How an elderly Mehmooda Begum was left at an old home is heart breaking. Tired of eating porridge which was served to her every day, she decided to cook food for herself one day. The daal she made got her a black eye and a forceful admission to the old people’s center by her son.
As Mehmooda recalls her story, miles away from her family at the largest old home of the city, her lips quiver and her kohl-lined eyes fill up with tears. Her youngest son, and his wife, called her senile and would beat her up frequently on trivial matters.
“I made wallets and sold them to raise my seven children after my husband’s death. But once they were married, they all turned their backs on me,” said the 70-year-old woman, sitting on a marble slab in the ward for elderly women.
Other grim-faced inmates stood nearby, nodding. Almost all of the 417 inhabitants at Edhi’s old home in North Karachi have similar stories to share.
The married ones were abandoned by their children once their spouses passed away. Some were kicked out by their husbands and in-laws. Those who remained single all their life were rejected by their siblings.
According to a report in 2010, the Social Welfare Department claimed that there were six old homes in the city. Activists feel that the trend of people dumping the elderly at shelter homes is growing.
Spokesperson for the Edhi Foundation, Anwar Kazmi, says the number of people coming to old-age homes voluntarily is less compared to those who are forcefully admitted. But the real extent of the problem remains hidden. “People who are poor, and those whose families can’t take their responsibility, come to our homes. Those hailing from affluent families simply employ servants to take care of the senior citizens at home,” Kazmi said.
Not far from here, however, is a small, private old-age home, where one finds well-off elderly. At the Gills Shelter in North Nazimabad, some of their families pay Rs 15,000. The facility is being run by a physiotherapist, Saleem Gill.
“My home is open for all those who are being mistreated at home,” he says.
Despite private care, being deserted by their families has a major impact on the centre’s residents.
Some become quiet, others stop eating. Some have been living here for so long that they have lost their minds.
For those who can afford it, private nurses cater to the need of senior citizens who are bed-ridden or need special care. Noel Victor, a private nurse, looks after elderly patients suffering from terminally-ill diseases. He charges Rs1,000 per 12 hours for a patient, giving them medicines and food. He says the most difficult part is when he sees patients breathing their last.
Public sector projects
While no public-sector shelter home for senior citizens are available in Karachi at present, the social welfare department has approved schemes for the establishment of one in the next financial year, according to Sindh budget proposal documents.
A home for the elderly, by the name of Aaram Ghar, would be established each in Karachi, Sukkur and Hyderabad at an estimated cost of Rs83.46 million, and is expected to be completed by the end by mid 2014.
But for those abandoned by their loved ones, establishment of a centre means little. Mehmooda says she simply wishes to be with her family: “I am a mother. How can I not meet him? It’s been six months I last saw him. Please call him and tell him to meet me. Please.”
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2011.