“In typical Indian society, you are expected to take care of your parents.”
Today, many elderly parents, live in very different circumstances. Their adult children – and grandchildren – all live abroad or far away from their towns of residence. So the elderly couple rely primarily on hired domestic help to meet their basic needs in an increasingly-chaotic and crowded city life.
“expanding cities are hard for old people,” Mr Saxena says. “In the neighbourhood, everybody used to know everybody. Now there are neighbours here we don’t know and they never talk to us. Social isolation has increased. Transportation is a big problem.”
The Saxenas are part of a little discussed demographic group now posing a new challenge for India: the elderly, whose numbers are rising fast at a time when the traditional extended family safety net is being eroded by rapid social economic transformation.
“It is the unsung story – nobody talks about it,” says Kabir Chadha, a former McKinsey & Company consultant “This country isn’t built to take care of its seniors.” About 100m Indians are above the age of 60, the world’s second-largest senior population after China. That number will rise sharply to 170m in the next 13 years, when about 70m Indians – slightly more than the population of France – will be over 70 years old.
Most of these retirees come from India’s middle-class or more affluent groups, where better long-term nutrition and healthcare has extended life spans far beyond the current national average of 66 years.
Overall, India remains a young country. The elderly account for just 9 per cent of the population with their ranks expected to rise to about 14 per cent by 2025. But many urban Indians find it increasingly tough to care for their elders at home, as a result of rising migration, more women entering the workforce and soaring property prices. India’s government, and society, is only beginning to recognise the challenge.
Traditionally, ideas of specialised senior housing – such as retirement homes or assisted living facilities – have evoked horror among elderly Indians, who equate them to abandonment.