the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 makes it a legal obligation for children and heirs to provide a monthly allowance to parents.
“How many people know about it? This is the responsibility of the government to spread awareness programmes so that elderly people know their rights. No proper committee has been formed in the state to implement the act. Though tribunals were constituted at sub-divisional, district and state levels to deal with cases of the elderly, there is still no awareness,” says Raza.
According to National Crime Record Bureau, Telangana has the sixth highest rate of crimes against senior citizen.
“However, there are no records of senior citizens who face harassment by their children or relatives. We have performed the last rites of nearly 300 senior citizens as their children refused to come claim their body. This is very depressing,” says George.
He also points out that with most elderly people being unaware of their rights, they become vulnerable to abuse.
“I still remember, last year, I got a call from a woman saying an elderly person had been staying at her place after her tenant left without informing her. We went to the place to shift the elderly lady to the NGO, but found out from a neighbour that the woman who had called us was, in fact, her daughter-in-law. The elder woman used to cry all day. After she passed away, we had to perform her last rites,” he recalls.