Laxmi Dabas, 75, on Thursday, 11 February, went for an eye-checkup to a clinic 12 km from her house in South Delhi.
"The eye drop used by the doctor left me with a blurred vision. I was told it's going to be that way for 6-7 hours. My son lives in Bengaluru. He said he'd book a cab for me to go home but I decided to stay back because I did not want to risk taking a cab when I couldn't see properly. Who knows what the driver would have done?" she said.
A former school teacher, Dabas has been living by herself in a four-bedroom house in Delhi since 2015 after she lost her husband to lung cancer.
"Living alone is difficult especially after you cross a certain age. Everyday you hear and read about cases of senior citizens being murdered or robbed," she said, referring to the death of an 88-year-old woman in Delhi, which she recently read about in the newspaper.
"Three people visited the victim's house for some repair work, identified that she is old and vulnerable, and then robbed and murdered her. This is a common template. Such news articles are available on wholesale in the papers. But who cares?" said Dabas.
On 7 February, 88-year-old Shanti Devi was found murdered in her house in Northeast Delhi's Dayalpur.
As per DCP (Northeast) Sanjay Kumar Sain, "Two out of the three accused in the case visited Shanti's house for renovation a few months ago. After they noticed she was well-to-do and gullible, they hatched a plan along with a third person to commit theft at her house."
An FIR invoking charges of murder under section 302, robbery under section 392, and theft under section 379 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was registered in connection with the case.
As per data by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 26,110 cases of crimes against senior citizens were registered across India in 2021 as compared to 24794 cases in 2020. Delhi registered the highest number of cases among all metropolitan cities in the country accounting for over 27 percent of total crimes committed against people aged 60 years and above in these cities.
The Delhi Police has a special cell that takes care of the elderly — people like Dabas — who live by themselves in the city.
Speaking to The Quint Special Commissioner of Police (Special Police Unit for Women and Children – SPUWAC) Sunil Gautam said that the Senior Citizen Cell of his department has over 43,000 registered senior citizens who the police regularly check on.
"We have WhatsApp and Telegram groups through which we regularly communicate with senior citizens, we visit them occasionally to help with their daily needs and ensure their safety," Gautam said.
He added that while some senior citizens are receptive to a beat constable visiting them regularly, some don't cooperate. "It's our duty to ensure they're safe so we keep trying to make them feel comfortable. We make sure that our officers are trained to deal with the elderly in a sensitive manner," Gautam said.
The Quint spoke to senior citizens across Delhi-NCR about their concerns around safety, the good and the bad about the process of ageing, and the anxieties of living alone.
The Dilemma of Staying in Old Age Homes
69-year-old Deodas Ram along with his daughter Aakriti Ram visited old age homes across India for 6 months to finalise the one home where Deodas would stay when Aakriti and her husband move to Canada for work.
"We found two homes, one in Pune and one here in Delhi," Deodas told The Quint sitting on the terrace of Panchvati — a home for senior citizens in Delhi's Tughlakabad area.
Deodas and Aakriti finalised Panchvati after a one-week trial run at the home. "I stayed here for a week. The services were good and this is also close to Chittaranjan Park where I have spent most of my life," Deodas said.
Unlike Dabas, who lives by herself in Gurgaon, Deodas said that he and his daughter felt it was safer for him to move to an old age home.
"We thought it was best for me to live in an old age home because here my daily needs are taken care of. Also, if I suddenly fall sick there are people to take care of me. My daughter doesn't have to worry if I am safe. By God's grace, I don't have any ailments so far but with old age, you can't really say," he explained.
For Dabas, however, the idea of living in an old age home is terrifying.
"There are days when I slip on the bathroom floor and injure myself, or misplace my chashma somewhere in the house and then take hours to find it. This, however, is still better than living in an old age home. I don't want to be dependent on someone else for my daily needs," she said.
Of Old Age and Loneliness
Not all senior citizens, however, can afford an old age home, said Himanshu Rath, the founder of Agewell Foundation — an organisation which which works for the welfare and empowerment of older persons.
"Even the cheapest old age homes cost Rs 6,000 a month. How then will people who are dependent on state pension or those who come from low-income backgrounds afford these homes?" Rath pointed out.
Chanda Saini, 71, is one of those.
A domestic worker in Northwest Delhi, Chanda moved to Delhi from Rajasthan, 50 years ago, after her marriage.
"I earn approximately Rs 6000 a month but this income is not stable. Jab mai beemar hoti hun toh kaam par nahi jaa paati aur pagaar se paisa kat jaata hai (When I fall sick and am not able to go to work, money is deducted from my salary)," she said.
Saini has two sons, both moved out after marriage and work as daily wagers at construction sites. She herself lives in a shanty near Rohini.
As per Delhi government's old age pension scheme, an amount of Rs 2500 per month is given to people over 70 years of age.
Chanda, however, is unaware of any such scheme. "I can't read or write. I also don't have the time to visit a sarkaari office again and again to claim this money," she said.
Rath, the founder of Agewell foundation, claimed that most government schemes for senior citizens exist only on paper and are hardly executed. "The pension money is meagre and insignificant and is disbursed once in two-three months. Senior citizens who live alone find it very difficult to claim that money," he said.
Except for Saini who has frequently take the busy streets to reach to work, Deodas and Dabas said they barely step out without a reason.
"I try to stay indoors. Delhi roads have no place for the elderly. Staying indoors is safer, and people on the streets sometimes also misbehave with the elderly. Once on a busy market lane, a person pushed me so hard that my shoulder pained for almost a week," Dabas said.
Dabas added that she sometimes does visit a park near her house for evening walks.
Deodas, however, lamented that there are no open spaces near his old age home. "There are hardly any parks around here. Luckily, the home itself is very spacious. So I exercise here only," he told The Quint.
Deodas added that sometimes staying inside the home makes him feel lonely. "Sometimes, I also feel lonely. But what has that got to do with my age? All people feel lonely at some point or the other. Even I do but then, I have a very strong support system here. We cheer each other up all the time," he said.
Rath agreed that there is little sensitisation regarding the needs of the elderly in the society.
"We need to sensitise our children and the youth towards the needs of the elderly. That's the only way we can control crime against senior citizens and also help make public spaces safer for them. It's time we introduce such things in our school curriculum," he said.
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