Elderly hiring companions for a fee as joint families disappear in India

S. N. M. Abdi
S. N. M. Abdi - Special to Al Arabiya English
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An increasing number of older people in India are falling back on hired young men and women for company because their own children or grandchildren are unable to give them quality time but don’t mind footing the bill for paid companions.

In addition to commercial firms which offer companionship packages for the elderly for a monthly fee ranging from Rs 2500 to Rs 25,000 depending on the services required and frequency of visits, charities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in many towns and cities across India run a network of volunteers who spend hours with the old and lonely free of cost.

“All this is a radical departure from India’s famed joint family system where often three and sometimes four generations lived together under the same roof”, sociologist Radhika Ghosh told Al Arabiya.

“There were bonds of love and affection. Duties and responsibilities towards patriarchs were a top priority. Everyone lived up to certain norms of conduct sanctioned by religion and society. Joint families still exist in villages but urban India is rapidly changing due to withering away of joint families and the rise of nuclear families.”

Sadly, countless older people in India today often spend months without talking to anyone. They can take care of their daily needs, are in reasonably good health and financially sound. But they need a companion they can speak to: someone they can have a word with and spend some time together. And innovative firms are tapping into this growing market.

Saad Rahman, an employee of a companionship firm in Gurgaon, told The Times of India newspaper: “I cater to five senior citizens. One of them is 88 years old. He has two sons; one lives overseas and the second in Gurgaon itself. I help the old gentleman with bank work”.

According to Rahman, he is interested in technology and they have together set up his Facebook page. “Now he is learning how to use an iPad and wants me to teach him how to shop online. Once in a month we go out for coffee and some fresh air. He also tells me stories from his youth,” he told the newspaper.

According to another report, Professor Sudhakar Kulkarni, 74, who has been blind for 30 years and lives alone in Pune, now depends on volunteers of Maya Care for company five days a week.

The volunteers read newspapers and magazines to him, engage in discussions and debates, help him make calls to relatives and friends; once a week, a volunteer accompanies him to his son’s house nearby. Twice a week, they help him buy groceries, visit the bank or run other errands.

Ghosh explained that the number of older people is growing in India because of improved life expectancy. In 1961, 5.6 percent of the population was above the age of 60. The percentage has risen to 8.6, according to the last census in 2011. The number of people over 60 is 104 million surpassing the combined population of Spain, Canada and Sri Lanka.

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