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Participants at The 2nd China-India Population Ageing Forum

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Together, the two fastest growing economies of the world—India and China—are home to one-third of the world’s population. At the same time, the population of both the countries is ageing rapidly. Consider this: In 2010, 5.3 per cent of India’s population and 8.6 per cent of China’s population comprised 65 and above. These numbers will rise up to 7.7 per cent and 14.3 per cent respectively by 2025. In fact, the proportion of people over 60 will exceed that of 0-14 year-olds by 2042 in India and 2019 in China.

To discuss the implications of population ageing in both countries, share innovative practices in elder care and work out suitable policy responses, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in association with the Institute of Gerontology, Renmin University of China, organised the 2nd China-India Population Ageing Forum in Mumbai last month. The three-day event—co-hosted by The Centre for Research on Ageing, University of Southampton, UK, and HelpAge India—created a platform for collaboration across institutes working on research, action and policy for the well-being of silvers.

Inaugurating the forum, Prof Shalini Bharat, Director, TISS (Mumbai), said, “With increased longevity, older persons can contribute to the economy. However, policies and programmes need to prepare for future challenges.” Calling for continued collaboration between India and China in the field, she highlighted the need for both the countries to share good practices. This was seconded by Dr Weilin Liu, Director, China Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics, who shined the spotlight on the pressure posed by population ageing. “There are similarities and disparities between China and India,” he said. “We are here to find ways to deal better.”

In his keynote address, Prof Zhenwu Zhai from the School of Sociology and Population Studies, Renmin University of China, noted that the decline in China’s birth rate has accelerated the population ageing process, having a profound impact on its economic and social development. Speaking about the ageing scenario in India, Mathew Cherian, Chief Executive Officer, HelpAge India, shared, “There are 106 million seniors in the country today; the number is expected to rise up to 177 million by 2025. Even as people are living longer, there is no social security for 80 per cent of the elderly by way of pensions.” Suggesting likely policy pathways for the country, he said, “Investing in the health of elders is not just the right thing to do, it builds stable, peaceful and productive societies.”

Sharing his beginnings and learnings on opening India’s first hospital for senior care, Heritage Hospital, in 1994, Dr K R Gangadharan, Heritage Foundation, Hyderabad, recalled how he reached out to schools to encourage intergenerational interactions. “Not just the government, we as families and communities should be involved in the wellbeing of our elders. Speaking on the topic ‘Wellbeing of Elderly in India’, he shared, “Experiencing positive relationships, having control over one’s life and having a sense of purpose are important attributes to the wellbeing of elderly.”

Speaking on ‘Migration and Ageing in India’, Prof Irudaya Rajan from the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, shared, “There are 400 million people living at a place different from their birthplace.” He raised some pertinent questions: “While we have been given more years to life, what happens to the elderly when children move out of their homes? Who will take care of them when there is a health issue?”

Touching upon some ground realities in her presentation ‘Tata Trusts Initiatives: Enhancing Well-Being of Elderly in India’, Saraswati Padmanabhan from Tata Trusts shared the institution’s experiences in initiating elder care projects in three districts in the country. “Our aim was to help elders lead a quality life with dignity and make them aware of preventive healthcare.” For instance, in Chandrapur district in Maharashtra, Tata Trusts created a support system where elders were empowered to take care of themselves through different awareness camps. “We opened activity centres where the elderly could spend their time productively. We also sensitised the local police on elder abuse, thus creating a response system for the elderly.”

“To help silvers stay vital and connected as they age, creative and fun endeavours are important.” Putting forth this powerful message in her presentation ‘Creativity among Senior Citizens: Interventions of Harmony in India’, Arati Rajan Menon, Executive Editor, Harmony-Celebrate Age, emphasised, “Creativity is not an endeavour but an attitude. The silvers Harmony magazine has featured are testament to that!” To illustrate the creative power of the ageing brain, she took the audience through numerous examples in history. “Benjamin Franklin invented the bifocal lens at 78. Giuseppe Verdi wrote his most acclaimed opera, Falstaff, when he was 85.” Listing the series of interactive events, such as workshops, marathons, games and contests, Harmony has conducted over the years to spur creativity, improve physical and mental health, and up the happiness quotient, Menon pointed out, “Silvers have a wealth of potential; both society and silvers themselves need to recognise this.”

As an extension of the forum discussions, on Day 2, a field visit was organised by TISS where a group of Chinese delegates visited the HelpAge Mobile Medical Unit in Deonar Colony and the Family Welfare Agency’s Community Care Centre for Elderly at G T B Nagar. At the HelpAge unit, the group interacted with the elderly beneficiaries on various topics such as health, family and finance. At the Community Care Centre, the Chinese delegates were welcomed with gifts of artwork made by the elderly. The delegates were then taken through the various activities being conducted at the centre, such as laughter therapy, yoga, etc. The Chinese delegates appreciated the efforts taken by the Indian agencies while sharing their own practices in elder care.

February 2019