M.K.Gandhi is reverentially addressed as the Father of the Nation.
In India, the term “father” is considered the most respectable form of obeisance. The upbringing of children in the country starts with seeding the feeling of highest respect for the mother, father and the teacher in that order, culminating in faith in God.
Change in modern times has impacted this traditional mindset in filial as well as social relations.
Suddenly, it transpires that the father as well as the mother are hurt by their son and/or daughter. They are even harmed. In their old age, they are ignored. They get neither support nor care from their son/daughter.
The problem has already assumed dangerous proportions in less than 67 years of the enforcement of the Constitution of India.
It has served the nation well excepting that it has uprooted “Dharma” from the consciousness of the individual.
Dharma is not religion but equity, fair play and justice in practice as a normal pattern of individual behaviour with the collective sanction of the society. That a son was expected to look after every need, including emotional needs, of his father/mother in old age was indeed what the legislatures have been struggling in India for decades to make as a “Law”.
So, the Himachal government was the first to make the “law” casting responsibility on the son to take care of the father, which was followed by the Government of India, which passed a similar law in 2007. Now, the Government of Assam has gone a step further and ordered 20% deduction from the salaries of government employees who neglect their old parents.
Sincere though, these measures fall short of the healthier values “Dharma” imparted in the form of tradition in India, because it lacks the element of “respect and love” that flowed naturally and spontaneously in the bond between father/mother and son/daughter. Today, the situation is worrisome.
On 1st October, India joins the global community in celebrating the International Day of the Older Persons. But the number of Old Persons Homes gets increased every year. Loneliness afflicts even high-income group individuals. It is a complete breakdown of the social structure leading to problems nobody has any solution.
What does it mean to live the rest of one’s life in an Old Persons Home or a hospital or even own flat/house other than emotional deprivation, depression, frustration and unhappiness?
Contrary to the present situation, the traditional way of Indian living provided enough support on every one of these counts even as financial or physical constraints on sons/daughters many a times appeared to be burdensome.
The presence of children in the family or neighbourhood meant a lot of cheer in old age, enjoying every moment of days gone by. It engaged the mind in a healthy exercise of living one’s own childhood, its pains and pleasures, unhappy and happy memories, comparing the changing times. The energy such a family living gives the individual, makes him/her take up some productive activity like taking the children to the school bus stop or bringing them back safely home or doing some household chore, reading, writing, buying vegetables & fruits, taking walks, listening to music, painting or participating in social service.
Settling family support issues under the law with police help or intervention of a court of law can never be a happy experience for a father/mother. Times have made a 180 Degree turn in human relations.
Climate change may not destroy the planet but destruction of every bond of love and trust like the one between the parents and the children certainly will.
What is done with a sense of duty towards the parents is superior to what is done under the penal provisions of the law.
Law can never be a substitute for Dharma.
Were it so, the scholars who penned the Veda, Puran, Upnishad, Smiriti, Itihas and Shashtra would have easily codified them in the form of a law. They did not. And it was sound logic. Nobody can force on a person the feelings of love or respect. It should flow from within. That happens only if the upbringing has been good and the society puts premium on values.
The reality, however, is that the times have changed; so have the values.
Only the parents have not changed, but they ought to as early as possible.
Every child today is an older person after 60 years or so. Should s/he not plan from the very beginning for that old stage in life?
One must plan for financial, health and emotional independence and self-reliance. S/he should not remain a burden on the children in any way. Circumstances may not allow the children to take care of the old parent due to living in different countries or places, failed or disturbed marriage, children’s schooling or health or other constraints. It is no use putting them under stress in any of these conditions.
The best is to “accept” the reality. Expect only that much as is possible to give under these compelling circumstances. The best is to be on your own. It would mean that one need to take care of her/his health, finances, daily routine of life, hobbies, priorities and to the extent possible associating with some national cause.
The community of the older persons should develop a feeling of fraternity and engage in productive contribution to society at large. They have rich experience of life, energy and even finance to give back to human kind what had come to them.
One unique offering could make them much sought-after asset in old age if they donate their whole body to Organ Harvesting Institutions like the AIIMS.
Be a part of the change, be yourself the change. Celebrate your own old age, not on October 1st only but every day. Let the children feel the need of the elderly. Let them know the invisible benefits they derive from caring for their aged mothers/fathers by their sheer presence in the family. We can call Mahatma Gandhi the Father of the Nation only if we respect our father and mother, never abandon them in helpless conditions at places for pilgrimage, railway stations, bus stops, airports or other unfamiliar places at the mercy of others or charities.