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The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has drafted an amendment to an existing Bill to provide for more stringent penalties for those abandoning or abusing their parents. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizen Draft Bill, 2018 expands the definition of children to include daughter-in-law, son-in-law and adopted/step children. Senior citizens may approach a Maintenance Tribunal in case their children neglect them. Right now the Act provides an upper limit of Rs 10,000 per month as maintenance amount. Official sources said the Bill proposes to make this amount variable as people who earn more can afford to spend more on the upkeep of their parents. (The Indian Express, May 10, 2018)

A Google search for the numbers of adults in legal battles with their parents doesn’t reveal clear statistics but going by the top three stories that surfaced, it appears India’s 40-somethings are a bunch of ruthless ogres, shoving their elderly into old age homes after they’ve grabbed all their assets. Maybe it’s a sign of how much we’re expected to revere the old in this country that in all three articles, replete with heart wrenching examples of brutality, the writers haven’t bothered to include a quote from the sons and daughters, the alleged perpetrators. The estrangement is blamed squarely on the children, sons particularly, while the daughter-in-law is this generation’s evil stepmother, as horrible as the one in the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. However, whatever led to this tragic breakdown of what is considered an invincible bond between parent and child, is more nuanced and needs to be explored carefully. From a humanitarian point of view, since there are crores of old and destitute in India, the changes to the Senior Citizen Draft Bill 2018 are important. But it shouldn’t absolve parents of their role in creating a mess.

Surely the question needs to be asked, that there is something a parent must have done wrong, if their own child has turned on them? It is worth remembering that old people are just people. They were young people once, who got old. That’s it. The commonplace fate that awaits us all. Old age doesn’t make you special. A few grey hair or a couple of extra decades on this planet doesn’t make anyone less prone to making the horrendous mistakes that cause families to fall apart. It is to be hoped that wisdom dawns with age but it’s not often the case. Mostly you can be sure that if someone was mildly annoying at 30, they are worse at 50 and absolutely unbearable at 80. Nobody has a miraculous turn around, they just become more like what they originally were.

Yet, society in India shames children for revolting against a bad parent. Unquestioning devotion is a child’s duty, irrespective of whatever personal sacrifice has been demanded.

It is interesting to see that the American magazine, Psychology Today, carries plenty of pieces sympathising with young adults traumatised by relationships with their parents. Unlike the West, there is no legislation in India to protect the rights of children, to ensure parents bring up kids responsibly in a loving home. There is POCSO that deals with sexual offences but there is no way to call out other types of abuse like corporal punishment, disregard for a child’s individuality or even, benign indifference. Far greater numbers of children are treated badly by adults rather than the other way around. Yet, it is one of those inexplicable ironies that often, the most selfish parents get the most giving children, who prefer to suffer silently for no better reason than it’s what’s expected. The symbiotic relationship between parents and children in India is evolving because finally, the younger lot are questioning their obligations. It’s a good time to ponder over the ancient proverb on parenting, that what a child doesn’t receive, he can seldom later give.

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