Long ago there existed a custom in Japan called Ubasute means abandoning an old woman. “Ubasute” as weird as the name sounds to the ears the custom is no less eerie either. A custom though not common was performed in some parts of the country Japan as a part of which the people living there had to take their old parents to far away mountains or jungles in order to abandon them to a lonely death. Yes you read it right! People had to carry their elderly on their backs to far away forests or mountains and leave them to die there of starvation, dehydration or other ailments. It is said that this practice was often made mandatory by the feudal officials during times of famine or drought when there was shortage of food and other necessities. There are many legends and poems on Ubasute which is now illegal both by law and morality. A few lines of the poem on the folklore that I found heart touching.

In the depth of the mountains
Who was it for the aged mother snapped
One twig after another?
Heedless of herself
She did so For the sake of her son.

The poem depicts how an elderly woman who was being carried away by her son to be left abandoned on a far away mountain broke off twigs from the trees on the way and kept throwing them on the path during the whole journey. She did it for the sake of her son so that while returning to home her son doesn’t lose his way into the forests.

We seem to have been following the same custom...do you agree?

Ubasute still exists! In a more modified form now. Isn’t it? Yes! Only the place of abandoning is no more the far away jungles or the mountains. Sadly for the Indian morality or say fortunately for the elderly; old age homes seem to be the new locations. While abandoning the elderly has long existed it is unfortunate that cases of elder abuse prevalent in many households across the country. According to a survey conducted by the organization Help Age India in 2012 found that every 1 in 3 elders face abuse from their family. What is more shameful is that in 56% of the cases of abuse the son was the prime abuser whereas the daughter in law was found to be the prime abuser in 23% of the cases. Though even today the percentage of elders living with their families is higher than those living alone but still the figures mentioned above make it evident that we are not really treating our elderly in an ethical manner.

Elders left alone are easy targets for thieves/culprits

When most of them are not safe even from their sons what can be expected from the culprits. If you read newspapers daily you will agree to this that the senior citizens become easy target for thieves. Many are often badly injured or killed brutally in these attacks by the culprits. There have been many cases of theft and attack on the senior citizens across the cities and metropolitans. The rise in the number of nuclear families is also one of the many reasons due to which the senior citizens are forced to live alone.

Have we forgotten the dutiful son Shravan Kumar?

Indians seem to have forgotten the mythological story of the dutiful son in the epic Ramayana. Shravan Kumar was a devoted son and when his poor parents kept before him their wish to visit the pilgrimages he was determined to fulfill it. He carried them in two baskets tied to a bamboo stick that he lifted on his shoulders. Such was the devotion of the great son towards his parents. This is not the only example. Our mythology and folklore is full of such legends. Be it the story of the respectful son Shravan Kumar or the chapter from the epic Ramayana where Lord Rama leaves all the luxuries of his kingdom and happily goes for an exile of 12 long years just to keep his father Dashratha’s words. They all teach us that we all have a duty towards our elders. These epics that we have been taught from the early days of our schooling need to be absorbed in the true meaning…by learning the morals that they depict.

Old age is the second childhood of human life

In the famous poem “All the World’s a stage” William Shakespeare beautifully describes the seven stages of a man’s life. Starting from infancy, going through an innocent childhood, love, soldier where he learns his responsibilities and duties towards others, justice in which he acquires wisdom, old age when he begins to lose the charm and lastly the extreme old age when he becomes a useless entity for others. I particularly like the way he describes old age as the second childhood in these lines:

Last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history,                                                                                                                                                           Is the second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything…

We must not forget that old age is an inevitable part of a human being’s life and is a stage where one requires extra love and care just as a child does or just as our parents did for us when we were kids.

What can be done? 

Generation gap, financial dependency, health problems that demand extra care of the elderly and many more factors that have been attributed to the abandoning of the elderly. Though nothing can justify the abuse that the elders have been facing in the country which known worldwide for its family values and morals. In order to make the elderly financially independent more effective pension schemes are needed. The elders living alone often become vulnerable to thefts so steps should be taken to ensure their safety in the society they live in. Moreover as an individual every one of us should remember our duties towards our parents and instill the values of love and care for our elderly in the hearts of the generations to come. A change that starts from each home will effectively bring a positive change. 

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