Nepali Times
Life Times
Orphaned at old age



If 60-year-old Dhana Maya Gautam described just her house, many might be envious. She lives in what looks like a palace with traditional carvings and lattice windows. The police stand guard outside, she has a sunny veranda and a garden.

But Dhana Maya is homeless, driven out of her home after her husband died. She has been living on the Bagmati Bridge for the past seven years. Every day tens of thousands of commuters see her plight. No one stops by to help, or chat.

"I wouldn't go anywhere else, this is my home," says Dhana Maya, who still has property in Okhaldhunga but was forced to leave because of threats from her brother-in-law. Her son died and her daughter is in dire financial circumstances.

It is not difficult to meet other elderly, homeless and abandoned women like Dhana Maya on the streets of Kathmandu. Many are victims of domestic violence in the hands of their extended families. While the ratio of 60+ men is higher to women in Nepal, it appears that in most cases it is the women who are driven out of their homes. Women are also forced out after their husbands bring home second wives.

"The husband was no longer mine, the house wasn't either," recalls 77-year old Jamuna Basnet (pictured above, right), at the old age home, Nishahaya Sewa Sadan where nearly all the residents are women. Old, female, single and homeless, and often uneducated, these women are abandoned in an uncaring city. The women don't have citizenship cards and recommendations from VDC office required for shelters and end up on the streets.

With traditional family norms that valued and respected the elderly slowly eroding, grandparents feel neglected and disrespected in nuclear families. The trend of young families migrating abroad means that old parents are left behind with no one to look after them. The widening generation gap, family disputes and even physical abuse drive away the old into the harshness of the streets.

With declining fertility rates and increasing life expectancy, demographic shift in age is among the most prominent global demographic trends of the 21st century. Japan's ageing population is now challenging its economic growth, with one in six people over the age of 80.

As the average lifespan increases, Nepal's population pyramid now has a small bulge in the 60 plus age group. In the 1950s the population of 60 plus citizens was just five per cent, it is expected to be over 10 per cent in the 2011 census. As nations age, the prevalence of disability, frailty, and chronic diseases such as alzheimer's, cancer and cardiovascular diseases also rise dramatically.

Nepal's universal pension plan for senior citizens and widows, which offers them Rs 500 per month and health benefits, is a plus point. However, the bureaucracy is so daunting that many elderly people don't bother.

"Senior citizens are now a significant part of the population and with family care becoming weak, it is important that provisions are made for their benefit," says Ram Sharan Thapa, Office Chief of Pashupati Old Age Home which houses 230 senior citizens. "It is best if the family takes care, but there is a need for old age homes for those who aren't treated well." At present only 30 shelters for the elderly in the country with a majority concentrated in the capital.

Most depend on donors because of the special care required for the elderly. Says Sagun Shah of Nishahaya Sewa Sadan: "Donors are more inclined to fund an orphanage or sponsor a child, than give to an ageing group that has outlived an economically useful life."

Suvekchya Ghimire of HelpAge International says that Nepal is ahead than most countries in terms of policies, but lags behind in implementation. She says: "Senior citizens should not only be seen as dependents, they can still be economically independent."

Curry without Worry

Every Tuesday evening at 5.30 a crowd gathers under the pipal tree at Hanuman Dhoka for a 'party' thrown by Curry Without Worry (CWOW). As the familiar truck pulls in, the smell of warm food fills the air and there is a rush to form a queue as the buffet is set.

Warm rice, beans, roti, mixed vegetables and tomato pickle on a leaf plate- for most in the line this is one of the few full freshly cooked meals they are able to eat every week. CWOW is a charity that offers free warm meals to the homeless, and anyone else who is hungry, once a week. CWOW has been holding free buffets at the Hanuman Dhoka for more than a year and feeds over 300 people at one go.

The organisation was founded in 2006 by Shrawan Nepali in San Francisco where he opened a soup kitchen for the hungry in the city. Local businessman, Hem Ratna Shakya, would volunteer with Nepali whenever he visited the US and decided to begin the initiative here.

"The smile on the faces of our guests here motivates us to keep going," says Shakya. The weekly cost of CWOW is
Rs 16,000. Anyone who is willing to contribute money or labour is welcome.
+977 1 4229475

Read also:
Home away from home

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A trekker ambassador sees the need to be patient

Knotting for Nepal, BHRIKUTI RAI
A woman's personal hobby is helping others become self-sufficient and preserve traditional weaving skills

They don't count, and are uncounted, ANURAG ACHARYA in NEW DELHI
No one knows how many Nepalis work in India, nor is there a reliable estimate about how much money they send home

See also:
Nepali women climbers set the pace, ALONZO LUCIUS LYONS
"Their success in the male-dominated world of Himalayan climbing will encourage Nepali women to follow their dreams, even when the path is a precarious, uphill ascent." Stephanie Maxheim, French climber

Womanpower stays home to teach, as manpower migrates, WILKO VERBAKEL in SINDHUPALCHOK

Women on air
Durga Adhikari breaks the sound barrier

Holding up the whole sky, PAAVAN MATHEMA
All-female cockpit crews become common as more women pick piloting careers

1. meera nepal
thank you pavaan jee, for a timely and hard hitting article. it is really sad to see that children have stop valuing their older parents and they have to lead such harsh lives when they are 70 and 80. ideally the government should provide a social security  net for people who are homeless and helpless. but this issue is last on Bhattarai's list of priorities. the next best thing would be for children to treat their parents humanely. i don't think that is asking too much for people (many of whom) have worked all their lives so that we could have better lives. 

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)