Nepali Times
Giving up on grannies



Every morning 77-year-old Sarmaya Acharya neatly lays out packets of cigarettes and chewing tobacco, shampoo sachets, and nail polish bottles and sets up her small stall at Bhanu Chok in Dharan. The mother of two lives by herself and uses earnings from the shop to pay her monthly rent.

Sarmaya's son is settled in Kathmandu, and abandoned her shortly after her husband's death and hasn't come to see her in three years. She has never met her daughter-in-law, or her grandchildren.

Thousands of 60 plus Nepalis across the country find themselves orphaned at old age. Abandoned by their families, they are forced to spend their retirement years in old age homes, on the streets or in their own residence with no one to look after them.

Joint families with grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, and cousins all living under the same roof were the norm in Nepal till even a decade ago. Older members were respected and valued, and played a vital role in the transfer of knowledge, skills, and traditions. In an economy so heavily reliant on agriculture, it made sense for families to stick together because grandparents would help raise children, while parents worked on the farm.

While the democracy movement in 1990 bought about major political and economic changes, it also ruptured this social contract. The economy expanded, new jobs opened up in the manufacturing and services sector, and many flocked to the cities. The decade long civil war hastened this trend, and elderly family members were left behind. With more and more Nepalis opting to work and settle abroad, the number of abandoned aged parents is likely to rise.

The middle class urban lifestyle, nuclear families living in cramped rented quarters, and premium on personal freedom and financial independence over customs, have brought about a significant change in attitude.

"Grandparents were shown a lot of respect and well-loved by families, but that culture has slowly faded away. We are so busy running after money and making a name for ourselves, we have forgotten some of our good social values," explains sociologist Suresh Dhakal.

Pressures of modern life mean that many Nepalis don't even have the time or energy to take care of their children, so looking after aged parents becomes an economic and emotional burden. The average family size in Nepal has shrunk from 5.4 in 2001 to 4.7, and the capital has an even smaller family size of 3.7.

While the poor elderly are the most vulnerable, there have been many cases where well-off parents have been kicked out after handing over their property to their children, or after being coerced into giving up their wealth.

According to the 1991 census, there were 1,071,000 Nepalis above the age of 60. In two decades that has doubled to 2,351,000 as Nepal's population ages. Senior citizens now make up nine per cent of the country's population.

In many developed countries, the state takes responsibility for citizens over 60 years and provides social security. Here, there are no such safety nets and the only state-run home for the elderly in Pashupati which houses 230 senior citizens is in a perpetual financial crunch. The dozen or so private homes in Kathmandu, Chitwan, Dhankuta, Biratnagar, and Pokhara are also overcrowded, and have to rely on donations.

Bhim Prasad Subedi from the Department of Geography at Tribhuvan University estimates that in the next 20 years the above-60 population will double, turning Nepal's demographic profile from a pyramid into an hour-glass: wide at the top and wide at the bottom.

Sarmaya's daughter visits from time to time and has been urging her to move in with her. But she says she will work and live on her own till she is physically capable. Although life has been cruel to her, she carries on with the hope of seeing her son and grandchildren one day.

With additional reporting by: Sohan Shrestha, Kamal Rimal, Chaabi Magar, and Ramesh Kumar

Read the original article in Nepali

See also:
Home away from home

Orphaned at old age, PAAVAN MATHEMA
More grandparents feel less grand as they cross the 60's line

Sabitri Baral, 77, Kaski

"All my life I took care of my daughter and then my four granddaughters. But one day they all kicked me out. Since then I have lived at Devghat and worked as a gardener in a hotel in Pokhara. Now I am at this old age home, but neither my daughter who is quite well-off, nor my granddaughters who are in Japan, Australia, and Kathmandu seem to care."

Sambhu Prasad Acharya, 74, Biratnagar

"I spent all the earnings from my job in the police force on our sons' weddings. We even sold our house and gave them all the money. But when we asked one of them to take care of me and the other to look after my wife, they refused. Now they don't even want to build a house because they are worried they will have to take us in. I had no other option than to send my wife to her parents' home in Kathmandu and I have been living at the Birateshor old age home for the past four years. I wish I could spend the last few years of my life with my wife."

Harilal Poudel, 68, Syangja

"My only son left for India 22 years ago and since then I have not been in touch with him and don't know his whereabouts. When it became hard for me to look after myself I asked my six daughters to come live with me. They said no. When I went to their house they refused to accept me and one of my grandsons abandoned me at Prithvi Chok in Pokhara. After that I wanted to end my life by jumping in the Seti, but an acquaintance found me and brought me to an old age home."

Hari Shrestha, 63, Kathmandu

"I have been living alone ever since the death of my wife two years ago. All my sons live separately and I think nuclear family is a necessity of modern life. I moved from Bhojpur to Kathmandu 30 years ago to start my career as a professor. I wanted to bring my parents along, but they couldn't leave. It is better to live separately and be happy rather than living together with resentment, and I have accepted my lifestyle."

1. Tashi Lama
This so called civilized world is more focused on educating brain only, which is good but ignoring education of warmheartedness is a blunder mistake, that is why we see narrow minded selfish politicians, corruptions and selfish children. Hypocrisy is everywhere in the society, even in the family.  Compassionate wisdom of unconditional loving kindness is must to learn and to practice, it is Buddhist wisdom preached by Gautama Buddha, who was born in Lumbini, Nepal. It is shameful too see these elders being not cared and loved by their children in the land of Buddha's birth. 

2. Aga Nyima
As a human being we need to use our common sense, old age come to everyone, if we don't treat and care our aging parents, our children will repeat it same on us, thus this cycle of suffering keeps on running. It is as simple as that.

 Many years back in NTV, I saw short documentary film titled "DOKO" in which a son tries to take away his aging father to unknown destination, but the grandson loves his grand father very much, so he keeps on watching his grand father, and stops his father taking away his grand father many times. One day, while the grand son was in sound sleep, the couple again gets hold of the old man and puts him in the doko (bamboo basket) and tries to take away the old man quietly but suddenly the grandson wakes up and sees his grandfather in doko, but this time, boy didn't stopped his father taking away his grandfather,  but instead boy shouted and asked his father to bring back the empty doko (bamboo basket) and then his father asked why you need it? the boy told him I need it to use it when you get old, upon hearing these words, boy's father realizes the cycle of sad consequences, and then he stops doing such practice.  I like this short film very much, which teaches good lesson to everyone.

However, to be frankly, such kind of selfish tradition is unheard of in the Buddhist society in Nepal and everywhere, it is because Buddhism teaches strongly to serve well ones aging parents until their last breadth, by doing so one earns good merit and at the same time gets same good care from their own children, and from other people as well.  The other tradition I don't like in Hindu tradition is the practice of keeping out the dyeing father and mother out of their home. I saw dyeing people at Pashupati Arya ghat, some even take months and years to die, once they are taken out, they can't go back home, this practice of blind faith in Hinduism is so sad and ugly.

The result from the cause and effect is called karma, Buddhist believe in that karma very much. This is scientifically a truth, and I think media people should into the Buddhist society to find out all this reality of good harmony in between younger and older people. In average Buddhist homes older people gets lots of good care and they die very peacefully in their homes, which indeed is true respect and true love for elders who looked after us, such act indeed is a inner good quality of human being!  

3. Santosh T
Having lived with my grandparents all my life I find it very difficult to understand why we are treating the elderly so cruelly and how children can discard their elderly parents without a second thought. It broke my heart to read some of the stories of the grandfathers and grandmothers that the writer profiles. They don't deserve such a sad existence, not in that age. Although the trappings of modern lifestyle are pushing us towards nuclear families, I feel grandparents are very valuable and I see no reason why we cannot accommodate them in our lives no matter how busy our schedules are. Many of our grandparents gave their all financially and emotionally- to raise our parents and us and to take care of them.

4. Dawa
If we can't feel the gratitude or gratefulness of our grant parents, then what is the difference between animals and human beings? In some cases animals can live together very harmoniously, they do have very strong sense of emotions and social behavior i.e. the wild elephants and chimpanzees etc.

Discarding our grand parents like old cars and batteries is totally inhuman and very selfish deed and cruel act too. Even if some one can't live together, there are different methods and ways to serve them with loving care in the nuclear family too. Forgetting everything of grand parents care and loving kindness and to neglect them in their old age is very selfish and sinful act. A society without moral ethics on loving kindness to others is indeed a unhappy selfish society. 

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)