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Gender, Ageing and Social Security

In the context of the state's withdrawal from the social sectors, this paper makes a case for the increasing need to ensure social security for older people, especially women. It touches upon some problems in implementing social security legislation, locating elderly women - including widows - the deserted and the destitute women as a vulnerable group. The gender implications of the various policies and schemes of assistance for older people, including the National Policy for Older Persons, are also discussed. The manner of implementation of the schemes is situated in the overall context of the vulnerability of older women in India.

Gender, Ageing and Social Security

In the context of the state’s withdrawal from the social sectors, this paper makes a case for the increasing need to ensure social security for older people, especially women. It touches upon some problems in implementing social security legislation, locating elderly women – including widows – the deserted and the destitute women as a vulnerable group. The gender implications of the various policies and schemes of assistance for older people, including the National Policy for Older Persons, are also discussed. The manner of implementation of the schemes is situated in the overall context of the vulnerability of older women in India.


lder people, and in particular, older women are an extremely marginalised group of people, who hardly merit the attention of state protection. As women, they occupy a position which is more disadvantaged than older men, and as older people the additional vulnerability of dependency and support from others. In both instances, their contribution both economically and socially to the household and community is hardly recognised. Demographically, populations are displaying an aged complexion across the world. In terms of aggregate population in India, the proportion of elderly, those above 60 years of age, was 5.4 per cent of the total population in 1951 numbering 20 million and it had increased to 6.7 per cent in 1991 totalling 57 million. The rate of growth of the population of this age group has also been higher than that of others contributing to its increasing proportion in the overall population. Further, the proportion of women in the 60+ age group is higher than the male population [Bose 2000].

However, in some states such as Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh the male population above 60 was higher than the female population while in others such as Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat the female population in this age group outnumbered the males, reflecting perhaps the socio-economic status of these states and the corresponding vulnerability of older women living there.

Older women, who include not just widows or destitute women, are in need of greater attention and support in these years, in return to their contribution during their more productive years. Increasingly the institutions of support and care such as the family have become more demanding in nature, extracting from the older and vulnerable members continuous work, when care and support are their due. In recent years the state has also withdrawn or curtailed its support for older people in the form of social security. In the period of liberalisation of the economy, the state has only attended to the needs and demands of investors and corporate producers, who have received numerous concessions while the elderly continue to be taxed or denied benefits, for instance, there was a unilateral decision to introduce tax deduction at source (TDS) on senior citizens saving scheme of 2004, or deny Mediclaim to people above 55 years, or remove tax concessions on the public provident fund (PPF) investment [Dalal 2006]. The state has further neglected vast sections of marginalised labour, many of whom are underemployed receiving meagre returns for their labour. Older people constitute a significant section of this marginalised workforce, a bulk of them women in the unorganised sector. The reforms in the public sector, be it in health or social security, as part of the economic restructuring in India have led to a major reorganisation of public provisioning and opening up of avenues to private capital.

Simultaneously, social mobilisation from below is also a characteristic of the last decade. Pressure from below has resulted in the state extending legislation into the areas that addressed the most marginalised groups, such as the rural poor. Campaigning and sustained public pressure has led to the schemes which have been successes in a regional sphere to be extended to a national domain, one such being the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to implement the national rural employment guarantee scheme. Another recent development has been the introduction of a social security bill for the unorganised sector workers, a bulk of whom are women.

Social Security and State Responsibility

“The basic idea of social security is to use social means to prevent deprivation and vulnerability to deprivation” in order to ensure sustainable human development over time [Dreze and Sen 1999]. In both developed and developing countries state-supported social security in the form of protective or promotive social security has evolved to supplement and to replace the support that family, community or other charitable institutions provide. When social security is referred to, it largely addresses the benefits that people in the organised sectors of employment receive. However, in most parts of the world, large populations who are involved in informal but productive activities do not enjoy social protection or are covered only very partially [ILR 2000].

There is compelling evidence not just from countries with poor economic development, but even the rich economies, that improvements in living standards have most often been the direct result of social intervention rather than simple economic growth. The provisioning for the social sector has to be seen in terms of the actual costs that are incurred, which are only a fraction of the total gross national product (GNP). Even this has been steadily declining in many countries. The assumption that these measures are a burden on the exchequer and therefore expensive, is misleading, and is the assumption behind the proposals for adjustment that international monetary institutions prescribe to debt-ridden nations.

Analysis shows that in India, the average total expenditure for states for social security was only around 3 per cent of the net state domestic product, when calculated for 15 major states, while direct social assistance averaged less than 1 per cent. Further when social security expenditure was graded in terms of poverty, it was found that states with relatively high incomes did not necessarily have low levels of poverty [Prabhu and Iyer 2001]. In fact, there is evidence in India, where repeated occurrences of epidemics have indicated the erosion of public health standards induced by the cuts in expenditure on health and the preventive and curative services of the health system [Baru 1996]. Despite this the trend now is to rationalise government expenditure and allocation of public resources. Recently, there is a move towards only fixing employer responsibility of an employee’s future with regard to various insurance schemes which are also increasingly being privatised. The creation of a fund with respect to provident fund which is then “invested” thereby subjecting to market risks, is another move towards state relinquishing its welfare responsibility. The question of social security provision is being closely linked with fiscal reforms and taxation of sectors hitherto untapped in order to enhance social welfare expenditure, in the current climate of restructuring of the economy. The experience of east-Asian economies of providing a public corpus fund that could support the health insurance premium costs of the elderly with certain conditionalities provide an example worthy of emulation. Closer home there are some examples with different objectives already in place, such as the Life Insurance Corporation’s group insurance policy at a premium of Rs 10 for every Rs 1,000 benefit; the SEWA Bank’s scheme of integrated insurance and voluntary health services may also serve as pointers [Alam and Anthony 2001].

Social Security in India and Some Problems in Implementation

Although there is evidence of social security existing as early as the post-Vedic period in ancient India as seen in the role of guilds [Rajan 1999] in modern times it is the 1950s, with the Constitution endorsing the provision of social security, that mark the beginnings of social security in India. Some of the important areas where legislation as well as institutional mechanisms were provided were: health insurance, worker protection, unemployment relief. It is important to note that social insurance principles were accepted as the main basis for social security legislation, directed mostly at workers in the organised sector. Among these are the Employees’ Provident Fund Act, 1952, supplemented by the Family Pension Scheme in 1971 and the Deposit-Linked Insurance Scheme in 1976, Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 and Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972. Measures in the nature of survivor benefits such as accident insurance, health insurance and crop and cattle insurance, either through voluntary commercial insurance, or through low-cost group insurance for several occupational categories or through life and general insurance subsidised by government have been extended since the 1970s and 1980s. Given the constraints related to the nature of the unorganised sector, many states just provide some kind of social security for certain sections of the unorganised workers depending on their own financial viability and commitment.

Thus what is observed in terms of social security arrangements which have evolved over four decades has been a piecemeal effort, consisting of non-legislated benefits to public employees, conventional social insurance schemes for workers in the organised industrial sector, and a modicum of social assistance for the poor in the form of old-age pensions and subsidised life insurance (Rajan ibid). It is also illuminating to note that the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956 provides also for the maintenance of the elderly. Further the Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code also provides for the maintenance of parents along with wife and children, who can claim maintenance if unable to provide for themselves.

The social security provision by the state and voluntary sector has been reviewed by scholars through the pre-independence phase right down to the present [Rajan et al 1999]. They have slotted the social security movement in the pre-independence period into the period of unconcern (before 1920), the period of haphazard growth (1921-41), and the period of conscious planning (1942-51). Subsequently the phases have been: period of implementation (1952-57) and period of planning for coordination or period of consolidation (1958-present). Even though the periodisation indicates a progress in the development of social security legislation and success in implementation, the reality presents a different picture. For instance, the pension system in India, even though it covers only less than 10 per cent of the total workforce, that is in the organised sector, the skewed coverage and wide disparity in features and benefits within the organised sector, both public and private, is one of the major challenges. This has also complicated its extension to the unorganised workers, where only piecemeal provisions have been initiated by some sectors such as agricultural workers in some states.

In an overall sense, social security measures are plagued by several problems. Primarily, they have to do with the grossly inadequate allocation in governmental budgets. The overall expenditure on social security and social welfare (both Plan and non-Plan) in 1989-90 is only 1.15 per cent and 1.34 per cent, respectively to total expenditure of the government (Rajan et al ibid, p 178). Given such abysmal and skewed allocations vis-à-vis other capital and revenue expenditure, such as defence or infrastructure, the issue of covering greater sections of vulnerable populations can only be imagined. The reforms initiated in sectors such as insurance and pensions have indicated the need for greater care in designing the programmes. If the revenue inputs for the schemes and programmes are not imagined, put in place and sustained, the social security system will not work. In India, we have a low tax base along with the persistent problem of tax evasion. In the western welfare economies, taxes from the organised workforce go in a large measure to support social welfare and security schemes, with an extensive coverage and viability. The other challenge is to conjure up ways to share the allocation with other contributors, rather than only relying on the state to provide social security. For instance, individual voluntary schemes for pension as well as

Table 1: Number, Proportion and Sex Ratio of Elderly in Indiaby Age Groups, 1961-2001

Age Number Percentage to Total Sex Ratio in Millions Population 19611971198119912001 1961197119811991 20011971198119912001

60+ 25 33 43 57 77 5.6 6.0 6.49 6.76 7.5 1066 104210751028 70+ 9 11 15 21 29 2.0 2.1 2.33 2.51 2.9 1030 10261084 991 80+ 2 3 4 6 8 0.6 0.6 0.62 0.76 0.8 950 99010901051 90+ 0.5 0.7 0.7 1 n a 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.2 n a 897 8921019 n a 110+ 0.01 n a 0.02 0.02 0.02 0.02 na 798 844 896 n a

Source: Irudaya Rajan, ‘Population Ageing and Health in India’, Cehat, Mumbai, July 2006, (compiled from Tables 1 and 2)

voluntary retirement saving schemes are planned where not just the government but private institutions too are encouraged to contribute.

Elderly Women as a Vulnerable Group

Societies have come to recognise women as a part of the deprived and vulnerable, and have made them part of the forefront of all social security mechanisms. Although social security covers a gamut of needs, there is a gendering of the provision of welfare and social security policy is very clearly entrenched in notions of the family where women are dependent on men who are the breadwinners [Gayathri 2001]. It does not recognise or understand the nuances and distinction of women’s unpaid work within the household and paid work outside, if any. In India, we often tend to ignore or forget that a bulk of the productive work of women gets subsumed under the family labour and domestic tasks, which are unpaid.

Amongst those state provisions that addressed women first were health care and welfare benefits in their maternal and childrearing roles. Outside the organised working sector, where women do receive social security benefits, they have not received specific social security inputs except as destitutes, who are outside the ambit of the family, or where they needed protection as mothers for children. A bulk of women in productive labour in the unorganised sectors or who are self-employed hardly have any protection.

Shelter homes, short-stay homes, measures for the rehabilitation of destitute women and prostitutes, and initiatives to set up mahila mandals were some of the welfare measures adopted [GoI 1995]. From the Fifth Five-Year Plan, the state reluctantly began to recognise women’s contribution to economic development and sought to bring in equity considerations in various social security measures. However, these remain half-hearted and piecemeal efforts. For instance, in terms of property rights, political participation and other rights women still remain behind men. The state did not make an effort to dislodge traditionally entrenched patriarchal norms that pervaded every institution in society. In the 1990s, some improvement has occurred with panchayati raj introduced with the 73rd and 74th Amendments providing reservations for women in the local bodies in the village and urban areas. Among the schemes for poor women, in addition to the programmes that were existent in the 1980s such as the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) which has now 40 per cent beneficiaries to be women, the Training for Rural Youth for Self-Employment (TRYSEM), the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), were introductions such as the Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas (DWACRA) through which groups of women are formed to obtain subsidy and credit for income generation activities and adult literacy programmes under the National Literacy Mission. A significant number of the elderly participate in these programmes. There also continued to be schemes such as the Socio-Economic Programme (SEP) which provides training and employment to needy women such as widows, deserted wives, the economically backward and the handicapped in traditional, agro-based, and non-traditional trades [GoI 1995; Dandekar 1996; Gopalan 1994]. Among some of the central government provisions for the non-organised sector is the recent 20 per cent tax rebate to senior citizens above the age of 65 of those paying taxes. The state continued to help women who had no familial support, while not disengaging from reinforcing the breadwinner and dependent relationship that exists within families.

Among the specific categories of women whom the state targeted for social security benefits were pregnant women and mothers, destitute women, widows and the aged women. Even though the state targets the family for the provision of social security, as far as women are concerned when their tie to the breadwinner is broken in case of divorce, desertion, separation or widowhood, it means destitution. The Bengal Famine of 1943 is an ample evidence of the fact that the largest number of destitutes who were intentionally abandoned by their families were women of poor households who were seen to be less valuable [Agarwal 1994, 1999]. Direct state provision of security in times of crisis such as drought or any other calamity would help poor households, but also protect the vulnerable amongst them such as women by providing them with direct entitlements. This adds to the argument that some amount of formal support for women would actually add to the informal support that they might receive from family and community. This is also the premise behind the campaign for land rights for women, including usufructuary rights in non-privatised land, that this resource will reduce their vulnerability and improve their bargaining power within the household, and strengthen the support they receive from relatives. Numerous examples are found in the rural areas where women who are married into rich peasant households might find themselves economically vulnerable or are driven to work on the farms of their well-off brothers or brothers-in-law, or even beg for livelihood upon death of or desertion by their husbands. Of these, the condition of widows and older women is the most vulnerable [Alter Chen 1998].

The dependency of widowhood is most vulnerable as it is the women who mostly outlive their spouses. Further the fragility of their existence is accentuated when compared to the dependency of older couples living with their spouses. Men who were widowed almost always obtained a companion compared to the destitution that faced widows. One of the studies showed that a greater proportion of elderly male dependents without their spouses lived with their sons and daughters, while a smaller proportion of female (widowed) dependents lived with their children [Sahayam date unknown]. Widows were disadvantaged within families compared to their male counterparts. Thus sociodemographic explanations that lie behind the vulnerability of widows has to do with difference in patterns of remarriage of men and women who are widowed, differences in life expectation and differences in the age of marrying partners [Gulati 1998]. Poverty of households headed by women or widows is often dependent on household size and expenditure. Further, if

Table 2: Incidence of Widowhood, 1961, 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001

1961 1971 1981 1991 2001

Incidence of widowhood among all men 3.7 2.9 2.4 1.9 1.8
Incidence of widowhood among all women 10.8 8.9 8.1 6.5 6.9
Incidence of widowhood among men
above 60 years 27.5 22.4 19.4 15.5 14.9
Incidence of widowhood among
women above 60 years 75.4 69.2 64.3 54.0 50.6
Widows 60 years and above
as a proportion of total no of widows 40.4 46.8 52.8 56.3 57.4
Widowers 60 years and above
as a proportion of total no of widowers 40.7 45.3 51.1 53.8 58.1

Source: Computed from Census of India reports for 1961, 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001; reports for Social and Cultural Tables; Age and Marital Status

widowed women had land, they were not heads of households, but most widows who were landless were the heads of their households. While in aggregate, evidence does not always point to the absolute poverty of female-headed households compared to male-headed households, where households of a given size are seen, the ones headed by women or widows are poorer than those headed by men [Dreze, Srinivas 1998]. Apart from the several socio-economic insecurities that widows alone face, threat to life and injury to person is in particular always present when there are claims to property and land. Reports about abuse of elderly people by the family are frequently cited, especially in urban areas.

As far as dependency and support is concerned in India, at least 75 per cent of those who are economically dependent are supported by their family, mostly children and grandchildren. But the notion of the dependency ratio should be altered by including household duties and other related activities as work and project the elderly as an economic asset not only to their respective families, but also to society as a whole. Society views all people, including the elderly and vulnerable, in terms of their usefulness to growth and development. In pre-modern era, ageing as a social problem was not a preoccupation with societies. Besides, the obsession with productivity and growth, where it is assumed that old people contribute less, is another important reason for perceiving the elderly as non-productive and hence a problem and a burden. The contributions they make in nonmarket value terms is ignored – for example, their role in the care economy, which now in middle class homes is commodified and old people provide it free of cost is one such.

A large proportion of the elderly, that is those above 60 years, are captured in the census as workers. Even though it is common knowledge that in rural areas and in most of the unorganised sector of the urban economy, older people continue to work till they are totally unable to do so, there is insufficient official documentation of the workforce in the 60+ age group. 39 per cent of those above 60 years were counted as workers. The male workforce participation was 60.5 per cent while the female workforce participation rate was 16 per cent. Here again the lack of recognition of older women’s unpaid labour where their full day’s productive work is not counted as work because it is not “paid” and their accounting as marginal workers is reflected. Much of rural India is a subsistence economy with households self-provisioning what is elsewhere available in the market. It is women who do most of this work. Field studies show that elderly women who cannot go out for wage work, undertake tasks within the household premises, for example, livestock care, post-harvest work, etc. The sectorwise categorisation of the workforce shows that more than 78 per cent of the elderly workforce is engaged in agricultural activities, which for women rises to 84 per cent.

Apart from the livelihood inputs to old age social security, which includes food and shelter, the other major component is health or medical and disability care. In a society that has achieved some though not excellent levels of public health standards, with increasing life expectancy, the special health needs of the older populations have not merited attention. A comprehensive review of the health status of older people and the various measures adopted by the state and non-governmental agencies has indicated the enormity of the issue and the need for special attention to this group [Karkal 1999]. The worsening health condition of the elderly has also been documented sufficiently in research studies [Rama Rao and Townsend 1998] The increasing risk of sickness in the older population has also been observed through the various health surveys conducted by the National Sample Survey Organisation and the National Council of Applied Economic Research [Alam and Anthony op cit]. It is indeed a severe shortcoming that hardly any of the available social security mechanisms for the elderly cover health care requirements, except some that have emerged in the organised public sector or in private concerns. The question confronting the state is the management of the fluidity of formal schemes along with the tenuousness of informal systems such as the family. It is really a matter of observing the viability of the former with the continuing support of the latter [Chowdhury and Nugent 1996].

Developments in the Provision of Social Security for Older Women

Latest in the line of policy documents, the first ever national policy on older persons of India, refers to the legal rights of parents who have no means to seek the support of their children having sufficient means. It was formulated by the ministry of social justice and empowerment and submitted for cabinet approval in January 1999. Some analysts have tried to see how far it is sensitive to the mandate for gender parity and removal of gender discrimination (ibid). There is a recognition of higher expectancy of life for women and the recognition of more number of women in the age group above 60, while the incidence of widowhood is also much higher compared to the situation for men above 60 years of age. Women who outlive men are greater in number as they tend to be married to men who are older, besides women also do not remarry and live longer. In 1991, there were four times as many widowed females as compared to widowed males.

By and large, there is not much emphasis to highlight the gender implications of such a policy despite evidence that women in this category suffer greater vulnerability. In the sections on healthcare, nutrition, shelter and education, there is no specific reference to women’s situation. What is interesting is there are pointed references to the changing nature of the family and the roles of younger women who are potential care-givers, and therefore, older persons tend to be seen as burdensome. The document exudes a tone of alarm while making these observations. However, at the implementation level it will be the panchayat raj institutions who will take the initiative in implementation. There will be discussion forums set up at the panchayat, block, and district level with adequate representation of older women, to review the concerns of older persons and activities that need to be undertaken. An issue on which the state needs to be interrogated is its intention to adopt private help in the implemenation of its pronouncements. While there is no mention of financial support, for instance in providing geriatric healthcare, the government anticipates division of this responsibility between itself and the voluntary and private sector, incentives for whom will be in the form of tax reliefs and land at subsided rates to provide care for the poor elderly and charge reasonable user fees from those who can afford [Sujaya 1999].

Among the categories of provisions, the largest segment of old age security, which of course, has a very limited outreach, is centred around organised sector employees, as pensions. Among pension schemes which are contributory in nature are the employees state insurance scheme (ESIS), provident fund, pension and deposit-linked insurance scheme, and so on, in which both workers/employees and employers contribute. Among the noncontributory schemes are Workmen’s Compensation Act (1923), Maternity Benefit Act (1962), National Social Assistance Programme (1995) and the Payment of Gratuity Act (1972). In the organised sector which is just 4 per cent of the workers officially recognised in the country, women account for about 15 per cent. Therefore, the proportions from the above schemes going to the elderly retired women can be gauged.

As part of the larger net that is termed anti-poverty measures, almost all states in the country have old age pension (OAP), for which all persons above 65 years who may also be old, poor and infirm, are eligible. The widow pension schemes have also been functional since the 1960s. All these eligible persons receive pensions ranging from Rs 30 to Rs 100. It is important to note that these old age pensions (above the age of 65) are not subject to the employment status of the old persons, and hence, covers all the older people above that age provided they are able to satisfy the conditions and criteria. Elderly destitute widows alone are considered under the OAP, but in Kerala, even young widows are considered eligible under this scheme. Apart from this some states, such as Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have special pension schemes for agricultural labour. Their coverage of these pension schemes varies from state to state mainly because of the ceiling on the maximum number of persons to be covered, imposed explicitly or implicitly, by the state governments out of financial considerations. In the case of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, these quantitative ceilings have of late been totally eliminated. Since the 1980s many states have extended social security arrangements to the physically and mentally challenged/disabled as also to workers in the main occupational group, namely, agricultural labourers, who are classified as the lowest in the income ladder.

By the mid-1990s there is data which says that 32 states and union territories in India have been implementing old age pensions with many states implementing the scheme since the 1960s and some since the 1980s often with paltry amounts. Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have been implementing the old age pension scheme since 1960, while Tamil Nadu has been operating it since 1962, West Bengal since 1964 and Karnataka since 1965. Some of the later ones to introduce have been Pondicherry since 1987 and Arunachal Pradesh since 1988. Among states which pay the lowest are Andhra Pradesh and Bihar with Rs 30 per month and Tamil Nadu with Rs 35 per month, and those paying Rs 100 are Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Mizoram, Nagaland, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Lakshadweep. In terms of coverage, while the national average was 9.1 per cent of the population aged 60 and above, Bihar and Karnataka with 26 per cent and 29 per cent, respectively of population aged 60 and above had a large coverage. Among the smaller states, Goa and Haryana had a coverage of 66.6 per cent and 67.9 per cent respectively. Others which stood above the national average were Himachal Pradesh (14.6), Manipur (10.5), and Tamil Nadu (9.9). For the welfare of the aged the ministry of social justice, formerly social welfare, has set up an inter-ministerial committee on welfare of the aged to suggest programmes for care and protection of the elderly. It is interesting to note that national efforts to provide for vulnerable groups often end up consolidating the state efforts begun many decades ago. In this line is the National Social Assistance Scheme introduced on August 15, 1995. Among its components are the National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS), National Family Benefit Scheme (NFBS) and the National Maternity Benefit Scheme (NMBS). The old age pension scheme (NOAPS) is a 100 per cent centrally sponsored scheme giving assistance to the states for the poor elderly, with the norms, guidelines, and conditions laid down by the central government and managed by the union ministry of rural development. The administration is through the state governments even though the assistance is centrally provided [Alam and Anthony op cit; Rajan 2001]. Those eligible for this combined scheme are male or female destitutes above 65 years of age, with the state government reserving the right to determine the criteria for eligibility. The amount of assistance was Rs 75 with a ceiling on the number of claimants.

Since 1995 to 2000, in many states the numerical ceiling and the qualified amount have been enhanced. The percentage achievement of the numerical ceiling for the data collated at the national level has gone up from around 55 per cent at the inception of the scheme to 91 per cent in 2000, while the disbursements of claims too has gone up from 73 per cent to 94 per cent in the said time period. Identifying the beneficiaries is more of a challenge that delivering assistance for the needy. Some states such as Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have also destitute widow and destitute deserted widows pension schemes for those in the agegroup of 40-64. Orissa has the scheme for destitute widows aged 50 and above. Kerala and Orissa have also pension scheme for destitute widows, whether old or young, and physically disabled.

The allocation of resources for the NOAPS is lower than the financial entitlement. Smaller states and union territories have registered more than 100 per cent improvement in numerical and financial entitlements. It requires further investigation to know whether this is on account of the persons below the poverty line having increased, or due just to the increase in the size of the population, or due to the increase in the per cent of the elderly population. Further analysis on financial management of the pension scheme indicates that only about 10 states and some union territories (Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Nagaland, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, and Uttar Pradesh) could claim 100 per cent of the amount allotted under the scheme during 1995-96 indicating a lack of will to identify potential beneficiaries by the defaulters. There is evidence that the NOAPS has benefited sections of the vulnerable population, in the data obtained from the ministry of rural development: in 1998-99, 30 per cent of women benefited, while in 1999-2000, 36.7 per cent women benefited. Similarly for the scheduled castes (SCs), the proportions were 28 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively, while for the scheduled tribes (STs) it was 10.6 and 14.2, respectively. In the case of other backward castes (OBCs), it was 61 and 54.3 per cent, respectively. Even the physically disabled had a coverage of 0.9 and 1.5, respectively in the two time periods. A gender breakup indicates that 13 states (Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Goa, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Orissa, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Daman and Diu) had a 30 per cent or more average coverage of women in the scheme in 1998-99 and 1999-2000.

In 1999, the government of India announced Annapurna, a national social assistance scheme for elderly destitutes. Under this scheme the destitute old person would be provided 10 kg of rice or wheat per month free through the public distribution system (PDS). It is implemented by the ministry of rural development with the assistance of the ministry of food and civil supplies.

It includes those destitutes who are eligible under the NOAPS, but have no one to look after them. In the initial year of implementation, Rs 100 crore was allotted which was estimated to benefit 6.6 lakh elderly destitute persons. As of October 2000, only 15 states and two union territories have been covered by the programme to which the allocated amount has been released. Both the above schemes as well as the state pension schemes together cover 25 per cent of India’s elderly population [Rajan 2001].

The elderly in India require not just poverty alleviation programmes or old age pensions, but a mix of support and services which combine their living and dependency requirements. One cannot just project an amount (as indicated by the old age social and income security (OASIS) report) which would consider the elderly a burden on the rest of the population. The adequacy of the amount has also been debated by social scientists. An average pension of Rs 150 would prove to be adequate for their food requirements if they lived with their kin and not if they have to live by themselves, pay rent, charges for water, electricity and the like. It is also desirable to have a uniform age limit to be fixed for all states, otherwise disparities would arise as some states such as Rajasthan has a age limit of 55 years while Sikkim has 74 years. It would be ideal to fix it at 65 as is the national age limit for the elderly population. It can be assumed that only half of the elderly require social assistance based on their dependency status; while a quarter of the elderly are already covered by the state and national schemes which provide at least Rs 60 (in most states) to 300 (paid in West Bengal) per month, it requires that now only 25 per cent of the elderly need to be provided social security through additional programmes.

Some experience of self-employed widows provide an example of NGO efforts to provide social security to elderly, for instance, the comprehensive group insurance scheme, widowhood insurance and so on. The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat is one of the largest unions of women workers in the unorganised sector [Jhabwala 1998]. Fourteen per cent of SEWA membership is widowed. For the widows, the most important aspects of SEWA membership have been the ease of entry, the access to creation of assets, labour sharing and group support. The various cooperatives for the economic activities function in the village or ‘mohalla’ where the women live and they do not have to go far. Similarly, the SEWA Bank reaches its member-clients through the extension workers, through village level savings groups, or through group leaders.

The SEWA institution helps women create their own assets. Women build their bank balances through individual or group savings, and then seek loans and thus buy their assets. The members of the cooperative create either group assets such as shops or working capital as well as individual assets such as tools or cattle. The SEWA union also helps women fight legal cases or to negotiate to gain access to family assets such as land. Just as in the service and production cooperatives, so also in the labour cooperative, work is distributed according to the capacities of each person. Skill training helps women upgrade their capacities so that they can obtain the highest income for the labour they put in. Being part of the organisation also builds up group and individual morale and confidence as well as self-esteem. Their social position naturally gets reflected in their activities which they are able to perform given their confidence and self-esteem. Thus group effort consolidates the social insurance provided to the women workers and also empowers them in their livelihood and the business of daily life.

Among another important provision has been supplementary care and services, such as day care centres and accommodation. The central government has started since 1983-84 a grants-inaid scheme to voluntary organisations for providing day care and other services, and for construction of homes for the aged. Among the options expressed by the older age group above 60 years of age, only about 20 per cent of those who lived in rural areas were willing to move into old age homes, of which 80 per cent were willing to those located in their own villages or towns. Old people also suggested that they could be left to the care of neighbours who could be provided with the government grant of old age pensions [Dandekar 1996].

In 1989, based on the monograph prepared by the Madras Institute of Ageing, called ‘Care for the Elderly’, 15,471 elderly were accommodated in old age homes around the country. In 1995, Helpage’s survey of 256 old age homes, as presented in its national directory of old age homes, found only 12,702 residents in all old age homes in India, even though there was simultaneous demand for more beds [Shankardass 2000]. Not all of these were under the government and were funded by religious organisations, private sources and other types of trusts and caste organisations. In fact, the government seeks active participation of the voluntary sector to meet the needs of older persons.

Significantly healthcare as social security does not seem to exist in any state. This is alarming given the fact that the growth rate of the 60 and above age group is higher than that of other age groups. Older people’s healthcare needs are of much concern given the inadequate provisions in the public sector and the prohibitive costs for private healthcare. Surveys have estimated the susceptibility of older people, with susceptibility increasing with higher age, to five specific diseases: partial and complete blindness, tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria, and limbs impairment. While the demand for care is pressing, there is an escalation in the cost of medical services, particularly diagnostics and drug prices [Alam and Anthony op cit]. Women particularly among the elderly suffer gender biases and discrimination with respect to health care access and definitely suffer from health problems much more but there does not exist any special state provision for geriatric health care for women [Karkal 1999].

Given this particular scenario, the case for a comprehensive health insurance for the elderly has never been more strongly felt. Health insurance is considered as a solution to the problems of access to health services which is denied to much of the population and of quality of the services, which is extremely poor in the public sector. The only problem with health insurance for older people is that it works on the basis of spreading risks and given that the elderly population is most at risk, the premiums are either very exorbitant or they have exclusionary ailment criteria. However, a social health insurance system can be evolved for older persons with universal coverage, with certain select conditions based on careful analyses and categorising of major diseases, risk factors, premium per elderly person and a feasible method of financing. Of course, this should consider the very poor and the widowed who are the most vulnerable among the elderly. There are, of course, utterances in the new national policy for addressing the health needs of the elderly, and that this task was to be divided between provision of health services, health insurance and public health services by the voluntary and private sector. What is of importance is the mechanisms which will prove to be incentives to the non-governmental and private sector in the form of tax reliefs and land at subsided rates. The state makes pronouncements of supporting welfare but then adopts means to privatise these efforts.

A strong case is being made by scholars pushing at policy [Agarwal 1998], that, in suggesting improvements in social security schemes, governments have to move beyond pensions and employment for widows to providing immoveable assets and property rights. For those who do have property, the Section 498A and other related ones do provide protection against domestic violence in case there is harassment of older women, and men trying to usurp their property. Under the national policy, the government wishes to promote and assist voluntary organisations for providing non-institutional services, construction and maintenance of old age homes, organising day care services, multiservice citizen centres, reach out services, supply of disability related aids and appliances, short-term stay services and friendly home visits by social workers. Other services which are forthcoming are rehabilitation of destitute widows, mobile geriatric services, adoption of the elderly, marginal subsidies on purchase of plane or train tickets and tax rebates.

State-level Comparisons of Policies and Programmes

In this section a brief review is done of some case studies of policies and programmes for elderly women in five states, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Haryana and Maharashtra. The raison d’etre for choosing these five states is as follows: Kerala due to the demographic transition that it has achieved has a large population above the age of 60 years; Tamil Nadu has emerged as a recent example of having achieved demographic transition with reduction in birth rates and has been hailed by experts. Haryana is one of the states with the lowest sex ratio and high economic prosperity, while Maharashtra and Gujarat are industrialised states with a record in provisioning for welfare. Hence, this diversity in economic and social development as well as cultural aspects will provide a good contrast and case for emphasising social security for older women.


Kerala has been one of the foremost examples in provision of social security pension schemes to various categories of the population. The Agricultural Workers Pension Scheme was introduced in Kerala in 1980. Another scheme was introduced in 1982 for the physically and mentally disabled persons called the Special Pension Scheme for the Handicapped. Apart from this, already existing from an earlier period is the Destitute Old and Widows Pension Scheme. In 1992, six lakh persons were covered under this scheme. It represented 12 per cent of total households in the whole state, and proves to be one of the foremost examples of old age security as it prevails in India. The coverage of welfare pensions in Kerala was twice as large as in Tamil Nadu.

The eligibility criteria is that the destitute old should be above 65 years of age while there is no age limit for widows. Their monthly income should not exceed Rs 100 per month and they should not have the support of relatives above the age of 20 years. The monthly rate of pension is Rs 65 plus Rs 5 for widows with one or more children. In 1992-93, 1.87 lakh widows were covered under this scheme in the state, while in 1990 it was 1.82 lakh widows. The estimate of widow pensioners among all the three major pension schemes in Kerala in 1992 was as follows: 1.22

lakh widow pensioners (two-thirds) out of the total number of pensioners availing benefits under the Destitute Old and Widows Pension Scheme; 1.34 lakh widows among 3.35 lakh agricultural workers; and 0.04 lakh widows among the 0.84 lakh physically and mentally handicapped pensioners.

Thus there was a total of 2.6 lakh widows out of a total of

6.02 lakh eligible pensioners under the three schemes. It is estimated that the total number of widows in the families living below the poverty line, as calculated from the estimates of the Planning Commission’s expert group, should have been around

4.5 lakhs in 1991-92. Thus the coverage of poor widows still remains inadequate. The estimates of rural families below the poverty line in the early 1990s was 17.86 lakhs (state planning board’s house to house survey, 1993). Thus where earlier the coverage of poor widows was estimated to be 57.5 per cent, under the new estimates of total poor rural households the coverage of rural widows under the three pension schemes was 40 per cent. All these estimates are, of course, based on the assumption that, beneficiaries are actually receiving the amount and that the implementation of the scheme is fairly efficient.

Financing the pensions and the adequacy of the amount have also been contentious issues. All the three pension schemes are financed entirely out of the state government’s budget. In 1990-91 the state paid Rs 50.66 crore, while in 1991-92 it paid Rs 41.21 crore and in 1992-93 it paid Rs 51.79 crore for all the three schemes, working out to be 1.2 per cent of the total state government expenditure for a year. As a proportion of the state domestic product it worked out to be 0.3 per cent. It needs to be maintained that the average payment to service pensioners (retired employees) was 13 times the average payment to the beneficiaries of the welfare pensions under these schemes, even though the service pensioners are only two lakh in number. This indicates the obvious bias between the organised sector and the unorganised destitutes, and the gap in the coverage for a state such as Kerala. Even when the pension was extended to all widows in the state irrespective of age, and if the amount was increased to Rs 100, still the expenditure on these would amount to only Rs 102 crore, which was 0.75 per cent of the SDP and

3.4 per cent of the total state government expenditure in 1992.

Given the state’s commitment to provide social security for the elderly, and the current demographic shift that is taking place, there needs to be a serious assessment done of the affordability of the state of continued provision of social security for the elderly. For instance, the number of children in the 0-4 age group has shown a decline of 1,34,000 during 1971-81 and of 58,000 during 1981-91. Hence, some of the money could be diverted from primary education to social security. The total fertility rate (TFR) has come down from 5.6 in 1951-61 to 1.7 in 1993, which is much below the replacement level of 2.05, which means government need not concentrate anymore on family planning. Further, studies too indicate that more than 75 per cent women in Kerala are protected by various family planning methods and among them nearly 80 per cent are sterilised. Therefore, money could be diverted from family planning to old age security [Rajan 1999; Gulati and Gulati 1998].

Tamil Nadu

One of the oldest schemes is the monthly pension scheme for older persons. Coverage of this monthly pension scheme of Rs 100 for older persons above 60 years of age, is six lakhs currently.

Further nearly 2.28 lakh older persons also have mid-day meals at the mid-day meal centres. Ten old age homes that are staterun as well as a few day care centres have been established in various parts of the state [Gopalan 1994, op cit].

One form of social security for widows in Tamil Nadu is in the form of pension scheme for destitute widows. In fact, Tamil Nadu is an exception compared to all other states in having some provision for pensions for deserted and destitute wives. The pension-scheme for aged persons was started in 1962, but it was only in 1975 that it was extended to destitute widows. When the scheme was initiated the pension amount was Rs 20. Recently it was increased to Rs 75. Besides, two sarees in a year, as well as free meals or free ration of upto four kg of rice are also given. A destitute widow was eligible if she did not have regular income, or if she had no relations of 20 years or above, particularly a son or grandson, or if she herself was not remarried. Application is made to the ‘tehsildar’ of the ‘taluk’ of the residence of the applicant. Enquiries are made by the revenue staff at the village in the presence of the pensioners, village officers and other elderly persons. Following verification and sanction, the pension amount is despatched by postal money order by the second week of every month.

Analysis of the scheme indicates that in some districts the coverage is declining with intra-district variations, as well as the ratio of disbursed pensions to sanctioned pensions was coming down. Within a district, the backward taluks are insufficiently covered compared to the better-off areas. Problems widows faced in availing the benefits of the pension scheme begin with obtaining application forms itself. If they do obtain a form, the process of getting the relevant age certificates and verifications was so humungous for a poor rural widow, who would hardly have seen the need for approaching authorities of this nature, or expending this much of time, travel and expenses [Prasad 1998].


In the case of Gujarat, not only do we have social security for widows but there have been some measures taken for security for the self-employed as well. Other beneficiaries of the social security schemes of the government of Gujarat include divorced and deserted women as well. Other government schemes for widows include opportunity to do animal husbandry, poultry farming, social forestry, etc. There is also a pension scheme for widows.

In Gujarat, the 1981 Census indicates that widows formed 7 per cent of the population while widowers formed 2 per cent of the population. Micro-studies [Ganguly 1998] indicate that a number of women were widowed before the age of 45 (83 per cent), with a majority of them who lived in the rural areas being wage labourers. A majority of these women struggle for survival plagued by poverty and lack of assets, earning less than Rs 5,000 per annum. In Gujarat among many backward and minority communities, a tradition of remarriage among widows prevailed, despite which many widows did not remarry anticipating being pushed into greater vulnerability in the new marriage.

The department of social welfare of the government of Gujarat initiated two social security schemes. One of these, begun first in 1979, is for destitute widows, deserted or divorcee women, while another is for destitute old people and destitute disabled people. The present scheme for destitute widows, deserted or divorcee women – the Rehabilitation of Destitute Widows, Deserted or Divorced Women: A Social Security Scheme of the Government of Gujarat – which has been revised as of July 1995, deals with destitute, divorced or deserted women, having as eligibility criteria their age to be between 18 and 60 years, having no son above 21 years, and not having an individual yearly income above Rs 1,200 and family income above Rs 3,600. Besides a divorcee should not be getting maintenance by court orders or otherwise. The assistance due include Rs 200 for a woman per month for three years or less if she is rehabilitated in less than three years. This assistance will be given in two stages – the first in 12 months and the remaining after getting the certificate from the training institute where training could be undertaken on a voluntary basis for income generation, including assistance for purchase of raw material and equipment after completion of training.

During the training a stipend of Rs 80 is provided to each trainee. Rs 80 is also to be provided for one child and for a maximum of two children. The procedures include obtaining an application form and submitting it along with two copies of certificates of age, income, etc, attested by authorised officials, and photographs, to the social defence officer at the district level. Upon receipt of application, assistance has to be provided at the latest within 15 days on a temporary basis. In case of half-filled forms, the officer has the power to sanction assistance for three months, while the examination and verification of such forms have to be completed within a period of three months. It is estimated through census figures that in 1994-95 in Gujarat only

0.5 per cent widows/divorcees (figures for deserted women are not available) of the 7.4 per cent of this category of all women, received benefits from this scheme. Data from the Directorate of Social Defence shows a bias towards the urban areas such as Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Kheda (Nadiad), Mehsana and Rajkot, while with the exception of Sabarkantha other backward and tribal districts had lesser beneficiaries (ibid).

Micro-studies reveal that problems in availing of the benefits of schemes varied across districts in the state, the major reasons include being ignorant of the schemes, lengthy procedures to get certificates, sending forms for verification, expenses incurred, need for bribes to induce persons and obtain relevant certificates of proof of birth, death and caste identity. Further there is a lack of certainty of the benefit ever being received, making very enormous the costs in terms of time, energy and money for the widows, who end up pessimistic about the schemes.


In terms of economic well-being, the state of Haryana is ranked the second highest in India. However, the 1991 Census showed a sex ratio of 865 females per 1000 males for Haryana, the lowest in the country. Thirty-one per cent of the population participated in the workforce, of whom 2.3 per cent were marginal workers. In terms of male-female distribution, 48.6 per cent of the male population are workers, while only 11.8 per cent of the female population are counted as workers. As per the 1981 Census, the percentage of widows to total women in the state was 4.9 per cent, the lowest in all the states. Reasons that could contribute to the low incidence of widowhood is the relatively high incidence of levirate among the peasant caste of Haryana. There is also a high rate of mortality among widows as compared to married women in the 45 and above age group. Haryana is also home to certain customary traditions of which widow remarriage was extremely popular. It was one of the most effective forms of social control over women prevalent during the colonial period but which subsequently shaped itself to control the widows’ right to marry and future of her livelihood as well as contestations of property.

Most of the persons who avail of the Old Age Pension Scheme of the state are poor and illiterate and the problems they face in availing the scheme begins at the level of the administration of the scheme. The problems are compounded also due to their location in occupations of low prestige and in the unorganised sector. The problems could be streamlined if there was better effort made to locate eligible persons and the formalities could be completed by the officials [Mahajan 1997].


According to the office of the Maharashtra department of social welfare, for the year 2002-03, two programmes for the benefit of the elderly in operation are the Sanjay Niradhar Anudan Yojana and the Indira Niradhar Bhoomi-Shetmajoor Mahila Yojana. Under the former, women above the age of 60 years and men above the age of 65 years are eligible for a benefit of Rs 250 per month, whereas under the latter programme landless women agricultural labourers are eligible for Rs 250 per month. In both schemes, while the state provides Rs 175, the central allocation is Rs 75. In the last three years, 1,61,800 beneficiaries have gained from the programme. The budget allocation for the current year is Rs 430.91 crore. Besides this there are 30 Matoshree Vriddhashrams being run in the state as homes for elderly persons, without grant-in-aid and 49 other homes are also run without grant-in-aid from the government [GoM 2003].

Old age homes are prevalent in the state run by grants from the government or by voluntary organisations through grants and donations. Wherever government grant was available it was in the order of Rs 125 per inmate. Since this was inadequate, the institutions were permitted to collect donations for running the homes. Majority of those who came to old age homes did not have anyone to take care of them, often having differences with their family members, mostly sons, and they did not have any savings. Most of these homes had medical facilities and some facility for recreation. Most people living here felt satisfied and did not have the courage to voice their opinion on improvement as they felt when they were living off the dole what right they had to suggest improvements. In general the problem of poverty was more important for these people than ageing. It was mostly that their ability to still do some amount of work was not appreciated within their families. Inadequacy of pensions was another major reason that forced old people to go to old age homes [Dandekar 1996, op cit].

The Sanjay Gandhi Niradar Anudan Yojana was started in Maharashtra in 1980 as a part of social security. It is considered one of the major sources of alleviation of poverty in this age group. Old people above the age of 60 years, widows who have no financial support, as well as other dependents are eligible for this assistance. The person is eligible to get a monthly provision or a maximum amount per family. The scheme functions at the municipality and the taluk level through the collector, but the actual execution is done by the ‘talathis’. Eligibility criteria include residence in the state for at least 15 years, should have no other source of income or property, and no support of relatives above the age of 18. Applications should be filed to the talathi or gram sevak or the tahsildar of the area where the applicant resides. If approved, the elderly, widowed and physically disabled will get lifetime assistance, while child dependents will get the assistance till they are 18 years of age [Baxamusa and Joshi 1992]. Like Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra had introduced the Maharashtra Maintenance of Parents and Dependents Bill, 1997, to provide for the upkeep of aged parents, dependents, wives and children; this was to be arbitrated by a tribunal. The state of Himachal Pradesh has promulgated the Himachal Pradesh Maintenance of Parents and Dependents Bill, 1996, which empowers any person who is a resident of that state, unable to maintain himself/herself to apply to the tribunal for a order directing children, grandchildren, husband, father or mother as the case may be, to pay them a monthly allowance or any other lump sum or periodic payment for their maintenance. The bill is comprehensive in that it aims not only to provide for poor parents above the age of 60 years but also to wives, children, dependents who are in a similar condition [Sujaya 2000].

The review of state and national initiatives for providing social security to older women points to the serious lack of will to address the concerns of a silent yet vulnerable section. In the context of state restructuring of the economy with a neo-liberal agenda, it is the deprived and vulnerable sections who bear the brunt of the resource crunch. However, this has not lessened the fervour for advocating further assistance and safety nets to these sections, as in the case of the unorganised sector workers. This paper tries to foreground the case of elderly women who require such support and assistance. The emphasis is also on their increasing needs as their numbers in society enlarge.



[This paper is part of a larger assignment that the RCWS has completed on Ageing and Gender. I wish to thank Maithreyi Krishnaraj for detailed discussions elucidating the debates around the care economy and their relevance to Indian women. I am grateful to her for helping me bring this paper to its prersent form.]


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    Green Left Weekly (Repeat of September 23, 2006)

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