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

Public spaces of education: The complicated nexus of shame, agency and resistance

16 days of Activism, 2022 at One Future Collective

I want to be free, but patriarchy and capitalism tether me!

Cutting Meat from our Diet as Climate Action

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We are what we eat! Changing our diet can help improve our health as well as the health of the planet. Global warming and climate change are the twenty-first century’s existential crises. The effects of climate change cause death, destruction and devastation of budgets and economies through intensified and frequent natural disasters. The solution is decarbonisation of the economy. How can our diet help reduce our carbon footprint? Isn’t it just fossil fuel use, heating and industrialization that causes environmental devastation, you think? But agriculture is actually the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs), mainly carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, the main cause of global warming. Livestock and the industrialization of the various steps of agriculture lead to the emissions. Cutting and controlling meat and dairy in our diet, hence can have a significant effect in lowering GHG emissions.

Agriculture is what feeds us, but it is also the leading cause of deforestation and mass extinction of species. Most of the crop grown nowadays is food for livestock. As per current consumptions, according to ProVeg International, 70 billion animals are killed annually to feed the world population – that’s 10 livestock animals killed for per person. The environmental impact adds up in water consumption, carbon footprint as well as the multiple contributions to GHG emissions. Reducing our dependence on meat and dairy – a vegetarian and a vegan diet – can dramatically reduce GHG emissions, check deforestation and halt the loss of biodiversity.

According to the World Health Organization’s advisory on the link between cancer and other lifestyle disorders such as obesity and diabetes, “over-consumption of processed meat and red meat  is worrying and a major public health risk” like the one posed by tobacco. While the per capita annual meat and dairy consumption in South and Southeast Asian nations are still quite low, the huge populations of these regions adds up. Also, meat and dairy in the diet is aspirational – as people earn enough to live above the poverty line they aspire to eat more meat and dairy products like “rich people.” Thus in addition to elevating people from poverty, preventive and pre-emptive measures should be taken to avoid lifestyle disorders and excessive consumerism. Lifestyle disorders that kill millions and cost billions are linked to excessive processed foods and meat consumption. It would be a positive, pre-emptive move to put in place policy in developing countries, as populations progress to a better quality of life, to show that vegetarianism and veganism are the better and healthier options. This could bring in more income to smallholding farmers and reduce the cost of agriculture as it costs less to grow crops and plants rather than raise livestock exclusively. This could also help avoid public health crises such as China is facing with the generational upliftment of large sections of the society to “middle-class” “first world” lifestyles which led to an explosion in lifestyle disorders in proportion to the exponential increase in meat and dairy consumption. It is only now China has put in place dietary guidelines and policies to promote the reduction in meat and processed foods consumption.

In the quest to feed the billions, we are losing vital biodiversity. A recent report mentions that of all mammals on the planet, humans and livestock make up 96 percent! Slash and burn agricultural practices and deforestation to make way for farms in ancient and equatorial forests lead to devastating loss of plant and animal biodiversity. Introduction of livestock near ecologically sensitive zones and biodiversity hotspots also causes desertification, loss of grasslands and deforestation.

“Changing lifestyles” is mentioned rather than concrete policy recommendation to promote vegetarian and vegan diets in the drafts of the latest IPCC report despite the impact on biodiversity, climate change, healthcare costs and good health.  In India and developing countries of Asia, it’s still cheaper to opt for the healthier fast-food-free option, but in developing countries processed foods and fast food chains are cheaper than meat-free fresh foods. Thus when you are on a budget in the developed world, the unhealthy and environmentally devastating options are the only ones available. Agricultural and food processing companies are making huge profits off of these conditions. In addition, these companies’ GHG emissions and carbon footprints are massive. According to Daniel Brown, Head, Research & Science at ProVeg International, just the top five agricultural companies of the world emit more GHGs than a developed country like Germany.

While there is no dearth of pure vegetarian food and varieties across India, the vegan–dairy free option is still elusive. But promoting lower consumption of meat and dairy products is good for health, good for the pockets and good for the planet and as Ruchir Sharma, Head of Communications and Campaigns at ProVeg International puts it, it’s the “low-hanging fruit” in the quest to curb global carbon emissions. More campaigns in the developed world to have “No-Meat Mondays,” “Vegan Wednesdays” and promotions like the Vegan Afternoon Tea London Bus Tours, slowly but surely help cut the high per capita consumption of meat, processed meat and dairy products in urban areas.

In India and most developing countries of Asia, religion can help promote the shift to a meat-free lifestyle, as has been my personal experience. My parents and most of the older generation in my family have given up consuming meat for decades now. Religious sentiment as well as medical dietary guidelines have helped many of the Generation X shift towards a healthier, planet-friendly, plant-based diet as they got older. In my household, we don’t cook meat at home, and I am the only one who occasionally eats meat and that too only when I am eating out. Familial moves and peer pressure to get healthy can help drastically reduce per capita meat consumption.

Any vegetarian from India who travels abroad will tell you how difficult it is to find a vegetarian option. Just offering a vegan and vegetarian option, that too tasty and affordable ones, inspire people to opt for the cruelty-free, pocket-friendly, climate-friendly option. This observation has been supported by experiences in Portugal where it became policy to offer such options to promote a meat and dairy free diet. The experiences of the Fruitarian couple living in Bali demonstrate how more fruit and varieties of local fruits in the diet could be the answer to the obesity, diabetes and cancer epidemics. And the experiences of extreme athletes like Calle Alexander and Tim Sheriff on American Ninja Warrior and UK Ninja Warrior bust the myth that a vegan and vegetarian diet aren’t compatible with body building and strength training requirements.

Phillip Wollen in a viral clip of a debate in Australia vehemently puts forth multiple examples on the links between lifestyle disorders and the conditions of livestock farmed cruelly on an industrial scale. An increase in the number of vegans and vegetarians will ensure that even with organic farming and smallholders our current lands under cultivation can feed our going population. Just by reducing having to grow grains and feed for industrially farmed livestock can make more nutritious and cheaper vegetarian options accessible to all thus tackling the hunger epidemic as well. Bio-concentration of plastics, antibiotics, pesticides, insecticides and toxins is a concern in meat and dairy products as well and is symptomatic of the effects of the fast-paced anthropocene plastic age. A simple and progressive move towards a meat and dairy-free diet could therefore benefit the economy, people and the planet.

Raakhee Suryaprakash is a Chennai-based analyst with a Master’s degree in International Studies and a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. She is the founder of Sunshine Millennium and is associated with civil society organizations such as the Red Elephant Foundation (REF), Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) and Climate Tracker.

Featured image: BBC

Public spaces of education: The complicated nexus of shame, agency and resistance

16 days of Activism, 2022 at One Future Collective

I want to be free, but patriarchy and capitalism tether me!

Why Should We Protect our Digital Identities?

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The World Bank has defined Digital Identity as a collection of electronically captured and stored identity attributes that uniquely describe a person within a given context and are used for electronic transactions. Traditionally, a physical identity was assigned to an individual/entity in the form of ID-cards, ration cards, driver’s license, etc to facilitate movement of people, goods and services, funds and other resources. This ensured that an individual/ entity is who/what they claimed to be. With technological progressions, identity was digitised as interactions and transactions advanced to the digital medium through internet and computers. To adapt to this, attributes such as biometric details, phone numbers and social security numbers were electronically encoded to allow the identification of an individual or an entity in the world of internet.

Digital identity has had a significant effect on almost every sector and industry in the global economy. It has created transparency, traceability and coherence in the functioning of the economic order. Since it is easier to identify individuals within and across borders, governments can effectively provide welfare services, entities and individuals can promptly carry out financial transactions and people can undertake cross-border travels with lower risks.

Social inclusion is the effective outcome of having digitised identity systems. While infrastructure for digital identity are in place in most of the developed countries such as US, Canada and Europe, India launched the Aadhar card, in the largest identity program in 2016. The program aims to assign a vast majority of its population a unique nationally accepted identification and allow them easy access to certain essential services such as cooking gas, water connections, healthcare etc.

Digital identity has also evolved paperless transactions and streamlined business processes by simplifying identity authentication which earlier obstructed cross border trade and transfer of resources. Moreover, debit and credit cards, one click mobile payments has upped the performance of the financial sector.

Along the lines of verification, digital identity has ensured secured travel for legitimate travelers and further enhanced the travel industry. It has largely controlled travel threats which emerge from militant activities, civil wars, insurgencies and terrorism.

 

 

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

 

Another kind of digital identity was created when social media took over almost two generations under its wings with the advent of smartphones. With the ubiquitous nature of the cyberworld it has been impossible to stay aloof of Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, WeChat, Weibo, Renren and even LinkedIn to connect and interact worldwide. This identity is shaped by the online behaviour through interactions, clicks, games, purchases and searches.

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While we physically owned our ID-cards in the past and used it at our discretion for face-to-face authentication, the digitisation of identity managed to loosen this control. At every point of consent, we click “I agree” and place our private information in the hands of the service providers including the financial institutions, governments and private players such as social media companies, merchants, media application developers, various payment points etc. While a certain trust in the governments exists underlying the commitment to a social contract and their permanence, the use and store of our data encoded under a digitised identity remains ambiguous. Furthermore, we share private data across social media conversations, and believe that the information we provide at the time of signing up for these services is harmless — a fair trade for free use.  However, virtual world activities have influenced more than just consumerist behaviour.

There are several instances which highlight that private information was leaked by compromising the security of digital identity systems. Snowden’s disclosures on NSA spying, Hillary Clinton’s use of private email servers, the alleged Russian hacking of the Democratic National Congress’s servers, the possible plundering of 500 million Yahoo accounts, the Aadhaar biometrics data breaches are developments that demonstrate that laws have unfortunately not kept pace with the technological developments. Another significant incident that stoked the data protection debate was the recent data breach at Facebook in the Cambridge Analytica incident, reportedly influenced the voting behaviour of hundreds of Americans in favour of the election of President Donald Trump in 2016. It is imperative to understand that digital identity entails majority of the risks that a physical identity card would.

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With the use of digital technologies across the world at an all-time high, and internet connectivity to reach over 200 billion devices to the internet by 2020, the vulnerabilities remain significant.

Amidst this, European Union recently implemented the “General Data Protection Regulation” to empower individuals with the rights to demand companies reveal or delete the personal data they hold. It has brought under its ambit almost every company that holds and processes consumer data and further inform the consumer what they are “blindly” consenting to.

Although this law extends itself over a vast area of jurisdiction, until other states implement the relevant legislations and build secured infrastructures, the risks to digital identity will persist. Individually, we can only secure ourselves by making informed choices about consenting to the varied services that the digital world offers.

Shivani Gayakwad is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective and a researcher for Compliance, Forensics and Intelligence at Control Risks India. She has expertise in South Asian politics and interest in women’s menstrual health and financial independence.

Public spaces of education: The complicated nexus of shame, agency and resistance

16 days of Activism, 2022 at One Future Collective

I want to be free, but patriarchy and capitalism tether me!