How Are We Looking After Our Grandparents?

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Last year, I visited my mother’s relatives in New Jersey. Due to certain health problems, her aged aunt was dependent on oxygen cylinders. She moved from India because of the lack of facilities in the country. At first when I saw her, I felt sorry for her condition and wondered how difficult it was for her and the family. Nobody wants to live on a wheelchair. Nobody wants to carry a cylinder around with them. Nobody wants to spend his or her time carrying a cylinder around for someone. I assumed that their lives must be restricted to the house and going across the block. But as I learnt more about their daily lives, I felt sorry and worried for the aged back in India.

The aunt and her husband had enrolled themselves at a daycare. The day care has a pick up-drop service. The bus arrives at their doorstep at around 9 a.m. and drops them back in the evening. At the centre, they have activities, workshops and food arranged for them for the day. They have regular health check ups as well. My aunt proudly showed us the crafts she made at different workshops. I felt at ease knowing that their lives are more than the illness; that they are not entirely dependent on their children to get through the day. Then, I thought about the aged I know of back at home. Most of the senior citizens I know of have their days limited to reading the papers, watching television, going for a walk if their health permits and attending the occasional events organised by their communities or clubs for them. Although there are a limited few who continue to use their time productively, live active lives and can live independently; most have no activity to fill up their time and are majorly dependent on their children.

The joint family system in India is gradually decreasing where three generations lived together ensuring that there was always someone at home to look after the grandparents and the kids. Women are stepping out of homes and joining the workforce. Families are choosing to be nuclear and the senior citizens are left to look after themselves. Even in families where they live with their children, with both the husband and the wife working, there isn’t anyone around to assist them at every step. For financially well to do families, this problem has got to do more with how the aged spend their time and how they are treated by their children. Even in financially stable families, there have been events of ill treatment of aged parents. In 2014, a three-year-long study by HelpAge India estimated that every second senior citizen faced abuse from relatives. Rich families can hire a caretaker without much difficulty, access technologies that help their aging parents, enroll into clubs to keep them occupied. It is not that difficult if there is money, but what about those who do not have the finances to access these facilities? The problems faced by the financially unstable or those in poverty as against the seniors citizens who have money are, without a doubt, more but the underlying issue is how we, as individuals and as a society, treat them.

This is where retirement homes, daycares for senior citizens or recreation centres dedicated for senior citizens come in. Dignity Foundation, HelpAge India, Silver Inning Foundation, Adhata Trust Foundation among others are working towards this cause. These foundations, among other things, are establishing community centers, providing training for the elderly in the slums, providing simple services to seniors to enable them to continue leading an independent life and carry on with activities. There are facilities available; but the problem is there are not enough to help tackle the problems of elderly abuse, loneliness and simply aging with dignity. More such centres, which are accessible to both the rich and the poor, will enable children to continue working without worrying about their aging parents at home, bring harmony between two generations, allow the women who stay at home to take care of the seniors to join the workforce or simply live their lives, reduce the percentage of mistreatment of the old, enable them to enjoy their day to day lives, reduce loneliness and depression amongst the old thus improving their overall mental health. A lot of times when children choose to move out of the city or to a different home or work late, they are blamed for neglecting the parents or even looked down upon as not caring enough when in reality, they do. I know women in multiple families whose days are either dependent on the aged in the house. Setting up daycares, community centres, retirement homes, senior citizen clubs or simple awareness drives can tackle most of these problems.

In 2007, the Parliament passed The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act requiring the government to set up old age homes for senior citizens in every district. A draft BMC policy in 2013 envisioned one day-care centre for seniors in every municipal ward in Mumbai — which would mean a total of 227 across the city and suburbs. Both remain unimplemented. The 2011 census counted 103 million senior citizens in India. If they were a country, India’s elderly would be a nation larger than Germany and the Netherlands combined. Despite this number, they continue to be neglected. There’s only one question to ask here while we continue to neglect this group of individuals – How would you like to live your last years in this world?

I see my grandparents. They are happy and content people. My grandparents live a simple routine where nothing changes. They wake up, read the newspapers, have their lunch, take an afternoon nap, go for a walk every evening, eat an early dinner, watch a soap or news on the television and sleep. Recently, my maternal grandfather learnt how to use Google and Netflix and he is ecstatic. It is almost as if a kid got new toys. Now, he has something to spend his time on. He browses the internet for information and he enjoys watching his movies on his own in his own time now. All that had to be done was to teach him how to operate something.  Old people are like kids; it is not difficult to make them happy. A little goes a long way. The world is progressing and mindsets are changing but with all this rush, we cannot leave those very people, who have helped us to be where we are, behind in desolation. While the society as a whole may take time to give the senior citizens their rights and the treatment they deserve, on an individual level we all can ensure that we do our bit.

Shivangi Adani is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective.

Featured image: Time

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Kerala Floods: On Environmental Concerns and Foresight

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The past month saw lakhs of people in Kerala continue to take shelter at the 3,000 plus relief camps, the horrific flood situation in the state has taken away the lives of over 357 women, children and men. The number of affected animals is obviously not known. Contrary to predictions and monsoon trends in the South in the past few years, the downpour was 42.17 per cent more than the normal trend — 2,394.1 mm of rainfall as against the normal of 1,701.4 mm from June 1 to August 22. This disaster has been compared to the 1924 floods — 3,368 mm water poured from the skywhere most parts of Kerala were submerged. It has become one of the greatest disasters Kerala has faced in almost a century.

The rainfall was continuous, unprecedented and the water levels have been abnormally high but can this disaster in Kerala entirely be blamed on climate change and the uncertainty of nature? Those lobbying against environmental issues would like it to be the case, but I’m afraid it isn’t entirely so. Nor is it the wrath of a certain God, as certain Twitter users consider it to be. We can owe most of the damage caused to the reckless nature of man and more specifically in this case – to the poor mismanagement of land and rivers.

A substantial amount of damage could have been reduced and controlled had there been periodical release of water from the dams in Kerala. Every dam has something called a ‘rule curve’, which specifies exactly how much water is to be released when the reservoir reaches certain levels. Commenting on the lack of foresight of state authorities, a senior official accepted that the crisis could have been contained if water was gradually released from the dams. Water was released from around 30 dams this monsoon – adding to the already high levels of water in the State – only when the maximum levels were reached.  In fact, the floodgates of Idukki Dam, Asia’s largest, were opened for the first time this monsoon. The Print while reporting the poor mismanagement of land, rivers and dams in the state wrote: “It is like you are filling a bucket with water. If there is a narrow hole in it, the water will flow out of it as long its inflow is steady. But if there is a sudden rush of water, it will spill over the rim. That is exactly what happened,” explained a government official who wished to remain anonymous.”

Image credit: Rejimon Kuttappan / DownToEarth

The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel, also known as the Gadgil Committee, in its report submitted to the Government of Kerala in 2011 marked most of the flood-hit districts in Kerala, including Idukki and Wayanand, as ecologically sensitive. The Kerala Government rejected the report terming the Committee’s recommendations as “impracticable”. The Gagdil Committee was appointed to provide recommendations for the protection of the Western Ghats. The report had identified the entire Western Ghat area as ecologically sensitive. Different regions were assigned 3 different levels of eco sensitivity but none of the States agreed to the recommendations. A new Committee, the Kasturirangan Committee, was formed to analyse the Gadgil Report. Out of the 1,29,037 square km boundary  – recommended originally by the Gadgil Committee –  the Environment Ministry issued a draft notification, demarcating an area of only 56,285 sq km in the Western Ghats as ecologically sensitive.

The report, among other things, recommended strong restrictions on mining and quarrying, use of land for non-forest purposes, wind energy projects, embargos on hydroelectric projects, new industries in ecologically sensitive regions. Kerala had objected to the proposed restrictions. Members of the panel have now commented that the implementation of the recommendations could have mitigated the impact of the rainfall. A majority of the affected districts have quarries – legal and illegal. Kerala, in all has more than 6000 quarries. The blasts in quarries, which create tremors, cause landscape changes leading to landslides. There were mudslides and landslides in 211 different places across the state. Majority of the deaths were caused due to these mudslides and landslides. Madhav Gadgil, while talking to The Indian Express said, “These are not just natural events. There are unjustified human interventions in natural processes which need to be stopped.”

Weeks after causing havoc in God’s Own Country, the monsoon has finally dispelled but its aftermath remains. As the water recedes and while the State is recovering and rebuilding itself, it is important to understand the underlying reasons that caused the flooding. Time and again nature has been trying to tell us – when man meddles too much with it, it will retaliate. Instead of outright dismissing recommendations that seem to be impractical, State authorities must work out a balance. Moving forward, the authorities must learn from mistakes, take action and rebuild the affected areas in consonance with nature – a good start would be to reconsider the Gadgil Report.

The High Court of Kerala has initiated suo moto proceedings to examine whether any negligence on the part of authorities in managing reservoir levels in dams contributed to recent floods in Kerala.

Shivangi Adani is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective.

Featured image: Santhosh / The Better India

Kerala is still recovering. To donate to the Chief Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund, please click here.

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Living Walls — A Solution to Reclaim Our Spaces

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Working towards greener and cleaner tomorrows.

 

One can walk under a cacophony of trees in certain areas of Mumbai, but I believe that this will only be for a few more years. I lived in a quiet area consisting mainly of 3 to 4 storeyed buildings before the beginning of uncontrolled development in the city. There was a time when I would stare up from a distance and see the clear blue sky, or yellow gulmohars in the distance. Now, all that is left are cranes and skyscrapers. Apart from the fact that the disorganized popping up of buildings is ruining whatever aesthetic value the city has left, the other major consequence of this development is the reduction in green spaces in Mumbai and other urban cities. However, with the current increase in the rate of population, especially in a city like Bombay, the urban sprawl cannot be escaped.

Now that urbanization has and continues to take up most of the space around us, green walls i.e. living walls seem to be a solution for the coexistence of green spaces in the city and the need for development with the growing population. Green walls, revolutionized by a French Botanist called Patrick Blanc, are plants grown on walls and other structures through scientific methods. Currently, they are the best bet in boosting limited spaces. Green walls make reforestation and green living possible within the confines of an urban city.

It is a well-researched fact that trees and plants are good for a person’s psychological and physiological health; from lowering stress levels to improving the immune systems. Studies have proven the effect of indoor plants on stress hormones. Phytoncide is a compound derived from plants, which seems to improve immune system functions. In fact, in 1982, Japan made Forest Bathing a part of their national public health program.

                                                                                         Photo Credit: IndiaMart

The most important benefit of having green walls is curbing air pollution. Plants improve indoor air quality and clear the air of harmful toxins and dust. Since the past few years, an increasing number of countries are experiencing hotter summers with every passing year; it will continue to get worse. Heat waves are increasing health problems, causing a general change in the working abilities and mental state of people, making them angrier and exhausted during summers, and even causing deaths. An abundance of trees and plants can lower temperatures making the city cooler. A primary school in Singapore created a vertical green wall in the school to educate its students about global warming. This green wall reduced the temperature in the school by 2 to 3 degrees.

How one can grow a vertical garden at home is explained well by Selina Sen in her article here. Most of us know about the added benefits of having plants at home, but we rarely consider the benefits of having them in our city. Individually taking up the initiative of growing living walls at home is wonderful but to reap the benefits of this concept, we need more than just in-house gardening. The true effects of this novel initiative will only be seen when there is implementation at a local and nationwide level.

Other countries have already begun making these ‘green walls’ a part of their major cities. Sydney is working on a Green Roofs and Walls Policy Implementation Plan. In Singapore, the Urban Redevelopment Authority provides incentives to builders for creating green spaces. Airports are installing green walls to ensure better journeys. Architects around the world have embraced green walls and built urban structures and buildings which have vertical gardens. It is critical that in a tropical country like India which has really begun to feel the effects of global warming, such an initiative needs to be strongly encouraged.

That being said, it is heartening to know that in India, multiple cities have taken the initiative to build living walls, Bengaluru being the first. Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Mumbai have incorporated the concept by building vertical gardens and living walls on pillars under flyovers. Environmentalists, botanists, architects and lawmakers can and must come together and learn from other models in the world and thus work together to reclaim our disregarded spaces.

 

Feature Image Credit: Stefano Boeri Architetti

 

Shivangi Adani is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective.

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