Paradoxically, a country with 47 per cent of the population under 25, rural areas are left with seniors (70 per cent of them). Government projects that seniors will go from 138 million in 2021 to 194 million in 2031. Many continue to work, especially in agriculture, or depend on their children, but in some place, police look after them.
Milan (AsiaNews) – In India some 25 to 30 people move from rural areas to urban centres every minute; as a result, villages are left with mainly elderly residents over 60 who in many cases live alone and continue to work in agriculture.
In some states this has created some “ghost” towns, places like Kumbanad, in the southern state of Kerala, where one in six homes (15 per cent out of more than 11,000) are locked up because their owners have left.
With so few children, teachers are forced to go looking for them and pay families out of their own pockets to bring them to school.
This is quite a paradox for a country where 47 per cent of the population of 1.4 billion is under the age of 25.
The reality is that India’s population growth is uneven, with southern states already struggling with a progressively aging population due to declining fertility rates, a trend accentuated by young people moving to cities or abroad.
Internal migration grew by 51 per cent between 2001 and 2011. According to India’s last census in 2011, internal migration numbered 450 million, a trend that probably continued in the 10 years that followed, this despite the COVID0-19 pandemic.
By 2050, this should turn India into an urbanised society with 841 million or about half of the Indian population living in cities. As a result, rural areas will be mainly inhabited by people over 60.
Despite the increase in life expectancy, 60 usually marks the end of active employment, and about 73 per cent of seniors live in rural areas.
According to the latest report by India’s National Statistical Office (NSO), released in 2021, the number of seniors will rise from 138 million to 194 million by 2031, up 41 per cent in 10 years.
The states with the largest proportion of elderly people are Kerala (20.9 per cent), Tamil Nadu (18.2 per cent), Himachal Pradesh (17.1 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (16.4 per cent), and Punjab (16.2 per cent).
According to other government data, 4.4 per cent of elderly people live alone in rural areas, with a major difference between men (1.6 per cent) and women (7.2 per cent).
In rural areas, 26 per cent of urban residents over 60 continue to work, compared to 40 per cent in rural areas, mainly farming and more out of necessity than by choice.
Only 28 per cent of rural seniors consider themselves economically independent compared to 33 per cent in cities, while another 25 per cent and 20 per cent respectively consider themselves partially dependent on others.
The percentage of seniors totally dependent economically on their family is the same in both rural and urban areas. Most of them say they rely on their children who are often living in cities or abroad.
India has fewer than a thousand nursing homes, according to the AgeWell Foundation. For cultural reasons, families sometimes do not take this life option into account; nevertheless, such homes have recently reported more applications and very long waiting lists.
In many cases, the elderly prefer to turn to day centres that offer various services, but in "ghost towns", where crime is low, police often look after senior citizens.
In Kumbanad police told the BBC that they cannot remember when the last murder took place. Thefts are rare, but every now and then there is some fraud, Chief Police Inspector Sajeesh Kumar V explained. "Otherwise we are mainly dealing with minor fights among residents,” he said.
Police visit the elderly almost every day to make sure they are okay, and have given mobile alarms to some so that they can alert neighbours in case of an emergency.
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