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Is India ready to protect its elderly population from the lockdown due to COVID-19?

Photo: India Today

By Jagriti Gangopadhyay

In his novel After Many a Summer (1939), Aldous Huxley narrates the story of a millionaire trying to evade death. The novel highlights how the neo-liberal culture of the USA pushes the elderly to remain young forever. However, the current pandemic has changed the entire narrative. Several media reports have highlighted that the elderly are at greater risk of being infected by COVID-19. Research from the USA has found that the virus is more dangerous for the older people due to their regular intake of medicines for health issues such as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney ailments and other chronic diseases. Though the Government of India has issued a notice stating older adults aged 65 and above should stay at home, it has failed to take into account the other challenges faced by the older people of India. Additionally, the 21-day lockdown has added severely to the woes of the elderly living alone or only with their spouse. With no public transport and with their domestic help staying indoors, the overall health of the elderly are being affected.

Elderly and the Lockdown

My father is 66 and my mother is 62. My mother is doing all the housework from cooking to washing clothes to cleaning utensils. With the delivery systems being closed, my father has to go out every day to buy basic necessities such as groceries, vegetables and medicines. Neither of them know driving and my father is a patient of diabetes. Similarly my aunts (total 5 in number), are all widowed and their children are settled in different parts of the world. They are spread across India, Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore and though all of them are in the age range of 75-85, they have no option but to cook, wash dishes as well as clean the house.

Yesterday my mother remarked, “Not corona, the housework will kill me.”

While the Government has allowed shops with basic supplies to remain open, the elderly have to wait for hours in long queues to finally do their purchase. Though the elderly population are one of the most vulnerable to the pandemic and are advised against stepping outside the house, the lack of basic amenities is coercing them to risk their lives on a daily basis.

What can be done?

Due to the failure of the Government and the market in addressing the needs of the elderly, the Indian community has come together to serve the elderly population of India. An online community known as the Caremongers in India are a group of volunteers who are doing grocery shopping to buying medicines to even providing home cooked meals to the older people in India. As India is a youth-dominated country, the Government of India has mostly ignored the issues of the elderly population. With majority of the caregiving burden on the family system in India, the outbreak of a pandemic brings to light the everyday challenges being faced by the elderly in India.

As the Government of India plans to extend the lockdown to control COVID-19, it is important to consider the requirements of the elderly population as well. In particular, at this point, the Government of India can take a few lessons from the Kerala Government, which took special care of its aged population. With Kerala’s high NRI population, a large number of older parents live alone in Kerala. The Kerala Government deployed the Kerala Police as well as Kerala Social Justice Department to monitor localities and houses of the elderly. The police personnel conducted telephonic and video calls to the homes of all the elderly to enquire about their well-being. In fact basic supplies such as medicine and grocery items were also provided by the police. Another initiative called the Anganwadis to Families was launched to manage the welfare of the aged, children and women. Such initiatives by other State Governments or some form of policy for the elderly by the Central Government, will aid the elderly population to cope better with the current lockdown.

Jagriti Gangopadhyay is Assistant Professor at Manipal Center for Humanities, Manipal, India.


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.

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