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Elderly on their own in Capital

Vishnu Sukumaran, Oct 6, 2012, DHNS:

VULNERABLE: OLD PEOPLE LIVING ALONE REMAIN SOFT TARGETS FOR CRIMINALS

In the last two years, 34 senior citizens in the city were murdered. Nineteen were killed in 2010, 15 last year and another 16 so far this year.  As always, senior citizens are easy targets for criminals.

In the first case of the year, a 78-year-old woman was found smothered with a towel at her home in Mayur Vihar area of east Delhi. Sarojini Bartwal lived alone for the past four years. Ten months later, police are still struggling for a breakthrough in the case.

And on October 2, a 62-year-old school teacher found dead at her home in north Delhi’s Timarpur became the latest victim. Madhu Mehra’s legs were tied together and the mouth taped shut. She had been smothered with a pillow.


A day later, police arrested her 22-year-old neighbour for plotting the crime for robbery. Rahul Prasad Singh alias Ricky was looking to compensate the loss of Rs 3 lakh suffered after launching a business of mobile phone spy gadgets.

Madhu used to teach science at Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya in Nehru Vihar, and had been living alone at the second-floor one-bedroom flat in B-Block of Timarpur teacher's colony for several years.

Similarly, an elderly couple was found brutally murdered at their house in east Delhi’s Shakarpur in August. R K Bararu, 75, who retired as deputy director from Union information and broadcasting ministry, and his 74-year-old wife Durga Devi, who suffered from dementia, were found lying in a pool of blood by one of their domestic helps.

Bararu was a noted playwright and theatre personality, who retired from the song and drama division of the ministry in 1999. Police believe a gang of three or four assailants who were known to the couple had perpetrated the crime.

Apart from the murders, close to 80 elderly people are killed in road accidents, while hundreds are robbed and are victims of chain snatching every year.

The figures show that despite the tall claims by Delhi Police regarding measures taken for the safety of the elderly, they continue to remain vulnerable.

S B K Singh, joint commissioner of police (crime and railways) says, “In most of the instances the victims knew the accused, with close relatives, neighbours or domestic helps being involved. Analysis of investigations reveals that the issues included personal enmity, disputes, sudden provocation and trivial arguments.”

“Other cases were committed by strangers who came with an intention of committing robbery, he says. Only 13 percent of murders were related to crimes like robbery. .
Police feel the indifference of the elderly towards safety warnings issued by the department is also to be blamed for the rise in crime against them. They claim that the elderly who stay alone often hire domestic helps without checking their background, thus risking their own lives.

“Generally, in most cases, the crime is plotted by acquaintances who are given easy access to the house by the senior citizens' domestic helps,” adds Sindhu Pillai, deputy commissioner of police (north).

Pillai says while the elderly are wary of strangers, they generally tend to ignore safety precautions in case of acquaintances. The family and relatives too should check on the safety of the elderly, and be aware of any acquaintances made by them.

“The problem needs to be addressed. Senior citizens need to be more careful,” she says.

‘Senior citizen’s scheme’

Besides, the elderly can also seek help from their local police station, all of which have a ‘senior citizen’s scheme’ implemented by officers independently or with the help of community leaders, schoolchildren and NGO's. It aims to keep an eye on domestic helps and visitors at the residence registered with them.

Delhi Police also have a senior citizen security cell at police headquarters, which takes initiatives for the safety of old people from time to time. Last year, the department started sending them safety tips through bulk SMS service.

So far, 13,562 senior citizens have been registered with the cell.  Of them over 5,000 were added in the first nine months of this year alone. According to Delhi Police commissioner Neeraj Kumar, the department is a service organisation and senior citizens are their special concern.

“They need care, support and security. It is our endeavour to achieve this to the maximum possible level,” Kumar says in a message.

The senior citizen security cell has also directed SHOs of police stations to monitor the registered elderly by interacting regularly over phone and through visits to give them a better sense of security and confidence.

“We also help senior citizens in case of their personal problems, encourage regular social interaction in the neighbourhood and coordinate police verification of domestic helps,” S B K Singh said.

A special registration drive for senior citizens at police stations was organised on September 30 on the eve of the International Day of Older Persons.  Senior citizens who live alone or with their spouse and had not got themselves registered with police were requested to do so.

The registered senior citizens were given special identity cards bearing their name, address, registration number, contact number in case of emergency, blood group and health problems.

But, despite their best efforts, a senior police official admits that the number of registered senior citizens is still not increasing at the expected rate. According to S B K Singh, it is not the lack of effort by police which has failed to yield result, but “most of the times, senior citizen themselves avoid getting themselves registered with police considering it as intrusion into privacy.”

“Senior citizens have a misplaced notion. That's why have undertaken a trust building exercise. We want to try and remove their doubts,” Singh adds.
Police have earmarked areas which report the lowest turnout of the elderly approaching the senior citizen cell for registration.

“We will launch a special drive in north east, north, south west and outer districts, as senior citizens from these areas still remain unregistered with us,” another official said.

NGO support

The department has collaborated with several NGOs to coordinate safety and security of senior citizens with the help of the area police.

The NGOs include Help Age India at Qutab Institutional Area, Agewell Foundation at Lajpat Nagar, Anugraha at Patparganj, Old Age Care Division National Institute of Social Defence at RK Puram and Chinmaya Vanprasth Sansthan at Lodhi Road.

The Union home ministry has issued an advisory on the issue to state governments, including Delhi. According to home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, the advisory includes direction to police departments to pay special attention to protecting the life and property of older persons, and keeping a friendly vigil.

“Identification of pockets inhabitated  by older persons; visits to the homes of the older persons and setting up of helpline for the welfare of older persons are also part of the advisory,” Shinde said during a function organised at Vigyan Bhavan last Monday to confer the National Awards for Senior Citizens.

At the function, Union social justice and empowerment minister Mukul Wasnik said the ministry is in an advanced stage of formulating a new national policy, which is expected to address the concerns of the elderly, to help them live a productive and dignified life. His ministry identified, `Security for Senior Citizens' as the theme of  this year's ‘International Day of Older Persons’.

Alarming numbers

Year     No of senior citizens killed
2005     16
2006    12
2007    17
2008    16
2009    17
2010    19
2011    15
2012    16 (till October 5)


OLDAGEBENEFITS

In May 1999, Union ministry of social justice and empowerment, constituted ‘National Council for Older Persons’. The policy stipulates that state governments will take
affirmative action to provide facilities, concessions and relief to senior citizens for improving their quality of life. Accordingly, Delhi social welfare minister Kiran Walia claims that the city government has initiated a number of measures for the benefit of the elderly

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