Are Indian elderly women worse off than elderly women in the West?

Here’s what I think.

Traditionally elder care for Indian men was provided by their wives who were frequently 12 – 20 years younger than the husband. To ensure there was no neglect in care, the wife was allowed certain privileges (basic rights) only as long as the husband lived. These ‘privileges’ included a social life; some kinds of foods (eaten after the husband and his family had eaten); permission to participate in festivities and prayers for the husband’s and sons’ long lives; respect (some conditions applied); symbols of suhaag etc.

But who looked after the wife once the husband died, specially since women live longer and,

At the age of 80 years and above, 71 per cent of women and only 29 per cent of men have lost their spouse.

Here are some more points from, The feminisation of old age.

1. The predicament of elderly women is aggravated by a life time of gender-based discrimination.

2. Social mores inhibit women from re-marrying, resulting in an increased likelihood of women ending up alone.

3. The life of a widow is riddled with stringent moral codes, with integral rights relinquished and liberties circumvented.

4. Social bias often results in unjust allocation of resources, neglect, abuse, exploitation, gender-based violence, lack of access to basic services and prevention of ownership of assets.

5. Ageing women are more likely to get excluded from social security schemes due to lower literacy and awareness levels.

And a lot of it could change if Indians stop seeing women as paraya dhan. Once parents start valuing their girl-children, so would the society. And if the society respects women, we would take women’s happiness, safety, self reliance and general well-being seriously.

Then, maybe these surveys would find a mention of senior citizens who only have girl children.

“There is a common belief that only daughters-in-law abuse elders. On the contrary, 56 percent of those surveyed felt it was their sons who abuse them; daughters-in-law scored as low as 23 percent,” Mathew Cherian, chief executive of HelpAge India, told IANS. [link]

What about the daughters?


33 thoughts on “Are Indian elderly women worse off than elderly women in the West?

  1. In general, the elderly in India are worse off than the elderly in the west. Lack of social security and access to quality health care coupled with almost no savings for retirement makes their life more tough than their western counterparts.

    Now couple that with lack of property rights, no experience in earning a lively hood (thanks to the Indian moral code that prevented them from working), reduced status in the family and probably lacking a spouse by the time they are 80, elderly women are definitely worse off. They are more dependent and helpless in a society that will not treat them kindly.


    • I agree Cluelesschick. Death of the wife still leaves the man with whatever they earned during their marriage (and his inheritance), but if the husband dies first, then the assets are divided between the children and the wife. So women do have to choose between self reliance (specially as widows) and marriage & motherhood. And women are frequently denied any inheritance, even today.


  2. ‘In general, the elderly in India are worse off than the elderly in the west.’
    That has been my experience also.
    There is absolutely no concept of ‘eldercare’ – (the specialized facilities, equipment, social & medical programs for the concerns of the elderly) – in India like there is in the US.
    Mind you, I don’t think the US does the best job it possibly could as far as ‘eldercare’ goes.
    But try buying some of the ‘assistive devices’ developed in the West to help the elderly in maintaining their ‘independence’ & dignity ( i.e. quad canes, portable bedside commodes, transfer benches, walkers, etc.)- you’ll rarely find them in India. Even a decent portable wheelchair is difficult to find in most of India.
    Most people are absolutely clueless worldwide as to the ‘special needs’ of the elderly until they have to deal with caring for an elderly family member.
    In the US we have social workers who specialize in ‘eldercare’ and help direct caretakers/relatives to the programs & equipment available for the elderly in the US.
    I can imagine quite a few of these abusive sons & daughter in laws have no idea of the ‘special needs’ of an elderly person and get quite frustrated with the entire situation.
    As odd as it sounds- lack of mobility & the inability to toilet oneself are often the triggers for elder abuse.


    • I echo BB’s views.
      I actually experienced a “trailer” of what the elderly have to go through in India.
      I am only 63 and not all that old but a sudden attack of osteo arthritis hit me badly last November and by December it got so bad that I was bed ridden for two whole months and totally unable to walk.

      The orthopaedists told me that only bed rest and time will cure it as X rays and MRI scans revealed nothing that needed surgical intervention. They couldn’t say how long it would be before I could walk normally again.

      I was in bed for eight weeks, then hobbled around the house using a walker for the next 4 weeks, than gradually got up to walk with a bad limp and always holding on to something to avoid falling or experiencing a shooting pain in the knee. It took a full six months before I could walk again as I am now doing but even today, I am unable to climb stairs as quickly as I used to before. I remember running up the stairs two steps at a time, just last year at this time. It is now unthinkable.

      During this period, I realized how indifferent we are to the handicaps of the elderly.
      I realized first hand the difficulties the elderly experience even for routine toilet activities. I solved my problem by dragging my cot right next to the door of the toilet so that I needed to walk just 5 or six feet to reach the commode but even this was a torture. I shuddered to think of those who don’t have a western style commode and who have to use the Indian commodes in their houses.

      I used bed pans at night.
      When going out, I could not access shops and stores where there were no ramps.
      For years I had failed to notice the absence of hand rails in short stairs leading to shops in the mezzanine floor levels but now I noticed because I would look for them to hold on to, when I went shopping or banking with my wife. Where such rails were absent I had to hold on to my wife’s shoulder and climb slowly. This was after the knee had healed sufficiently and I had started moving around a little.

      When I was in bed, during the early stages I experienced depression, due to being unable to do all the things that I had simply taken for granted all these years.

      Thank God my hands and eyes were okay. I could spend the day with my Ipad and my laptop sitting on my bed.

      But what of those who suffer from dementia, and whose eyesight is also weak or who are computer illiterate? How will they pass their time?

      My children are abroad but I was fortunate to have my wife close at hand and she attended to all my needs sportingly and without complaining.
      What about those who are less fortunate than I was?

      Yes, this blog post gives food for some serious thought.
      We need to have arrangements in place for our “oldicapped” elderly.

      My wife is the secretary of our apartment association.
      She took the lead and organised the construction of ramps to assist the elderly in our apartment building. Our ground floor is about 4 feet higher than the ground level outside the building. Now the elderly are able to negotiate this height difference. Normal people have also welcomed it. Those who are going on tour, find it convenient to wheel their suitcases down the ramp. Kids use the ramp to bring their bicycles without having to lift them up the short stairs.

      The elderly have blessed this. Their wheel chairs can now be rolled up or down the ramp.
      Small things like this were not even thought of before by any one.
      A lot more still needs to be done.
      Thanks for this opportunity to share some thoughts and sorry for the longer than usual comment.



  3. The main issue is that our society does not have a way out for engaging the Elderly people.Lucky are those who can keep themselves busy.However, most of them are left out and worn to fade away.Its a sorry plight for the mankind.


  4. Yes they are. I think BB’s comment excellently covers the lack of medical care equipment and facilities. Lack of mobility puts a huge strain on the elderly. Their family are not trained medical staff so probably would not know how to care well for them. We need to de-stigmatise care homes.. sometimes they can provide much better care than immediate family. Sometimes in the west we hear of cases of abuse in care-homes, but that can happen at home too.

    I think what’s sad is that the vast majority of healthy older women (and men) in India are forced to live stunted lives. There is this culture of acting ‘old’ and dependent once you retire or your kids marry. It is not actually a physiological requirement. We live longer lives with much better medical care now and a 60 year old is not usually ‘old’. With some exercise and activity, they can very well look after themselves and continue to enjoy active lives. In the west, people of that age don’t act old.. they go on volunteering/ working/ travelling. They are free to look for partners and enjoy friendships too.

    My grandma had retired herself to ‘ab meri umar ho gai’ for a good few years until she went on a trip to the states. She saw how folks much older than herself were shovelling snow off their own drive-ways and driving around doing their own shopping etc. She is now a different person. She does yoga and exercises and has an active social life, manages her property, etc. She’s really inspiring for me and an example that age really has a lot to do with your mentality.

    You see these 25 year olds saying they need to ‘take care’ of their parents and can’t move away. I wonder, do their 50-55 year old parents really need taking care of? Shouldn’t they be allowed to enjoy their own lives while they’re healthy?


    • Ya, Carvaka. In our society, the moment children get married and settle down in their lives, elderly folk are supposed to sit and brood and stop celebrating life. The concept of ‘active ageing’ is missing. My FIL is 70. He lives on his own. He does yoga every morning, goes for a short trek, makes his tea and breakfast, attends music concerts, uploads videos, browses internet, organizes music shows, goes on picnic with friends and is now in Nepal trekking the Himalayas. To those who ask whether he gets bored because he is on his own he replies “On the contrary I do not find time to get bored. I am busy with my activities”. I am very much inspired by him. I am in my 30s and have begun to take baby steps towards active ageing.

      BB, your comment hit the nail on the head. “Most people are clueless about the needs of the elderly”. Absolutely true!


  5. Perhaps it’s because I come from Kerala, but I have actually never come across widows being treated very badly. In fact, near where I live there is a whole nursing centre/ome for elderly widows who choose to go and stay there because they like staying with their friends instead of staying with their children who typically live in tiny flats in the middle east.
    And I’ve actually come across a few widows who have remarried(they were usually widowed young) and seem quite happy. And I’ve never seen any difference in attire of the women who were widowed. But I don’t think they wore sindoor in the first place;they still wear the thali though.


    • Kerala has highest literacy rate and is high on economic ladder thanks to long history of left political leaning there are policies in place. Most of all with more Keralites working abroad such a transition from home to elder home is the only option for those who can afford.
      The point to note is in last two decades post Gulf war I crime against women is on rise in Kerala.
      Desi Girl


  6. This is a topic that interests me personally because I am American but have been living in Mumbai for over a year, and I am almost 63. Most Americans feel very young in their 60’s and even 70’s (60 really is the new 40!) and do not need to give up their normal lives until their 80’s unless something unforeseen like cancer strikes. And even then the expectation is to have the therapy and then get on with your life. Perhaps because we Boomers make up so much of society, there are tons of activities and living styles to choose from, and although they love to see their kids and grandkids, most American seniors DO NOT want to live with their kids. I know that my husband and I want our own independence and plan to travel extensively after retirement. We are also lucky in that there are decent nursing homes available for short-term rehabilitation (which Medicare pays for up to 100? days) and of course for long-term stays when people are no longer able to performs the necessary activities of life. Because long-term care is not covered by Medicare and can be costly if you have assets, we have bought long-term care insurance which will cover 6 years of full-time stay in any facility. The average stay (based on actuarial tables) is 3 years so we should be fine. That is also only reserved for when you need round-the-clock care; otherwise there are many options of visiting nurses, etc. Many places have assisted living that gradually expands to become full-time care as you move from one facility to the other. In the case of my mother, we were very lucky to have full-time care provided at absolutely no cost to us because by 85 my mother had used up her assets and the state of Connecticut took over the entire cost of her care. In her early 80’s she went to an assisted living facility near me where they provided a cooked meal but she lived in her own private quarters and she stayed with me on weekends. She entered the Alzheimer’s wing of a normal nursing home at 85 because by then she needed specialized supervision and activities and stayed there less than two years until her death. It was a wonderful place and she received great care – I popped in unannounced whenever I wanted so I got to see how she was treated. In fact here is the link to it so you can see what nice facilities you can find outside NYC set in large gardens: There are of course poorly-run nursing homes which are in the news every so often, but my experience with grandparents and other relatives is that most facilities are pretty decent.
    I have not seen anything similar in Mumbai and wonder if they exist since most families keep their relatives in an extended family situation and maids can provide food, etc. But the nice part of the nursing home is that there are companions of the same age who are on the same wavelength, and they also provide activities like calisthenics and art, etc to keep people busy. The few buildings I have seen that are called nursing homes in Mumbai are horrible looking and maybe are not really in service. There is one next to the south end of the Taj Mahal Hotel ( near Good Earth) which looks extremely dirty and run-down.

    The irony of old age that I have noticed in Mumbai is that it seems to me the more privileged a woman is, the less she does through the years and therefore the more she actually ages. Since there are maids for everything, I don’t know how an upper-middle class woman keeps busy physically, and walking is almost impossible except for Marine Drive or Worli Seaface. I’m sure there are women who are dedicated to going to gyms but they must be a minority. I would be interested in hearing from readers if there is some truth to my observations. If a woman in her 60’s is not working at a job outside the home, does not need to clean or shop for food and cook it, is mostly doing sedentary activities like socializing with family, is driven around and rarely needs to walk, how does she keep active? When I fly I notice so many wheelchairs lined up with women who do not always look much older than me, and I wonder if they are really not able to walk and stand enough to get through the airport. This is really true on the Mumbai-Newark flights where there are always 8+ wheelchairs. The more studies that are done, the more important it is for everyone to keep moving during old age, and once mobility is compromised, the decline is accelerated.


    • Thanks for sharing your experiences! That’s a really interesting point you raise about priveleged women not keeping active – I think you’re right. In general though, I don’t think keeping active is high on the list of priorities for most people in India.

      From what I have seen, what adds to this inactiveness is this ‘respect’ for the elderly that takes the form of not letting them do things for themselves. Like carrying bags or driving somewhere etc. – the younger person is expected to do all these things for the older person. This is good obviously if the elderly person is incapable of doing these things, but often it is done just because of age not ability. And over time if you do not do these things for yourself, you lose the ability to do them at all.

      For a whole range of reasons elderly Indian women are worse off than their western counterparts, but one is the general attitute towards aging. The concept of being aged (oh I am too old to be doing that, that is what a young person would do etc.) starts kicking in well before actual physical inabilities start. Its also because of societal expectation about how the elderly should and shouldn’t be behaving, which is a really wasted opportunity imo because the elderly should be more immune to this sort of pressure because of the respect given to age. It would be really good if the elderly set an example by going against this, but I guess it is hard to undo a lifetime of conditioning…This is in addition to all the reasons mentioned in the post…


  7. I think apart from physical and medical needs their emotional needs an ddevelopement have to be met. e.g My mom who was very independent ( but never worked outsode the home) is in her 60″s of good health and my dad is in his 70’s good health too. I’m not too much in touch with them but my mom during my occasional mtgs/chats i realize is clinging to my brother. she is very proud of the fact that he gave up his career and took a job in chennai to TAKE CARE of his parents !!! My mom who herself did not want to live in a joint family and whom moved with my dad to a diff city to beaway now thinks she is the perfect MIL, very caring nad helpful. anyway i thnk she is feelingin secure and needs to make friends her age, get som ehobbies/ bond with my dad detc., whatever rocks her boat. we have no such thing in india, i did talk her into bhajans and shopping and walking groups and even some tour groups but, she to no avail. Inthe US i saw various easily accecisble stuff to keep the mind agile and also mingle with peers and do various activities..
    we need something like that , even if it’s a 4 or 5 hr per day thing.
    we claimto care for our elders but we tolerate them and that’s it and the blame lies on both sides. As we age we need to be responsible for our retirement and as youngsters we need to help stimulate their minds not just live with them.


  8. This is one topic on which I could not stop commenting, given the way feminists think — A few questions for all the feminists and wannabe feminists here.
    Ladies —
    Who’s gonna pay for your pension and look after you when you are old, given an adverse demography?
    Its a joke to compare a third-world country with a first-world country.
    In the US, social security is already a major issue. Who’s going to fund their cradle to grave welfare state given that many of them hardly have more than one children?
    It is really a joke when people believe that the family can be replaced. Apparently in the minds of feminists, a bureaucratic structure will be more kind/warm/loving than the family???? A faceless bureaucrat will love you more than your father/son/daughter.
    The welfare state is not even 50 and questions are being asked about is mortality/health. If you want extensive welfare get ready for a high tax rate.

    But anyway, in feminism, anything goes. May be the stereotype about women and logic was true after all.


    • I hope when i”m old and retired and me and my spouse have enough money set aside for our medical /caregiver needs.
      I do NOT want my sons or their spouses taking care of me on a hands on basis, of course i would love to see themnow nd then and maybe visit their place once every few months for a few days but that’s it. I hope me an dmy spouse can downsize, manage or maybe live with likeminded elder folks, continue to be as active as possible and enjoy life.
      When the day arrives that we are immobile, and it will arrive or the day that only one of us is left and incapacited then i hope to check into a facility which takes care of us and spend the reminder of time enjoying life albeit in a dimished capacity, i would also hope my sons come visit when they can and spend a few joyful days together.
      I may be too indealistic but i certainly do NOT want to be cared for by my kids inthe name of love. there are a myrid diff ways to show love and i know my kids love me and willdo anything for me but i certainly hope i will not test them to do that.
      this has nothing to do with feminism, every ind male and female should make arrangements for their old age and end of life care.


      • I echo Radha’s sentiments.
        We have just commenced living our retired lives
        We are 63 and 58.
        We feel great being independent of our children and living our own lives here in Bangalore.
        The day we get too old to do that and need help, we plan to move into one of these assisted living centers that are coming up all over.
        I visited a few of them in Coimbatore during a visit last year and spoke to some of the inmates there.
        I am also seeing ads of the place called Nana Nani in Coimbatore on Sankara Channel
        I asked my wife “So, what do you think?”
        She feels we are still too young to move in there.
        May be sometime in future perhaps.
        Let’s see


    • @KC, this ‘family system’ you speak of.. I have a feeling you were referring to the system of DILs providing care to the elderly in-laws. This ‘family system’ of yours only looks after parents of sons. My parents only have two daughters. Who should look after them?

      By the way you should read the post and comments again. No one suggested depending on the government for everything or to stop loving your parents. To answer your question about pensions, I am earning and investing wisely so I will not depend on the government or my husband or my children for money at any age. What’s so bad about wanting availability of medical equipment that can help you care better for elders? Or for that matter what’s so bad abut hiring a nurse to help with it, or use care homes? Do you seriously believe that DILs can provide better care to immobile elderly or mental patients than trained medical staff? Support can be emotional, financial or physical.. the people involved are best able to judge what’s needed.

      The other main point of comparison with the west was the freedom healthy older people have to live active rich lives, which their counterparts in India miss out on. You can’t date or make friends beyond a certain age, you can’t go out (except to temples), you can’t do your own grocery shopping. Whether out of misplaced respect or obligation, we limit the lives of our elderly. Do you think that is good for them?

      I would also like to inform that ‘feminists’ is not a dirty word, much as you intended it that way. Feminism is a movement to achieve equal rights for men and women. What part of that is so disagreeable to you?

      If you actually want a logical discussion then please refrain from saying things like ‘the stereotype about women and logic was true after all’. You only succeeded in making yourself look quite juvenile and vacuous.


  9. KC, Was this a truly thought out comment after reading the post, or is it a rant which was long waiting to happen? Suggest you read through the post/comments and rethink.


  10. I don’t want to post a India vs US type of comment, but I guess sometimes it’s hard to avoid. In the United States I’m seeing examples of elderly women being caretakers of their husbands, while at the same time they themselves are working full time jobs. These are 70+ year old women. I have a co-worker who is a prime example of this. Her husband is unable to care for himself, he suffers from a health problem that prevents him being able to do much. He can do basic things like get up and go to bathroom and walk around for awhile, but not much else. It’s really a sad situation.

    So it’s not always good for some elderly women in the West.


    • I, too, am ambivalent about these comparisons. It;s a tough call. The expectation of doing things alone in western culture sometimes becomes an obligation to do things alone even if one is really in need of help. The infrastructure that is put in place is to ensure continued independence on an individual basis. This is good in theory but it often means that many elderly people live very isolated lives. Isolating the elderly in assisted-living communities is not a good thing for youngsters either. They need to see their future too, not imagine that life is all about being fit and young and active. Perhaps a happy medium would be some kind of a combination of east and west. But in the end, a dignified life is all about financial independence to ensure comfort and care. And that is the independence towards which all people everywhere should save when they are.relatively young and able. All in all, I’m very conflicted about this issue and I don’t have any easy answers.


      • The point is not to replace the Indian family in ‘eldercare’ but to assist them to care for their elders better.
        India could learn a lot from research & practices developed in many western countries- not just the US.
        An example-
        I witnessed this in the City Select Mall in Saket a few months ago. A well dressed young woman pushes a well dressed, well groomed elderly woman in a wheelchair into the public toilet. I assumed by all the bangles & clothing worn by young woman that she is a newlywed daughter in law. I’m not sure if the elderly woman in the wheelchair was an ‘aunty’ or MIL. Anyway, the DIL tries to push the wheelchair with the elderly woman into one of the toilet stalls. The wheelchair doesn’t fit so DIL just leaves the door to the stall jammed open with the wheelchair & elderly woman still in it. DIL goes over to fix her make up in the mirrors- the elderly woman is left to negotiate the transit from wheelchair to toilet alone. The elderly woman frantically tries to raise herself from the wheelchair to get to the toilet & falls to the floor. The elderly woman manages to hike her sari above her bottom and begins urinating on the bathroom floor & herself. No one in the restroom offers to assist the elderly woman get up from the floor or clean herself. I finally couldn’t stand it & asked the elderly woman if she would like some help, she agreed. I had the elderly woman put her arms around my while I grasped her mid torso firmly & 1-2-3 LIFT we got ‘aunty’ on the toilet seat. I waited for ‘aunty’ to clean herself with some baby-wipes from my purse & 1-2-3 we did the ‘assisted transfer’ technique from commode to wheelchair again.
        ‘Aunty’ thanked me, DIL was indifferent.
        Now, was DIL just being ‘abusive’ to the elderly woman by not helping her from the wheelchair to the toilet or did DIL just not know the proper ‘technique’ to assist a wheelchair bound person to & from a toilet?
        There are other ways to deal with the toileting of a wheelchair bound person too- How about having ‘aunty’ wear an ‘adult incontinence’ product such as a diaper or disposable absorbent underpants?
        Was DIL being abusive or was she not aware of the ‘adult incontinence’ products available & how to use them?


        • On reading this, I took some time out and hugged my wife for like five minutes.

          She was only 25 when we were married and was unceremoniously pushed into intermittently taking care of my mother who went through major surgery within a few months of our wedding. I used to live in suburban Chennai and she insisted we move back closer to make it all easier. We eventually moved back to my parents place when both of them needed help in their last years. She routinely scolded me for being childish when I’ve asked her not to help out fearing somethings would be too embarrassing for her.

          To answer the question:
          > Are Indian elderly women worse off than elderly women in the West?
          That depends on the kids… And the daughters in law. I for one salute them.


        • //That depends on the kids… And the daughters in law. I for one salute them.//

          Not the sons in law? Or sons? And what about those senior citizens who do not have sons (and hence no daughters in law)? Daughters in laws have been traditionally seen as elder care givers, this common belief is one of the major reasons why Indians keep aborting girl foetuses.

          Also it seems despite all efforts by Indian parents to have sons – (and hence daughters in law) –

          100 per cent of the elderly surveyed stated that their daughters-in-law abused them the most.


        • @IHM

          // Not the sons in law? Or sons? //
          Of course, IHM. And you missed husbands, more on that below.

          I was giving a direct as-it-stands answer to the question “Are Indian elderly women worse off than elderly women in the West?”. And that answer was “Depends on kids… And the daughters in law”. Perhaps it should have been explicitly rewritten as “And (sadly if you think about the asymmetry), the daughters in law”.

          To be fair, my father was the first line of defense when my mother fell ill and helped in every possible way. Unfortunately, he was a decade older than my mom and he himself started needing significant medical attention by the time she passed away. My brother in law helped too and flew in once to help (he is settled abroad). So there was only so much my sister and he could do.

          // Daughters in laws have been traditionally seen as elder care givers, this common belief is one of the major reasons why Indians keep aborting girl foetuses. //

          Is this even true? Irrespective of whether my children were boys or girls, I would raise them to be proud elder care givers if the need arose.

          This seems to be an extremely accusative sentence – that people find elder care so undesirable that they don’t even want their children to be involved in it. So much that they would justify killing their own children to avoid that possibility. Maybe, I am not reading that sentence the way you meant it.


  11. @TheSlightlyChauvinistIyer, that sounds great. But did you/would you do the same for her parents? You say you moved in with yours when they needed it.. who looked after your wife’s parents?


    • Would I move in when my in-laws need help? Of course. 100%. (Since I live in a ground floor space, I suspect they will move in, though).

      Please see my follow up post to IHM on elder care.


  12. there are different cases all over! in kerala, the state with highest literacy there was a case where an elderly woman was ill treated and kept in a dog’s kennel by her son, the legal heir to the house in which she lived! exceptions are always there but some form of abuse, in mental physical or emotional abuse is always meted out to them!


  13. While I can’t directly answer your topic question, I would like to weigh in a few points. It’s appalling the way some widows in India are treated. What I noticed from my own in-laws is that the only widow in the family was pretty much forced (by societal rules) to live alone. She had a tiny apartment that she is now being forced out of and is trying to get the money to buy her own home but no one seems to be doing much to help her. When I inquired why she couldn’t live in one of the 3 large family homes I was told she didn’t want to. I call bullsh*t! (Sorry for the language, this just angers me because I love her.)

    This aunt (let’s call her Didi) spends almost all of her time visiting relatives so she doesn’t have to be home alone. That’s how I know she doesn’t like living alone. I just find it cruel she has to live alone. BUT in some ways she does have things better than some elderly people in the US.

    Both of my grandmothers were widowed. My favorite grandmother (I called her Nanny) stood by her husband as any Indian woman would. After he passed she too lived alone supposedly by choice. Instead of going around to visit everyone relatives came to visit her, leaving her nights always lonely. (Call me old fashioned, I don’t care, I don’t think it’s good for an elderly woman to be home alone every night, it invites danger and she can’t defend herself.)

    One thing I noticed about Didi is that she still gets a retirement pension from her husbands job. This small amount does give her the ability to support herself though I know this is not a common thing in India. In the US most women would not receive this kind of pension either. But, for the women who are in arranged marriages and marry up, they too could possibly afford a slightly better lifestyle after being widowed.

    Either way I think it’s all sick. I don’t know what in the world is wrong with humanity when elderly individuals are left living alone as if no one wants them. I think I would just die if I thought my mother was living by herself and lonely. I feel the same about my in-laws. These are people who have made a valuable difference in my life. Even if it was my aunt or uncle, I couldn’t leave them living like that. I see the more recent programs advertised for widows in India and how some people are making an effort to do something to help them and it just makes me overjoyed that finally someone is easing their suffering. No one deserves to live the way most of these widows do.


    • In the USA women are eligible for Social Security. There is also Medicare and Medicaid available for elderly and disabled people. There is a safety net here in the USA in the form of Govt. – which is simply not there in India.


  14. Comparing elder women of India to elder women of the West is like apples to oranges. There will be similar stories for sure, families who disown an elderly mother after the father has passed etc. This is seen more in the west with second or third wives. Natural born children detest the latest woman coming into a household, disrupting patterns from their now deceased biological mother, mostly in fear of losing inheritance or a claim on personal effects.

    I once witnessed the life of a 106 year old woman living in a Himachali village with one of her sons and daughter in law. She was resigned to a simple charpai in a small room off a modest courtyard. Time and osteoporosis had crippled her to a constant state of stooped over mobility. With the help of a cane she hobbled about the courtyard or simply sat propped against a wall watching village life about the home. Her words came out in muttered clumps, unintelligible except by her daughter in law who treated her no better or no worse than a stray dog.

    Breakfast consisting of a sole chapati (more than enough to support her frame) was thrown onto the floor for her to grab and then pick at like an animal. Her grand kids avoided her, possibly out of fear, maybe apathy, maybe out of societal teaching. In the end, she passed a few years later in her sleep without much sadness from her family.

    In the west we either tuck our elderly away in dormitory style “manors” where they are watched over by paid employees or we leave them to wither away in their homes while neighbors or, if lucky enough, someone from the church checks in intermittently. There are exceptions where families move their elder parents in to live. It’s rare these days as the western family has collapsed.

    Old folks homes as we refer to them in the west have bright spots and disturbing cases among them. Some people thrive while many just give up, prolonged by pills and nutrients, forgotten by family who make an annual appearance around the holidays.

    The same businesses are popping up in India allowing young couples to dispose of their responsibilities. Guilt is replaced by new TV’s and cars, evenings out with friends and modern flats overlooking the city. “Grandma is surely better off among her peers, right?”


    • Well – living with her son didn’t help the Himachali old woman in your example either! There is no one sized solution. Some people can live with their parents and some cannot. And even if one can live with their elderly parents that still does not mean they are capable of looking after their parents! And why should someone give up their way of life to look after an elderly relative.
      Its very diffcult to deal with older people who have physical/mental disabilities. What about the elderly who have Alzheimers or Schizophreia – are you saying that their kids can take better care of them than specialists at a qualified Facility? What if the children of the elderly are working fulltime – then what? The elderly would still be at home by themselves – in India or the West.
      If your parents are bedridden are you honestly not going to accept any help and clean their asses yourself? I think a lot of patience is required in dealing with the elderly and infirm and not everyone has these qualities including their kids. From what I’ve seen here in the USA the bulk of the responsibility falls on the daughter. I don’t see guys giving up their jobs to stay at home and take care of Papa and Mama.
      Why should anybody be stuck with a job they can’t handle if there is an alternative!! In India – sure – there are lots of people looking after their parents – that’s great if you can do it and want to do it!


  15. Ageing and loneliness are some of the major issues for senior citizens, which many a times makes them helpless in various situations. I would like to mention the name of an organization called “The Golden Estate” ( which has taken an initiative to support the senior citizens by building service apartments especially for the elderly.


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