Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Older age care

The forgotten ones: the misery for millions growing old in India

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: (Published 16 March 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k1040
  1. Martina Merten, freelance healthcare journalist
  1. Berlin, Germany
  1. info{at}

One out of five people in India will be 60 or older by the year 2050. But the subcontinent is already struggling to cope with the challenges that an ageing society presents, finds Martina Merten

Eight elderly women are sitting on plastic chairs on the terrace. Their colourful saris shine brightly in the afternoon sun. It will soon be 3 pm and they will be served a cup of tea, with lots of milk. Later they will eat an evening meal together, seated around a small wooden table. Perhaps they will take a stroll around the house beforehand. Or watch TV.

Their home, Abhaya Sadan—an Indian retirement home whose name means “the house without fear”—is a peaceful place. It is located outside the city of Coimbatore in the state of Tamil Nadu. The eight women living here, most of them without papers, were lucky because no one wanted them anymore.

Women living in “the house without fear,” Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, Credit: Benjamin Fueglister

One woman broke her wrist in an argument with her daughter-in-law when her son refused to take care of her. Another woman lived alone in poverty after her husband died and her three children had nothing more to do with her. Yet another lived with her grandchild but when she fell ill there was not enough money to help.

One woman’s husband had sought a new wife and taken their only son with him. Since then, she had lived alone, in poverty and abandoned. All eight women had become a burden to their families, to society, in one form or another. And people who become a burden, who can no longer function or work, are left to fend for themselves.

“If you are old, you should die”

“If you are old, you should die, is the mindset of many people in India,” explains TK …

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