A listening ear for elders in distress, the Elders Helpline 1090 is a much-needed service that is giving elders in Bengaluru necessary support against abuse.
Kanthilal, 74, arrived at the Yesvantpur Junction Railway Station at Bengaluru when it was almost midnight. His right side was paralyzed, and confusion writ large on his face. Local tea vendors on the station’s platform tried to make conversation with him to understand where he came from and what he was doing on the platform at that time of the night. A non-resident of Bengaluru, Kanthilal was unable to understand the tea vendors, who eventually dialed the Elders Helpline.
The Helpline authorities picked Kanthilal from the station and took him to an Eldercare Centre and gave him a meal and a bed to rest on. The next morning, a counsellor from the Elders Helpline spoke to Kanthilal, only to learn a shocking story. Hailing from Nagpur, Maharashtra, Kanthilal had walked out of his house after his wife and daughter verbally and physically abused him and asked him to leave. He knew that his son worked for a company in Bengaluru and so he got into a train to Bengaluru.
However, on reaching the city, he realized that he did not have his son’s phone number, nor his address.
This is just one out of thousands of cases of elder abuse reported in India. It is unfortunate to say that elder abuse is a problem that is rampant in the country but is typically under-reported. A study conducted in July 2015 revealed that over 65 % of India’s elderly reported experiencing some form of abuse, which included intimidation or threats, physical assault, neglect, and financial exploitation.
“We were easily able to trace Kanthilal’s family since he knew his wife’s phone number and the exact address to his house. However, they refused to have any cordial conversation with us and just asked us to send him back in a train. Knowing that he would be abused if he were to go back, Kanthilal disagreed to going home. We persistently called the family, and also sought the help of the local police. Both parties together counselled Kanthilal and his family. The family agreed to take him back, but they were warned that strict action would be taken if any more complaints of abuse were reported.”
“We are following up on the case, with the local police frequently visiting the family to ensure that everything is alright,” shares Sandhya, Project In-charge, Elders Helpline 1090.
The Elders Helpline 1090 came up in response to the many cries of elders in distress who approached Nightingales Medical Trust (NMT) with legal and civic issues. Elders found it hard to make their voices heard without a supporting force. On seeing their vulnerability, NMT approached the Bangalore City Police and together they established the Toll Free Helpline in 2002.
“As the Helpline, we function in three capacities – as a one-stop resource directory on eldercare services, as counsellors providing elders a listening ear to calmly hear out their stresses, and to solve problems. Again, we get two types of problems here. Problems of simple nature do not require much intervention and are usually just verbal complaints. For example, elders call to say that they are facing water problems while others in their locality have sufficient water. The Helpline calls the concerned department and lodges a complaint which generally takes a day or two to resolve.”
“Other complaints are serious, like family members/tenants/neighbours abusing the elder, property issues, or other family disputes. In such cases, we ask the elder to visit us and lodge a written complain. For cases that require immediate action, we make a house visit and ask for police intervention. For cases that don’t require immediate action, we send a notice to the accused,” adds Swati Bhandary, Senior Manager, NMT.
Most often, the accused are family members or other persons the elder knows, thereby making the cases very sensitive issues. Accordingly, the Helpline’s staff receive training to sensitively and tactfully solve cases they come across. The staff includes social workers, counselors, volunteers, legal professionals, and police personnel.
Elders receive emotional support throughout the course of intervention.
Since its inception, the Helpline has received more than 1,60,666 calls. It has registered as many as 8,662 complaints, successfully resolving 4,521 (53 %) of them. All the services at the Helpline are available for free.