Portraying your own self as one day you will be undergoing this stage

“Do not regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many.”

Indian society is proud of its diverse culture and traditions. Compassion, respect for the elderly, spirituality, integrity, unity in diversity, and other ideals underpin our culture. Throughout the globe, the Indian culture and family system are admired and frequently seen as a model that combines the best of both worlds: tradition and modernity. Several homes across the country continue to believe in the notion of mixed families. The elderly are invariably acknowledged as threads that link the component parts of the home into a united garland in the majority of households throughout India.

It goes without saying that the elderly are respected in such households, and their words are considered as gospels, dictating how the day-to-day running of the family is carried out. Significantly, touching the feet of the elderly in India is not just a gesture of respect, but also a statement of appreciation for their years of work in nourishing the family. Given these realities, it is very shocking to come across cases of old and senior persons being ignored and abused.

Unfortunately, in some such situations, parents and senior members of families are subjected to severe physical and emotional tortures, are denied basic requirements of life, and are frequently abandoned on the streets or in old age homes. Such occurrences are ideal examples of younger generations' apathy toward their forefathers, as well as an ever-increasing tendency of "use, abuse, and discard." Such instances not only represent the materialistic and self-serving attitudes of subsequent generations, but also function as a direct blow to India's cultural and religious beliefs.

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution (“Constitution”) bestows one of the most important rights on individuals: the right to life and personal liberty. Significantly, the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution protect these individual rights from subtle encroachments and arbitrary constraints. In reality, it is established law that any method that impacts a person's right to life and/or personal liberty must be a "procedure defined by law," and that it must be "fair, just, and reasonable, not whimsical, harsh, or arbitrary."

It is also a well-known truth that the safeguards envisioned in Article 21 of the Constitution are available to all people/individuals. Furthermore, the breadth and ambit of the aforementioned protection are constantly growing. In Ashwani Kumar v. Union of India, the Supreme Court stated that "the right to life, we admit, comprises numerous rights, but for the time being we are concerned with three essential constitutional rights, each of which is basic and fundamental." The petitioner identified three rights: the right to live with dignity, the right to shelter, and the right to health. The state is responsible for ensuring that these basic rights are not only safeguarded but also enforced and accessible to all citizens.” In reality, the Supreme Court, in the immediate case, expressly recognized the right to dignity and sufficient remuneration, as well as the right to housing and medical care/assistance as few of the rights accessible to the elderlies under Article 21 of the Constitution. The Supreme Court expressly acknowledged the “need to continually evaluate progress in the fulfillment of the constitutional duty to provide the aged with appropriate accommodation, medical facilities, and geriatric care.”

The Government of India's Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment created and announced the National Policy on Older Persons (“NPOP/ Policy”) in 1999. According to the NPOP, "due to the operation of several forces, the position of a large number of older persons has become vulnerable, as a result of which they cannot take for granted that their children will be able to look after them when they need care in old age, especially in light of the longer life span implying an extended period of dependency and higher costs to meet health and other needs." The policy sought, among other things, to enhance older people's rightful role in society and to assist them in living the latter stages of their lives with purpose, dignity, and serenity. NPOP further visualized the State's role in providing financial security, health care, shelter, welfare, and other needs of older people; protecting them from abuse and exploitation; making opportunities for the development of older people's potential available; seeking their participation, and providing services so that such people can improve the quality of their lives.

The Policy also envisioned providing/ensuring financial security through pension and legislation programs; health care and nutrition through improving current medical frameworks and facilitating access; shelter through collective housing schemes; education and welfare schemes, and so forth. In order to guarantee policy execution, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment was designated as a nodal agency/ministry. The NPOP also mandated, among other things, the creation of a Five Year and Annual Action Plan outlining the actions to be done to guarantee the flow of benefits to older people from general programs as well as schemes specifically designed for their well-being. At the same time, the Ministry was required by policy to prepare a thorough evaluation of the Policy's execution every three years. At the same time, the Ministry was required by policy to prepare a thorough evaluation of the Policy's execution every three years.

The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 (“Senior Citizens Act”) was enacted in accordance with the NPOP and to achieve the purposes and objectives contemplated therein. The Senior Citizen Act, according to its preamble, intends to establish “more effective arrangements for the maintenance and welfare of parents and senior people promised and recognized under the Constitution, and for issues associated with or incidental thereto.” Significantly, one of the primary goals of the Senior Citizens Act is to allow for the establishment of an appropriate system for the protection of the “life and property of older persons.” The Senior Citizens Act defines a parent as a father or mother, whether biological, adoptive, or stepfather or stepmother, regardless of whether the father or mother is a senior citizen (Section 2(d) of the Act). According to Section 2(h) of the aforementioned Act, a senior citizen is "any individual who is a citizen of India and has reached the age of sixty years or above." Furthermore, “maintenance” under Section 2(b) of the Senior Citizens Act includes provision for food, clothes, housing, and medical attendance and treatment. ” According to Section 4 of the Senior Citizens Act, an application for maintenance can be filed by a senior citizen, including a parent, who is unable to support himself from his own earnings or property, against one or more of his children who are not minors, in the case of a parent or grandparent. In the event of a childless senior citizen, such an application can be brought by the senior citizen against any of his relatives, as specified in Section 2(g) of the aforementioned law. In this case, the responsibility to care for a senior citizen extends to ensuring that the parents can live a normal life. Furthermore, according to Section 4(4) of the aforementioned Act, such responsibility of maintenance applies to anybody who is a relative of a senior citizen, has adequate means, and is in “possession of the property of such senior citizen or would inherit the property of such senior citizen.”

Maintenance applications under Section 4 of the Senior Citizens Act may be brought before the Tribunal by a senior citizen, a parent, or any other person or organization authorized by such senior citizen (in the event of his/her incapacity). Furthermore, the Tribunal may take note of such issues/concerns on its own initiative. According to Section 5 of the aforementioned Act, the Tribunal is entitled to impose interim maintenance until the disposition of such applications and is required to dispose of such applications within ninety days of the date of delivery of notice of the application. Sections 6 and 8 of the Senior Citizens Act specifically address the Tribunal's authority and process. The Tribunal is also entitled to issue maintenance orders and adjust allowances/maintenance in accordance with Sections 9 and 10, respectively, of the aforementioned law. Significantly, Section 11(2) of the Senior Citizens Act states that “ a maintenance order made under this Act shall have the same force and effect as an order passed under Chapter IX of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (2 of 1974), and shall be executed in the manner prescribed by that Code for the execution of such order.” Under the said dictamen the act of exposing and abandoning elderly persons is defined as an offence under Section 24 of the aforementioned law, punishable by “imprisonment of either type for a time which may extend to three months or fine which may amount to five thousand rupees or both” Significantly, Sections 19 and 20 of the Elderly Persons Act impose a responsibility on the State to ensure the construction of old age institutions and medical care for senior citizens.

Section 125(1)(d) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (“CrPC/Code”) adds provisions for parental support. According to the stated law, if a person with adequate means neglects or refuses to maintain his father or mother who are unable to support themselves, an order of maintenance can be issued by the competent Magistrate in accordance with the requirements thereof. It is worth noting in this context that the phrase "his father or mother" in Section 125 CrPC refers not only to the father or mother of the son but also to the father or mother of the daughter. It is common law that the phrase "his father or mother" should also be interpreted as "her father or mother." As a result, Section 125(1)(d) requires both the son and the daughter to support their father or mother who is unable to support himself or herself. According to the Hon'ble Bombay High Court, the term "mother" in Section 125 of the Code includes an "adoptive mother." The Supreme Court has also ruled that a childless stepmother may seek maintenance from her stepson if she is a widow or her husband, if still alive, is unable to support and maintain her. It was underlined, however, that such claims by stepmothers must be rejected/denied if they are solely motivated by a desire to punish and harass stepson/stepchild. Maintenance requirements are also included in the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, of 1956 and the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. However, the requirements of the Senior Citizens Act are significantly broader in terms of scope, application, and accessibility.

In India, courts have dealt intensely with cases of mistreatment of the elderly. Considering the predicament of an old woman at the hands of her daughter, the Hon'ble High Court of Bombay was delighted to impose restriction orders against her harassers/children. The Hon'ble Court was happy to overrule, among other things, that "if children cannot take care of their parent/s and enable them to live in peace, they at least ought not to make their life a living hell." The Hon'ble High Court of Bombay said In Servants of the People Society v. The Mumbai Housing and Area Development Board and Ors. that "the older persons deserve respect and should be treated with compassion, tenderness, care, and decency." They should not be allowed to expire in their old age due to a lack of care and attention or medical assistance.” In another case, the Hon'ble High Court of Punjab and Haryana stated, among other things, that “though parents want to maintain their independence and do not expect as much from adult children as children expect from them, parents also hope that children will be there for them when called upon to participate.”

Significantly, the rights of children of senior citizens/elderly parents have not been overshadowed by Indian courts. In Priti Dhoundial v. Tribunal (Under Maintenance & Welfare of The Parents & Senior Citizens Act, 2007) & Anr. , the Hon'ble High Court of Delhi reprimanded the Tribunal's procedure in deciding the Senior Citizens Act application, in which no right of hearing was afforded to the children/respondent. In another case, the Hon'ble Supreme Court said that a mere factum of close family does not give rise to a presumption of undue influence, particularly where some of the siblings are caring for the elderly/parents. Without a question, the importance of the elderly in a family is unparalleled and cannot be overstated. Society and family/ies cannot choose to reject and neglect them in exchange for their years of committed labour in nurturing their families. It is as vital to preserve and supply their health, stature, and basic requirements, as it is to respect and care for them in their vulnerable state. William Shakespeare equated old age to second infancy in his famed work, noting, “Is second childishness and simple forgetfulness, Sans teeth, sans sight, sans taste, sans everything.” In old age, life definitely comes full circle.

Those who are privileged enough to pass through all stages of life end up living before a time of absolute oblivion, which is frequently referred to as a second childhood. As a result, it is natural and necessary that people who have committed their lives to look after us be showered with comparable patience, respect, and devotion. It is not just a social obligation, but also a mandate of a state and society founded on law and order, and, in the case of India, cultural and religious beliefs. No community or nation can advance if it abandons its origins in the name of a brighter tomorrow. The obligation we all owe to our old in our primes is infinite, and the least we can do to return is to nurture such seniors in their senescence. At the same time, it must be recognized that the old are not a liability; rather, their wisdom and experience of life should be treasured and learned. “The elderly have so much to offer,” someone once said. They are our link to the past.”

By Tavleen Kaur Sabharwal

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