Can you guess the name of this movie?
The name of this movie is Avtaar with Rajesh Khanna in the lead role. The concept of this movie was largely related to elder abuse in India. It touched upon some problems that many old/elderly people face in India. This movie was so popular that it was remade in Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil.
There was another successful movie dealing with the same topic.
There could be other movies too, but this article is not about Hindi movies on elder abuse. It is just to understand the main problems faced by elder people and the concept of Vanprastha (also spelled by some as Vaanprastha, Vaanaprastha, Vanaprastha) Ashram could offer any solutions
According to World Health Organization (WHO), Elder abuse can be defined as "a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person".
Elder abuse is a serious problem in India and also the world. There are several organizations fighting against it and still there are lots and lots of incidents of abuse of the elderly people happening in India.
Problems Faced by Elder Family Members in India
A report by Shubha Soneja for WHO contains male and female (Indian) problems separately. Interestingly, the problems also vary (or rank) depending upon the income group.
Males of middle income group are facing mainly economic problems while the upper middle class faces mental health problems.
Other problems faced by elder males in India mentioned in the report are health problems, lack of emotional support from family members and lack of accommodation.
Problems of older females are almost similar. Women who are in higher socioeconomic category are suffering from “Loneliness”. In old age they expect their family to spend time with them. When this doesn’t happen they feel lonely.
Women who are in lower socioeconomic category face ill treatment, neglect and humiliation from family members.
On Times of India website, you can find an article (dated Sep. 29, 2012) with the headline, “Every third senior citizen in India abused, mainly by son: Study”.
Following is a quote from that article: “A study on abuse of India's elderly, conducted across 20 cities and involving over 5,500 older people, has found that almost 1 in 3 (32%) have faced abuse. The son has been found to be the primary abuser in 56% of cases, followed by the daughter-in-law in 23% cases.”
According to www.azadindia.org, “According to an estimate nearly 40% of senior citizens living with their families are reportedly facing abuse of one kind or another, but only 1 in 6 cases actually comes to light.”
Interestingly, Shubha Soneja (in her report) says, “There are no clearly defined roles of older persons with in their families”, and this seems true if we look at the family lives today.
But may be we had this in the form of Vanprastha Ashram! May be we had a solution to at least mitigate if not prevent elder abuse!
What is Vanprastha Ashram?
In ancient India, life of a human was divided into four stages:
“Vanprastha” is a Sanskrit word formed out of “Van” and “Prashtha”. The person entering Vanprastha has not to retire from life. He has to retire from Grahastha Ashram, where the primary motive was the growth of family and dealing with worldly matters.
A person entering Vanprastha is expected to start getting out of those concerns. The purpose of life should change for him. He has children, who are grown up and can take care of their responsibilities. He has to start leaving the material world behind, while preparing for the Sanyas Ashram.
This was a very fine arrangement. This is somewhat similar to the retirement age of 60 (or 58, 65 etc.) where the person has to retire from his job and a new person is there to replace him.
How following Vanprastha Ashram Can Help in Solving Problems of the Elderly?
Given above is the information taken from HelpAge India website. It summarizes the main problems of elderly people.
All these problems do not appear suddenly. These problems start with age only and there comes a time when the issues become too large to handle.
As stated before, the goal of life during Vanaprastha Ashram is to separate from material pleasures and if someone starts doing that, half of the problems are automatically solved. Yet, you can compare the above major problems identified with the practices followed during Vanprastha.
For failing health, self control on food and other habits should help. Also, practicing yoga and pranayam on daily basis should help in this particular age. Physical and mental stability can be achieved through regular yoga and meditation.
Economic insecurity is an issue. But Vanprastha does not mean you have to give up everything to your children and move to the jungle. This is not the time for that. Your money is still yours. What needs to be done here is to prepare your mind to separate from material world. The goal is just to prepare for that tough phase, known as Sannyas Ashram
Isolation should not be a problem if one focuses on God. Having spent all life struggling, this should be a period to relax, reading spiritual texts, increasing faith in God and getting engaged in religious/social services. Meditation helps one to get emotional balance. This would also help in not letting one feel neglected or afraid of anything.
Most people don't understand the importance of letting others do what they want to. Frequent instructions or unwanted advice may not be liked by everyone. After some time this could also become a reason of abuse.
A lady (for e.g.) who managed her son and house for long can't digest the way her daughter in law manages the house now and the fact that her son is more affectionate to his wife than mother.
A person entering Vanaprastha should understand this cycle of life. After all it was the parents who put their child to marriage. Similarly a father wants his child to be always under his control but sadly, this doesn't happen always.
Vanprastha Ashram calls to start moving away from worldly attachments.
Rest of the points such as boredom, loss of self respect, lowered self esteem and lack of preparedness for old age can all be prevented through reading scriptures, social service and service to God.
I feel expectations are a cause of problems too. Parents expect lots of things from their children and what we expect does not always happen. This leads to frustration. Now when your children have become economically independent would they listen to your scolding in the same way they used to when they depended on you.
I have seen posters and slogans of people asking the younger generations to change. Their work is much appreciated but at the same time the effort should also come from the "about to be" old people. We will also get old but what we can do is to prepare ourselves for that age when there is not as much support from the mind and the body.
Vanprastha starts just at the right age (around 50 years from birth). The body is not dull. The body is not all gone. Instead the transition phase has started. Just at this time, the preparations should also start. If it is too late, it could be difficult to control. Changing others is always difficult, but we can change ourselves!
Four Spans of Human Life by J.M. Mehta
Hale and Hearty Ever After 50 by S. Chandra
Author - Archit
लाभस्तेषां जयस्तेषां कुतस्तेषां पराजयः I येषामिन्दीवरश्यामो हृदयस्थो जनार्दनः II