A LATE-LIFE STRUGGLE Some seniors are fighting kids and kin for their rights
A recent study showed that 71% of elders in India have been victims of abuse from family. Now, an increasing number is asserting their right to property and maintenance
Balwinder Kaur’s extended family owns 17 flats in south Delhi, but there was no room for her. The 66-year-old spent nearly six years confined in a tin shed, taunted and tortured by her brother and his family. A neighbour heard her cries, complained and she was rescued. “The day I signed over my property rights, they started ill-treating me. They would say: ‘Why don’t you just die,” she says.
A widow with no children, Balwinder had no place to go. The NGO HelpAge India helped her find shelter in an oldage home in Aya Nagar. As her health improved, she found the determination to fight for her rights under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents fore approaching a tribunal. Chamelidevi’s son and daughter-in-law were put behind bars for a month and are now out on bail. “I could not believe our own son could behave like this. Aisa beta kissi ko na de (No one should be cursed with a son like him),” she says.
HelpAge India CEO Mathew Cherian says that property is a significant point of contention in affluent families. “But with more awareness, seniors are fighting for their right to stay in their homes or get maintenance,” he says. In fact, there’s a move to amend the act to increase maintenance and bring even distant relatives in its ambit.
Kerala-based Sarada had little hope of a happy resolution when she walked in to the Ottappalam government office in Palakkad district to complain about ill-treatment by her children. Sarada’s alcoholic husband had died leaving her nothing. She had worked as a tailor to raise her children. The years of hard work had yielded a small plot of land which she registered in her youngest son’s name. But he threw Sarada out of her home. Not only did the sub-divisional magistrate cancel the title deed that Sarada had gifted to her youngest son but also ordered her two children to pay Rs 1,500 each per month as maintenance. Kerala has seen a spurt of petitions by senior citizens. Of the 6,687 petitions filed in 27 tribunals, 70% came in the last two years. Only 873 were rejected. “In some cases, field verification showed that the person deserted his children long back and reappeared to seek maintenance,” says N Prasanth, who was the first SDM to handle a maintenance tribunal in the state.
But not everyone is lucky enough to get redress. Delhi resident Prem Lal Sharma, a retired bank employee, thought his job was done when he raised five sons and three daughters. But now, when the 87-year-old has heart trouble and his wife is bed-ridden, there is no help from them. With the help of NGO Dignity Foundation, Sharma approached the court six months earlier but there has been no headway in his case.
FAMILY FEUDS: Chamelidevi and Brijesh Soni are back in their Mumbai home (top) while PL Sharma continues to fight against ill-treatment (left)
Tribunals can order monthly maintenance of up to Rs 10,000 Petition must be heard within 90 days of filing a complaint