How to deal with challenges posed by burgeoning population of elderly?

As of today the population of the  jobless and pensionless elderly, as compared to the youngsters, has been on the rise in most countries of the world. They are only waiting to be declared persona non grata by their near and dear ones any moment, writes Amitabh Srivastva

Japan may be the first country where the elderly are being told to commit harakiri or become more open to euthanasia, as Yusuke Narita, a Yale professor suggested recently but it puts its finger on a raw nerve and may  have reverberations across the globe.

Going by the way better health care and early detection of diseases is increasing the average life span of the elderly, drastically  altering the demographic divide in most countries, the day is not far when a ‘Shoot at sight’ would be the order of the day.

As of today the population of the useless, jobless and pensionless elderly, as compared to the youngsters, has been on the rise in most countries of the world. They are only waiting to be declared persona non grata by their near and dear ones any moment.

Monaco with 36 % population above age 65 tops the list followed by Japan at 29% and Italy with 24% being the top three countries with a burgeoning population of the elderly.

World economists had been warning for almost a decade that lesser young working hands who have all the purchasing power would upset the table for growth.

It was predicted that at this rate India, with the biggest young population in the world would beat the US as the most prosperous country of the world by 2050, beating the nearest contender China hollow.

The Western countries did not take this seriously because they all thought this was only about China which had enforced a strict one child norm for over a decade and a half. China did change the rules, even offering incentives for producing more babies, but it came too late as India has already overtaken China in numbers this year.

However no one had planned for the after effects of the two year pandemic on the entire world economy since 2020 which ruined all the plans and forecasts of fortune tellers and we are living in desperate times. Revolt against the elderly who are increasingly seen as parasites is in the rise across the globe and it is infectious.

In this very year 2023, thousands descended the streets in France to protest President Emanuel Macron’s decision to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Besides, this decision sparked heated debates in Parliament showing that the divide was much deeper among the politicians.

The idea is catching roots and there is no going back. A Japanese Oscar nominated film  ‘Plan 75’ made in 2022 by first time director Chie Hayakawa talks about a chilling future when the elders of the country would be left in the forests or a mountain top to die because they had outlived their utility.

Does this remind us of the Hindu Varn Ashram system which divides a man’s life in four parts Brahmcharya (birth to 25 years), Grihasthya (25 to 50), Vanprastha (50 to 75) and Sanyas (75 to 100).

The Merriam Webster dictionary describes Vanprastha as a forest dwelling Hindu hermit especially: one in the third stage of the Brahmanic scheme of life.

Unlike Shakespeare, who declared that there were seven stages in a man’s life the Hindu Varna system held in high esteem, assuming the average age of humans at 100 says that there are only four stages as described above. What is important here is that it decrees that a normal man must renounce his family, his profession, his belongings and retire to become a hermit and go to a forest at 50.

We don’t know what future this suggests for the fate of the elderly or the Vanprastha but a news published in the ‘Times of India’ five years back is very disturbing.

In the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve in Uttar Pradesh forest officers were surprised to find a number of body parts of old men eaten up by tigers in the forests, according to the Times of India report of 2017.

They discovered to their horror that the villagers near Pilibhit would leave their elders in the forests to be eaten up by tigers. They would then spread their bones and body parts in the fields to claim hefty compensation from the government.

When confronted by the authorities, instead of being ashamed or guilty the villagers said that the elders were a willing part of this deal. We can only imagine how they must have ‘volunteered’ for this harakiri.

Not to be left behind, Bollywood too came out with its own version of the horrifying story in 2022 titled’ Sherdil: The Pilibhit Saga’ written and directed by Srijit Mukherjee starting Pankaj Tripathi, Sayani Gupta and Nereraj Kabi in the lead roles.

Incidentally, even though this is not related, the population of tigers in India has been steadily on the rise. The human population had been matching this which is proved by the fact that India has overtaken traditional rival China as far as population is concerned. But talking about tigers, the statistics of Project Tiger run by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) showed that there were 1411 tigers in 2006 which went up to 2967 in 2018.

And again incidentally eight more Cheetahs were added to India’s already growing population of Tigers in 2022 brought from Namibia and released in Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. A dozen more were added three days back.But as said earlier that is only incidental.

When noted humour writer Jonathan Swift suggested cannibalism as a means to prevent Ireland’s kids “from being a burden on their parents or country for making them beneficial to the publick” in ‘A modest proposal’ in 1729 it was taken as a satire.

But no one seems to be shocked when mass suicides, or leaving the ‘useless elderly’ increasingly seen as parasites, in the forest, is in the news. It just reads like an item in a crime bulletin issued by the local police.