Newspapers recently reported the tragic story of Govind Ram Jethani, a 90-year old man who spent four days in his New Delhi residence with his wife's body. The couple used to stay alone in their one room tenement, cut off from relatives and neighbours. The decomposing and maggot-infested body of his 85-year old wife was discovered on the floor of his house. Jethani asked police officers to be quiet, lest they wake up his dead wife. The childless couple had been living in the same house for the past 42 years. Yet, they hardly had any interaction with their neighbours. Police arrived on the scene after a neighbour’s call and found that the woman died of natural causes.
Jethani himself had to be admitted to hospital. He told newspersons that his only source of income was paltry old age pension provided by the Delhi Government. The couple could afford to eat only bread and milk. No wonder, they were malnourished. Jethani had relatives, but no one came forward to help him. He told newspersons in hospital that he did not trust the world outside. He did not even step out to the verandah of his house,as he was scared that if he broke his bones, it would take a long time to heal. The couple kept the windows of their house shut.
Jethani's story is an eye-opener. Loneliness,poor financials, lack of emotional support from anywhere, lack of trust, mental instability, lack of nourishment - these are some factors which afflict a large percentage of our elderly population. Those who live with their children or relatives are often maltreated and even beaten up.
There has been an improvement in life expectancy due to advances made by medical science, but there has been no matching improvement in social support. Our not-so-old section of society tends to forget that it will also get old someday and face the same or worse fate.