“In the social development sector, we work on the establishment of mental health policies, livelihood, orphanages, cancer/ general health, environment, road safety education, skill development, gender, justice, peace, conflict transformation and a whole host of other issues. There is no second thought about the fact that such organisations are much needed in Kashmir and there are so many issues that need our attention at the ground level.
I’m sharing an interesting experience during one of my past projects on livelihood. Our livelihood program engaged a lot of men and women through the establishment of different employment units. The final settlement involved a lot of survey and research about the area, place, population and individual household details. Shockingly we noticed many unforeseen cases where an elderly ailing mother/father or both live on their own under severe conditions as they are abandoned by their sons and sometimes daughters also.
There was a case where a mother of three sons and two daughters, all married, was living in a cattle shed in inhuman conditions alongside two cows. She was a widow and her family had called her mentally unfit but she was the only lady who made sense to us in that whole village in many informative enquiries about the village in general and villagers in particular.
If you look deeply into her life, it was disturbing to even think about how she must have managed during the unforgiving Kashmir winters and in that cattle shed but her children seemed least bothered.
In yet another case, we met a man who must be in his late 70’s. He had two sons and both of them are govt servants. He was dragged out from the house he had built himself as they sought ownership of the property by making him sign the house document. He had already resolved to settle their shares before his death but this was shocking. He said he took to begging in different streets of Kashmir, mostly in districts where no one knows him. He has to do this because he is too old to do any physical labour and he needs to get medicines every week which costs him a lot.
I have only mentioned these two cases but there is a huge list of elderly people in Kashmir who have been abandoned by their families or are confined in the same house where they are ill-treated. It’s very hard to accept that in a hospitable culture like Kashmir, such horrific cases exist.
I’m sharing this just to float a thought of initiating, building and sustaining old age homes in Kashmir. If old people are abandoned by their families, let old age homes be an option and hope for them at least. I have a small list of such cases with me, it might not be of any huge help in terms of initiating anything in this regard but yes it will give you an idea about the complexities and maybe one can frame a structure once you go through the survey process extensively.
It may not be possible or practical to suddenly begin building old age homes but what we can do is to look at ways and means of effectively engaging with different local organisations to make use of existing infrastructure and funds to make room for the homeless elderly. Most orphanages homes in Kashmir have room and resources that can be facilitated to help elderly people. This could also be emotionally healing for both older people and orphan children as they’re both deprived of normal love and care.