In the Indian legal system, until now, elderly persons, both men and women were not given the kind of protection that they deserved. An elderly person who was financially unable to take care of herself had to file a ‘maintenance petition’ under the Criminal Procedure Code and go through the trauma of a court case which could take several months, if not years, to be solved.
Has the situation changed?
Yes, with the introduction of the ‘Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.’ This law makes all people with children or grandchildren above the age of 18 eligible to their care and protection.
How does another law help? Don’t I still need to go to Court?
No. Under this law, special ‘Maintenance Tribunals’ have been set up which will look into the complaint of a senior citizen and ensure that he / she is taken care of, in not more than 3 months.
And the word ‘maintenance’ means that everything needed for a normal, healthy life, including food, clothing and basic shelter have to be provided.
What if my children or grandchildren cannot afford to take care of me?
The law is meant to protect you and not harm your children. So the amount of care which you get will depend on what your children can afford, and in no event can you demand more than Rs. 10,000 per month. (In today’s era of inflation, that should be increased!)
And what if they can afford to but still don’t take care of me?
The law allows you to immediately approach the ‘Maintenance Tribunal’. If you still don’t get any support, you can go back within three months of the payment being due. And in the worst case, if your children or grandchildren have abandoned or deserted you, the law says that they will be fined Rs. 5000 or imprisoned for three months, or both.
Is the law perfect?
No, certainly not. An elderly, weak person may not be able to approach a ‘Maintenance Tribunal’. There is no guarantee that his / her children will take better care of him. However, 90 days is definitely better than 2 years, and the fear of punishment may make callous children behave. In the end, it is more important to cure an imperfection in society than to make a perfect law. And while this law has its faults, it is surely a start.