ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
Reader Mode
-A A +A

Housing for the Aged

Old-age Homes in Rural West Bengal

Mohan Chandra Dolai (saratmohan@rocketmail.com) is a Research Investigator with Cultural Research Institute, Backward Classes Welfare Department, Government of West Bengal. 

A burgeoning elderly population looking for senior living institutions has led to the mushrooming of Old Age Homes (OAHs) not only in West Bengal but also in other states and union territories. The present study is an attempt to find out the growth and development of OAHs in rural West Bengal. 

Traditionally, elderly people in India have lived within a multigenerational family. This arrangement has catered to their economic, physical and emotional support to a great extent. However, it is evident that this situation is undergoing a radical change, as more and more people are surviving beyond the age at which they would perform or be rewarded in major social roles as worker, parent of a dependent child, or spouse. The vulnerability of older people has thus been heightened as a backlash of social change.

Older people feel less valued owing to the forces of modernisation, technological change, mobility and the explosion in the lateral transmission of knowledge which have brought about changes in lifestyles and social values. Industrialisation has brought in unprecedented pressure in urban centres and living as a joint family has become financially impossible in larger cities. A major chunk of the younger generation migrates to other cities and towns for livelihood, increasing the vulnerability of the old who stay behind. Also, the role of the woman as the traditional caregiver has changed with an increase in employment of women outside the household.  Families now invest more in education and upbringing of children thus affecting the intra-family distribution of income in favour of the younger generation.

The situation of elderly is also more worsening due to the gradual increase of lifespan and their population in absolute numbers. Life expectancy in India has almost doubled from 33 years at the time of independence to the present 62 years. But the change now is visible in older age groups where women are outnumbering men (Bagga 1999: 318–27).

According to the 2011 Census, the total population of West Bengal is 9,12,76,115 (7.54% of the total population of India) of which the number of elderly  is 77, 42, 382 (8.48% of the total population of West Bengal), an increase from 7.11% in 2001. 

As per the data published by HelpAge India in 2009, in India, there are 1,176 OAHs in total. Kerala has the highest number of OAHs (182) whereas West Bengal stands at the second position with 164 OAHs, followed by Tamil Nadu (151), Maharashtra (133), Andhra Pradesh (114), Karnataka (91), and Gujarat (77).

After considering the changing scenario, the Government of India in 1996-97 initiated a non-plan scheme of assistance to panchayati raj institutions/voluntary organisations/self help groups for construction of OAHs. This grant-in-aid is to provide food, shelter, care and recreation facilities to the inmates of these homes. Section 19 of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007 envisages a provision of at least one OAH for indigent senior citizens with a capacity of 150 persons in every district of the country. Besides this, another type of OAH, primarily maintained by businessmen, has been set up for the elders who are not in a position to receive care from the family despite their economic independence.

Therefore, the present study is aimed to deal with the development and organisational aspects of rural OAHs in different districts of West Bengal. There are 59 OAHs in the rural areas of West Bengal.  After preparing the list, the researcher visited rural OAHs to obtain permission for the proposed research. Among the 59 OAHs, the authorities of five OAHs declined to give such permission. Therefore, the present researchers were confined to carry out the research in 54 rural OAHs. Among these, 33 OAHs were charitable and 21 were non-charitable.

Emergence of Rural OAHs

The first OAH, namely, Little Sisters of the Poor (a Christian organisation), was established in Kolkata in 1882 (Lamb 2012: 57–62). However, it took more than 100 years for the establishment of an OAH in rural West Bengal. The first rural OAH, St Vincent Ashram (a Christian charitable OAH), was established in 1983 near Adra railway junction in Purulia District. The West Bengal government maintains only one OAH, the Government Home for the Political Sufferers and Aged and Infirm Middle Class People, located in the southern suburbs of Kolkata.

Table 1: Inception of the Rural Old Age Homes in West Bengal

Years since Establishment

(Years)

No of OAH (In Percentage)

Charitable OAH (N=33)

Non-Charitable OAH (N=21)

≤5 years (2009–2013)

00

07 (33.33)

6–10 (2004–2008)

04 (12.12)

05 (23.81)

11–15 (1999–2003)

08 (24.24)

06 (28.57)

16–20 (1994–1998)

16 (48.49)

03 (14.29)

21–25 (1989–1993)

04 (12.12)

00

25+ (before 1989)

01 (03.03)

00

The study revealed that all the OAHs in rural West Bengal have been established post 1990, with the single exception of the St Vincent Ashram. In fact, 21 charitable OAHs were established between 1990 and 2000.  First non-charitable OAH, Ramkrishna Briddhashram, was established in 1996 in the Hooghly District. It deserves special mention that not a single charitable OAH was established in rural West Bengal during the period 2009–2013.  However, the same period has seen significant growth in non-charitable OAHs, even though non-charitable OAHs in rural West Bengal is a recent phenomenon compared to their charitable counterpart.

Distribution of Rural OAHs

The 54 rural OAHs under study are distributed over 13 districts of West Bengal. In the districts of Purba Medinipur, Paschim Medinipur, Purulia, Darjeeling, Malda and Murshidabad, all the OAHs are charitable whereas in the districts of Birbhum and Bankura, only non-charitable OAHs have been established.

However, in South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Hooghly, Howrah and Nadia, there are both types of OAHs. The Table(2) also suggests that the highest number of rural OAHs is located in Hooghly (10), followed by Purba Medinipur (9), South 24 Parganas (7), North 24 Parganas (6), Paschim Medinipur (4), and Nadia (4).

With a few exceptions, most of the charitable OAHs    are located far away from any railway station or state or national highway, in a comparatively pollution-free and serene atmosphere. On the contrary, most of the non-charitable OAHs are either located adjacent to a municipal town but within the jurisdiction of panchayat administration or close to a railway station or bus stop.

The 54 rural OAHs can altogether accommodate 1,866 elderly persons. However, the research showed that only 1,384 elderly (693 male and 691 female) were residing there.

Non-charitable OAHs tend to take in more members per institution compared to their charitable counterparts. This is because charitable OAHs restrict their inmates to 25 persons as the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India gives financial support for only 25 elderly inmates per charitable OAH. 

Table 2: Distribution of Rural OAHs as per Their Intake Capacity

and Actually Admitted Elderly Inmates

Name of the District

Old Age Homes

Intake Capacity

Total admitted Inmates

Percentage

 (%) *

Charitable

Non-charitable

Total

Male

Female

Total

Hooghly

04

06

10

505

148

161

309

61.19

Purba Medinipur

09

00

09

250

106

73

179

71.60

South 24 Parganas

02

05

07

315

100

128

228

72.38

North 24 Parganas

04

02

06

188

69

83

152

80.85

Paschim Medinipur

04

00

04

100

60

40

100

100

Nadia

03

01

04

130

76

31

107

82.31

Birbhum

00

03

03

38

06

11

17

44.74

Howrah

01

02

03

80

21

42

63

78.75

Purulia

02

00

02

45

13

28

41

91.11

Bankura

00

02

02

70

28

26

54

77.14

Murshidabad

02

00

02

50

23

25

48

96.00

Malda

01

00

01

25

10

15

25

100

Darjeeling

01

0

01

70

33

28

61

87.14

Total

33

21

54

1866

693

691

1384

74.17

*Percentage of inmates calculated in respect of total intake capacity.

However, our study revealed that not a single charitable OAH has accommodated 25 inmates although the records show that all of the places were fully occupied. It is assumed that such malpractices are followed by the charitable OAHs to procure optimum financial subsidy from the government.

Conclusion

Despite the fact that the central government has allocated a monthly provision for each resident of the rural OAHs, it is clear that they are deprived of institutional care. For the residents of non-charitable OAHs, the problem is twofold—they do not receive funds from the government, and the residents are often at the mercy of the management if they fall on hard times, financially.

This problem will be solved by not only establishing more financially sustainable OAHs but also by providing institutionalised care to the elderly at an affordable price.

References

Bagga, Amrita (1999): “Women and Health in Old Age: The Indian Scenario,” Ageing and Health: A Global Challenge for the Twenty-first Century, Proceedings of WHO Symposium held at Kobe, 10–13 November 1998, pp 318–27.

HelpAge India (2009): Directory of Old Age Homes in India, New Delhi: Research and Development Division, HelpAge India, accessed on 21 August 2015, http://oldagesolutions.org/facilities/OAH%20Directory%202009.pdf

HelpAge India (2002): Directory of Old Age Homes in India, New Delhi: Research and Development Division, HelpAge India.

Lamb, Sarah E (2012): “The Rise of Old Age Homes in India,” Aging and the Indian Diaspora: Cosmopolitan Families in India and Abroad, Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, pp 57–62.

Comments

(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top