Historically speaking, the concept of ‘senior citizens’ is of a recent vintage in our country. The concept of ‘citizen’ itself, as understood in the modern Constitutional sense, has originated after the establishment of ‘nation-states’. India is an ancient nation, with a history of many millennia. The rights and responsibilities of our people in the past were not codified in any Constitution. Rather, they were embedded in our culture and our spiritual outlook towards life. The wise elders of yester-centuries had created a cultural environment in India in which every person was expected to rise from one stage to the higher stage in the four-stage evolution of life, as if he was ascending a ladder, and try to attain self-realisation as much as possible.
Institution of Family must be preserved and strengthened
I am saying this just to drive home the point that, in the Indian view of life, we do not have any artificial notion of Young vs. Old or Junior Citizens vs. Senior Citizens or Modernity vs. Tradition. Our society has never been against modernity. But modernity cannot mean destruction of all that is valuable and life-nourishing in our past.
And among all the institutions that mankind has built for its survival and progress, the best is the institution of family. I consider Family to be one of Nature’s masterpieces. A happy family is one in which the young and old live together, sharing the bonds of love and mutual care.
The need for family life is even greater for senior citizens. And I do not use the word ‘need’ only in the sense of physical or material care. Even the state of their health depends on the quality of their family life. I know of many instances where senior citizens develop illnesses because they are not living in a proper family environment. And where they have a happy family environment, they do not need medicines since happiness and contentment itself is the most effective medicine for senior citizens.
Enhance participation of Senior Citizens in public affairs
Friends, all of us know how the elders in our families, communities and villages used to be valued for their wisdom. Whenever people wanted guidance on any important matter, they used to consult the elders or senior citizens. Their opinion and advice was generally accepted by one and all.
This precious tradition should be preserved even in modern times. It exists even today to some extent in villages. But in big cities, our society is not benefiting from the knowledge and wisdom of senior citizens. We should find new ways, and evolve new formal and informal structures, whereby the involvement of senior citizens in public affairs can be enhanced.
One area that immediately comes to my mind is dispute settlement at local levels. It is said that India has become one of the most litigation-prone societies in the world. This is unfortunate. This is not in keeping with our social ethos. We must encourage non-judicial mechanisms for conciliation, arbitration and conflict resolution. These will promote mutual trust, understanding, goodwill and the spirit of tolerance, accommodation and cooperation in society.
I believe that senior citizens can also make valuable contribution, by way of rendering voluntary service, to the running of resident welfare associations and neighbourhood activities in education, healthcare, environment protection, culture, arts and philanthropy. Such participation is evident in many places. But the scope for further enhancing it is immense.
-An excerpt for the speech at the Convention of Senior Citizens in New Delhi on 20th July 2008