A rich father and his son riding a big vehicle enter an elite institution for admission. After graduation, the father sends his only son abroad for higher education. On return, the western-minded son carries his father in the same van to an institution to say goodbye to him forever.
This time it was an old-age home and not an educational institution where a long story of miseries starts.
This was once true for the western society but it has become equally true for the religious and traditional eastern culture.
The traditional joint family system in Pakistan, like many other eastern countries, has been considered a value addition in society. But the rapid urbanization, unplanned industrialization and changes in socio-cultural values have forced people to, often, ignore their elderly relatives, including parents.
There are so many factors in western society that force elderly adults to live in old-age homes. The increasing ratio of divorce, single mothers and living together without a social contract are common everywhere there.
Rapid urbanization is one important factor; working women are the other. In addition to that, declining religious and moral values have also added to the miseries of the aged people.
A 2010 World Health Organization report estimated that 524 million people were aged, which was eight percent of the world population. By 2050, this number of aged people is expected to be 1.5 billion; meaning thereby, it would be 16 percent of the total world population. It will be an alarming situation to deal with.
When we talk about Pakistan’s joint family system, it is based on some strong eastern values, village life, slow urbanization as its hallmarks. It provided the elderly with a stable position in the society. But the opposite of all such factors have resulted in the erosion of a caring system in the society for elders.
In Pakistan, it’s a positive thing that both the private and public sectors have come forward to foster those elderly people who were badly ignored by their near and dear ones. Government funds its facilities while private homes are run through donations usually.
The Edhi Foundation is one of the famous names in the development sector while the government has also started protecting the old people.
Senior Citizen Foundation Pakistan DHA, Old Age Happy Homes Township, Bint Fatima Old Age Home, Darul Kafala Bhatta Chowk, Human Homes Ferozepur Road, The Second Home, Bilqis Edhi Home and Bahria Home are some other organizations. About 800 people are living in the old-age homes in the province. Government-run homes are situated in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Sahiwal, and Multan. Each can accommodate up to 50 people.
When this correspondent interviewed some abandoned people residing in a public sector facility, Afiyat, in Lahore, under the supervision of the Social Welfare Department, many people refused to share their miserable circumstances that led to them living in the public sector shelters. Some talked with the condition that their names should not be given while others were quite bold to discuss everything about their families and children.
As the Eid-ul-Fitr is approaching, the elderly people feel home sickness. They miss their near and dear ones and their own children.
Among the circumstances that led to old people living in such shelter homes, first is the lack of a support system by their families, loved ones and children. Mohammed Sadiq, a resident of Township, Lahore, said that he educated, brought up, married and settled his children but, unluckily, they were not ready to pay him back. He regretted that the children never showed a willingness to care.
Mohammed Khalid, a retired officer, cried while sharing his feelings with this correspondent and stated that he did everything he could for his family and children. He constructed a home, bought the property and managed good education from top elite schools but his wife and children didn’t care. They ignored him which forced him to leave the home he had constructed in Lahore, he rued.
Akbar Ali never married because his parents had departed when he was a child. He said that he was a street vendor and used to earn for his nephews. But, now, when he was old and sick and couldn’t work anymore, he was ignored by his nephews and was left to live in a government shelter home. He, however, expressed satisfaction over the facilities provided to them.
The background interviews of different people living in the old-age homes and officials working there reflected that there was an impact of globalization that also influenced the new generation. After having education from elite schools, some children migrate to western countries for higher education and better prospects for earning. The elderly parents have to survive without their support. This is very common among the gentry and upper-middle-class here.
A deputy commissioner told this newspaper that he couldn’t stop tears when he met an old man whose children had settled in UK. He said that one of his three sons had admitted him to this home with a promise to take him after some weeks, but years passed and no one came. They only paid monthly expenses, the old man said.
A man who claimed to be a BBC writer described another sad story. He said that the purpose of the creation of this country had long died. He said that moral values had been devalued and society was on the verge of collapse. He conveyed that he felt lonely at Eid festivals. He said that he anxiously waited for calls from his friends or family members on Eid day. “But who remembers,” he questioned with a deep sigh.
A couple living in the old-age home said that he had only one daughter and, after her marriage, there was no way other than either living with their son-in-law or shifting to the old-age home. I preferred the latter, he said. He added that in this society, it was not considered good to live with your daughter in her husband’s home, so he decided to migrate to the state-run facility. He said that, occasionally, his daughter visited them and they were quite happy here.
Another person, an imam of a mosque, said that his daughter-in-law warned him to leave the home or they would remove him. He said that after the death of his wife, it was the worst experience of his life to live with his daughter-in-law. He said that after spending some days in his relative’s home, he decided to shift to the social welfare facility. He was not quite happy but he thanked God that there was a shelter in the city when his only son and his wife did not care.
The following are other reasons and circumstances that force people to live in old-age homes.
Poverty was at the top; family disputes were the other reason. These societal conflicts emerge after children’s marriage, especially, in love marriages. The newlywed brides, who may be well educated, don’t want to live with their father- and mother-in-law. Such tensions and frustrations forced old people to decide to live in the old-age home.
Some people said that they could not properly educate their children morally and were facing the consequences. They said that they shifted to cities for a better livelihood and could not focus on the moral education of their children. They said that there were stresses in urban life and their children had no technique to cope with them.
The in-charge of the government facility didn’t respond to this scribe while an official said that the old-age home was the tragic side of Muslim society. He said that he experienced tragic scenes when old people died here and were buried unattended by their children. In some cases, some old men became mad here and had to be sent to mental hospitals, he revealed.
Molana Ashraf, a religious scholar based in Lahore, said that it was bad luck of the children who didn’t serve their parents and forced them to live in old-age homes. He added that they should never forget the meaning of the proverb ‘as you sow, so shall you reap’. The highly qualified westerners should never forget their own fate, he warned.