In a nation keen to brand itself as an upcoming, upwardly mobile, growing and ‘young’ with a most capital ‘Y’, the voices of a vast majority of the old and elderly are being pushed outside the margins. With the gradual breakdown/transformation of traditional family and social systems, our senior citizens are increasingly left economically and socially vulnerable.
The government of India has tried to redress the issue by implementing schemes providing social security to the elderly. But their efforts have been found wanting in more ways than one.
In late 2007, the eastern state of Odisha announced the Madhu Babu Old Age pension scheme which provides every citizen over the age of 60 with Rs. 300/- every month. The amount is a pittance which amounts to less than 0.18 $ a day. And so rife is the system with corruption, that rarely does an applicant have the opportunity to avail of this little money.
Tirtha Tandi of Deodhar village, Korma block in the Nuapada district of the state is 76 years old. He has no immediate family and no source of income. He is wizened with age and does not have the health or vigor to pursue employment. He lives off the charity of distant relatives. Four years ago, he applied for the old age pension scheme. His application is still under process.
IndiaUnheard Correspondent Abhishek Kumar Das heard of Mr. Tandi’s situation through his group of activist friends. He decided to give platform to Mr. Tandi’s voice and issues. “Don’t worry,” he told the old man. “Tell your story to the people through my camera and I will do everything possible to get you your pension.”
After interviewing Mr. Tandi and documenting his life, Abhishek went to the block office to inquire why the pension was not being distributed. “There is a lesson that you learn when you work at the grassroots,” says Abhishek. “It is not just enough to keep emailing or calling up higher officials. Most times, the problem is at the root of it all. The local panchayat office is yet to send Mr. Tandi’s application to the pension office.”
Abhishek is pursuing the local authorities but he says that till date they have proved elusive. But he sounds confident about the future. “Where will they go?” he asks. “They are bound to land up in front of me. Mr. Tandi is not alone. There are atleast 10 other elderly people in the village yet to get their pensions.”
“But if we go step by step, fixing the system from the grassroots upwards, it is just a matter of time till there is change.”
Today’s video is Community Corespondent Abhishek’s first video. IndiaUnheard spoke to him about his experiences.
“I am a grassroots activist. I have been working in the field, with the people and their for more than seven years now. I am veteran of applications and written complaints and articles. I must have written through reams and reams of paper addressing one issue or the other. But it was never satisfactory. I always felt that there was something lacking in my approach. When I heard of Video Volunteers and IndiaUnheard I realized that what I was lacking was a camera.”
“You might write 15 pages of greatest prose in the world but to find a person who has the time to read it all is the greater hurdle. With a camera, I can put those 15 pages into 3 minutes of video. I can go over to a government official and ask him in the most clear and lucid of terms. – ‘Can you give me 3 minutes of your time? That’s all I need.'”