Citizens' Issues
New meaning to the silvering 60s

The consequences of old age can be minimized by preventing the feelings of isolation and marginalization by making seniors independent and fruitful members of society

The rapidly changing dynamics of the population profile—with the increasing addition of elders—those in the 60+ age bracket over kids under five—has brought about the urgent need to seek the active participation of these presently mentally and physically stable senior men and women into the mainstream of the society rather than live a life devoid of constructive activities that can make them victims for age-related debilitating ailments.
Their consequences can be minimized by preventing the feelings of isolation and marginalization by making them independent and fruitful members of society, by changing social attitudes to keep themselves mentally alert to keep potential serious neurological disorders at bay. 
It is essential for those after 60 to keep both mentally and physically agile rather than succumb to these and other lifestyle illnesses that are all a result of major global trends of migration, urban and international drift with aging parents lonely at homes mostly in small towns and villages. 
According to a recent study published by the reputed British Medical Journal, The Lancet, physical inactivity or peoples’ failure to spend at least 150 minutes a week doing moderate exercise such as brisk walking for 30 minutes five days a week is responsible for 5.3 million of the 57 million deaths globally. This causes about 6% to 10% of major non-communicable diseases including coronary heart diseases and Type 2 diabetes. 
Another team from Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School estimated the global impact of physical inactivity by calculating population attributable factors—or how much of the diseases could theoretically be prevented if people were sufficiently active both mentally and physically if inactivity decreased by 10%-25%m translates into 533,000 and 1.3 million deaths potentially averted worldwide. Life expectancy could rise by 0.68 years if physically eliminated.
 After 60 or post-retirement activities both mental and physical can go a long way in the retirees’ maintaining their own mental equilibrium by contributing to the well being of the society at large by their contributing their valuable long hands-on experiences during their earlier working life in the society, business, profession and industry that they had for long been associated with. This enables them to effectively contribute to the society at large by making available their vital intellectual inputs and expertise in dealing with in civil society issues relating to health, education, environment, culture, sports, welfare, finance, taxation and civic causes. Some of these activities no doubt are matters that fall in the domain or functions of the state and/or local administration.
Presently it is noticed that both the private sector as well as public sector, governmental arms like the central and state governments, local bodies, etc need to be forced or goaded into acting to even carry out their essentially basic mandated duties. They simply do not move papers until and unless they are virtually pushed into the act.  Of course money also does spur action, but not always. 
It is not every issue that can be resolved by graft. Just getting a garbage bin outside on a pavement cleared requires complaining to the people down the line to do it or failure to do to it have the matter taken up at the next higher level. Lodging a routine complaint is only a matter of procedure; the job of getting it done requires an element of cajoling or when it comes to the worse, tough arm-twisting. This can only be done by someone talking more assertively which can only be brought about effectively by someone more elderly speaking authoritatively—the message from an elder to be conveyed has to be straight and simple do it or face the consequences! 
 The elders with their storehouse of knowledge and experience can make vital contributions as productive members of the family to volunteer for common causes declaring pay off of longevity dividends.  It is noticed that more respect is invariably accorded to the silver hair of the person speaking. Knowing the issue as a senior journalist, doctor, engineer or lawyer who can quote the Bible to the devil does work wonders. And this comes only from ages of earlier experience and human interaction. As against any younger member, the elders are often offered a seat first, attended to on priority and addressed as Grandpa or Uncle with a solicitous remark that they need not have taken the trouble to make visit in person! 
These days one of the most intellectually stimulating mental activities is writing by contributing to columns in publications of repute. This requires the writer to undertake deep study of the subject both on and offline and keeps the brain busy ticking to being constantly updated on the subject before putting the matter in print. 
Writing is an extremely low-cost challenging and stimulating exercise. It can take place in the confines of one’s home, without having to move out. It just involves accessing facts and figures online and putting flesh on to the skeleton to bring out a well authored output that can initiate mind-blogging debates from readers far and wide. Writing can be financially rewarding too—publications these days do remunerate columnists handsomely.          
Many elders do have inherent and latent talents to write but are unable to find suitable outlets to give expression to their thoughts—this can be resolved by turning to enlightening arm-chair writing
Quite a few Moneylife contributories are former veterans, CEOs and professionals of standing, since retired, but now activated to writing in depth on the subjects dear to their hearts and interests. Writing need not necessarily be on professional issues; one can even write, among others on matters of common interests like hobbies, spirituality, food, nature and health, like benefits of walking! 
Being basic computer literate can go a long way for the elders in helping their writing forays. It no longer requires putting down the matter in long hand and then having to transcribe it on a typewriter to manually post the hardcopy. All that one does is to punch a few keys to put it down in the Word format—edit, add, delete and amend the matter at will and mail it across. And hey presto you’ve conveyed your thoughts miles across!
More and more senior citizens have become computer savy and learnt to keep in touch on Skype not only with their offsprings, grand children and siblings, but even distant relations staying in the other end of the world at any hour of the day. I’ve a 75+ aunt at Bengaluru who picked up computer from her grand daughter and now merrily trades online making quite a bomb in the bargain!  This helps get her over loneliness by keeping in touch just punching the keys sitting at home all the time!
 A happy retirement with activities like writing can make for a lot of difference to prevent isolation and loneliness!
(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai based chartered accountant turned activist.)


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Giving sight to the blind

Judith Fernandes  writes about how this unique organisation is working to make life easier for the visually challenged and ensure that they become contributing members of society

It all began one day in 1982 when a group of blind people decided to organise a one-day special workshop on social problems relating to employment, marriage, etc, for the blind. The workshop was a success and the group—Dr Rajendra Vyas, Rajnikant Mehta, Subash Dattarange and others—decided to formalise and broaden the activity—taking up issues relating to the blind community under the Blind Graduates Forum (BGF). The founders were all blind graduates who shared common issues such as scarce employment opportunities for the educated. In 1986, BGF was registered as a not-for-profit entity with the Mumbai Charity Commissioner with the objective to fulfil the aspirations of the blind, to spread awareness about their abilities, to strategise effective solutions on everyday problems faced because of disability and to develop soft skills and leadership to ensure that they become contributory members of society.

Over the years, this objective was well fulfilled and, by 1985, it became apparent that the Forum should have a national profile, so it changed its name to the Blind Graduates Forum of India (BGFI). In January 1985, Usha Saran became BGFI’s first president. Harish Kotian, who is the current president, says that one of their key objectives was to become a spokesperson or ambassador for the blind and to work towards all-round development of the visually challenged and to give them a voice in law and policy formation and its implementation.

Mahendra Galani, another founder member, says BGFI holds monthly lectures by prominent speakers, competitions and demonstrations of newer adaptive equipment for the blind (such as ultrasonic glasses for safer mobility), etiquette and grooming sessions and hypnotherapy, to promote self-development and increase awareness. He says that organising unique activities and events for BGFI has increased his own self-confidence tremendously. He says, Walk to Win, organised in December 1986 was made into a Film’s Division documentary called Yashyatra and helped spread awareness about BGFI’s activities in rural India as well.

A few years ago, BGFI came up with a broad range of suggestions for inclusion in the new draft of Disabilities Bill. This included setting up a disability disputes redressal forum to decide disability rights cases, at the district, state and national level; to clearly stipulate rules for human assistance (like scribes) during exams for the visually challenged and many more.

BGFI has also been taking up issues relating to transport problems and how indiscriminate digging up of pavements without any safety barricades endangers the visually challenged. A BGFI team also offered shramdaan and filled up a stretch of incomplete pavement abandoned by civic staff at Sion (Mumbai) generating substantial media attention. This was followed up by a public interest litigation filed in the Bombay High Court in 1992 on the condition of roads.

On 16 May 2012, Moneylife Foundation organised a meeting with the IRDA chairman J Hari Narayan, at which the Blind Graduates Forum requested the insurance regulator to issue a circular to all insurance providers clearly instructing them not to discriminate against persons with disabilities, especially those with low vision. They also pointed to the discrimination by Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC). Similarly, at another Moneylife Foundation event, they met the Chief Election Commissioner Dr SY Quraishi and presented a memorandum on the difficulties faced by blind persons in voting booths and dealing with electronic voting machines.  

Interestingly, Mr Galani says, BGFI is not very concerned about donations (although they enjoy tax exemption under Section 80G) because they are more focused on specific projects and activities which they fund through sponsorships. This ensures support and empathy rather than sympathy; it also ensures that the donors know that their money is being utilised correctly and transparently. BGFI prefers donations in kind rather than
in cash.

Blind Graduates Forum of India
409 Swapnapurti,
J W Road, Parel East, Mumbai – 400012
Email: [email protected]



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