In yet another case of penalising culturally unacceptable behaviour, the Bihar government this week approved the proposal to punish children who leave their parents with a jail term.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar-led cabinet accepted the proposal tabled by the social welfare department during a meeting on Tuesday, June 11. It comes with provisions of penalty extending up to imprisonment for sons and daughters who fail to look after their aged parents properly.
The cases against the wards will be registered under the non-bailable section in Bihar based on complaints filed by elderly parents, ANI reported.
Children as future caregivers part of Indian culture
While there is no mention of how this is expected to curb widespread mental and physical abuse at home, which works both ways, Kumar reportedly said this proposal was needed to prevent the culture of children abandoning their aging parents despite all the sacrifices parents make for them.
A key driver of this measure seems to be a concern and need for protecting the state’s aging population. Surveys and research carried out by NGOs dealing with the welfare of the abandoned elderly have found evidence of emotional abuse, and even physical abuse in some cases. Deserting parents due to mounting expenses was reported to be the highest contributor to harassment at old age.
The measure, however, has shocked the young and progressive population, who are, at times, compelled to leave the toxic environment at home. Conversely, where are the laws for bad parenting, they ask, revealing a basic flaw in the qualification of these so-called crimes.
Physical abuse of elders must be tackled
Twitterati was split between championing the deterrent and decrying the government’s penchant for moral policing. While some demanded similar laws be introduced all over the nation, others complained this would never work and may even increase violence against parents.
Last week, a case was registered against a woman in Haryana’s Niwaz Nagar village for mercilessly beating her elderly mother-in-law.
The Bihar Cabinet’s proposal seems to have borrowed a leaf out of Bombay High Court’s book; last year, the court had ruled in favour of revoking property made out to a male child, in case of maltreatment.
Parents can take back the share given as a gift, if the son fails to look after them or harasses them. But the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act 2007 refrains from handing out prison sentences for such wrongdoings.
Here’s what it means
Estimates peg the number of people in India above the age of 60 at over 100 million, with the country’s elderly population rising 36% over 10 years. But jail time does seem like a bizarre and extreme measure to combat the hazards that a combination of factors—globalisation, economic pressure, migration, nuclearisation of families, and disaffection—has put them in.
That said, the law also fits right into the scheme of Indian culture, where children are brought up with the expectation that they will be, among other things, caregivers. It falls in line with the prevalent aversion to hospices and old-age homes in conservative nations as well and, perhaps, explains the paucity and poor conditions of affordable ones here.
More importantly, successive governments in India have formulated many programmes and policies for the welfare of the elderly. In reality, the benefits do not reach the elderly. In the absence of monetary aid from their families and a social security net (pensions, medical insurance etc.), they are forced to live alone or in old age homes.
In 2016, a study found that only 71% of the total funding of centrally run Integrated Programme for Older Persons, or Rs 24 crore, went to Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and West Bengal, states that are home to one-third of India’s senior citizens.
According to reports, the measure was approved by the cabinet in May this year, and a fund of Rs 384 crore has been sanctioned for the same.
Along with this, 17 important proposals were approved in the Cabinet meeting, including the decision to offer government jobs to dependents of Pulwama and Kupwara martyrs from Bihar.
The cabinet also sanctioned Rs 11.68 crore for preparation of a Detailed Project Report for construction of a multi-purpose 130-MW Dagmara hydel power project in Supaul district of the state, Kumar said.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.