Old, alone and vulnerable

Six senior citizens were murdered in a recent 30-day period. That should make Delhiites worry about the safety of their elderly – even if Delhi Police say the figure should seen in the context of the overall crime scene.  

“Delhi has an approximate population of 15 lakh senior citizens, which is around 10% of the population. See how many total murders took place in the same span of time – around 50 or more. Then there is crime against women also, and against children. The fact is that the number of police personnel is limited. We can’t assign specific staff for different types of crimes,” an officer says.

Notwithstanding the police point of view, the fact remains that the elderly – people over 60 – are one of the most vulnerable parts of society. A look into the last six murders throws up some important facts:

l Out of the six incidents, domestic helps were involved in three.

l Previous employees with inside information of the victim’s house were involved in the other two.

l In the sixth incident also, the role of people who used to visit the elderly regularly at their home on business is strongly suspected.

It is clear from this, and from several such cases before, that domestic helps and people who regularly visit the elderly and have inside knowledge about their homes are largely responsible for crime against them.

Experts identify the decline of the joint family system in the metros as one of the reason the elderly are more at risk now. “Most adult children these days like to live separately from their parents forcing the elderly to spend their lives either in old age homes or alone,” says Agewell Foundation chairman Himanshu Rath.

Even the senior citizens who live with their children spend most of their time alone as working couples is increasingly becoming the norm in the cities. “I would say the elderly are the most vulnerable during the afternoon as this is the time they are alone in their house, while their children are away in office,” says a Delhi Police officer.

A dedicated Delhi Police cell to deal with the issues concerning the elderly was launched in 2004. However, despite its good intentions, the Senior Citizen Cell has its own limitations. “The resources for the cell are being drawn from the same pool of Delhi Police. We don’t have additional manpower to deploy specially for the security of senior citizens,” says a police officer attached to the cell.

The local beat officer is supposed to visit a senior citizens registered with the cell on a weekly basis. Police are also supposed to call the registered senior citizens twice a week to ask about their well-being. But the reality is somewhat different. “This time the officer visited us after four months. He got our signatures on a register and left,” says Asha Gupta, a senior citizen living in Lajpat Nagar Part-3.

Asha Gupta and her husband Anant Ram Gupta are a harried couple these days. At the age of 76 and 78 respectively, they have been going to the local police station and the office of Deputy Commissioner of Police for an update in the investigation of a theft last month at their home. Their own driver allegedly fled with Rs 1.6 lakh in cash and jewellery worth Rs 20 lakh.

“We called up police half an hour after we got to know about the theft. But the police officer wasted crucial time in finishing paperwork, like FIR, which perhaps allowed the culprit to flee far from the reach of police,” says Anant. The driver was employed by the Guptas after proper police verification, during which the hired worker’s permanent address is noted. But policel drew a blank when they reached there.

“He has abandoned his native house and has fled with his entire family, leaving no trace behind,” Anant says. Claiming this case to be an exception, Delhi Police officers say police verification is a strong deterrent for the would-be thieves who work under the garb of domestic helps.

“If a person starts working in a house as a domestic help with the sole motive of robbery, he would never let his police verification be done. In fact, he would not even come to a house where the employers insist on verification,” said a police officer attached with Delhi Police’s Senior Citizen Cell.

“In most cases employers fear that the helps wouldn’t like to be verified by police, and if they insist on it they might lose a good helping hand. In some cases where a domestic help is catering to several houses, the residents feel complacent in getting their verification done,” the officer says.

Changing demographics
However, according to experts the problem is just not a law and order one. Even increasing life spans is a factor. “A few decades back, the average life span of a person used to be in the sixties. But now people are living in their late seventies and even eighties. If a person is in his seventies his children might also be in their forties or fifties. They will be busy looking after their own children and will not give much time to their parents,” Agewell Foundation’s Rath says.

“Living alone for years these elderly yearn for personal contact, someone with whom they can interact, and hence easily become dependent on their household helps. Howsoever loyal a domestic help might be, the temptation to get money with least resistance forces him or her to commit crime,” Rath says.

A mandatory verification of domestic helps by police and installation of CCTV cameras are some of the measures which S S Sareen, general secretary of Lajpat Nagar – 3 resident welfare association, suggested at the latest meeting of the residents.

“We don’t care for each other anymore. We don’t know who our neighbour is,” Sareen says. If the neighbour leaves the city for a few days, people don’t keep tabs on anyone visiting the house, he argues. He refers to cases where the elderly have died, and the bodies remained in the house, undetected for days. “Only the stench forces the neighbour to take note of it.”

“I want to bring the mohalla culture back in our locality with a get together of the residents every weekend. The idea is that residents should know each other through interaction. This will instil a sense of belongingness and care among the  people,” he says..

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