With society changing, the need to remind oneself of this tradition would be a healthy activity

Senior Citizens Day: While racism in all its forms is today considered taboo, the elderly are experiencing a type of discrimination not associated with the colour of their skin or religion but of age.

Ageism is the discrimination of a person on the grounds of his or her age. It marginalises older people and shifts them to the fringes of communities, often restricting them from social services.

To address ageing related issues in the country, Bhutan observed its first Senior Citizens Day on October 1 at the Zangdo Pelri in Changlimithang in Thimphu, coinciding with the UN International Day of Older Persons.

The Royal Society for Senior Citizens (RSSC), a civil society organisation observed the day with the lighting of 1,000 butter lamps and recitation of zangchoed moenlam at the Zangdo Pelri dedicated to HRH The Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck and all newborns.

Tsheten Zangmo, 75, who is a regular visitor to Zangdo Pelri was not aware of the day’s celebration. “I was told by my colleagues that they are reciting prayers for our Gyalsey,” she said.

After informing her of the importance of October 1 starting this year, tears rolled down the 75-year-old’s eyes. “At times when your own children leave you behind, it is good to know that there are people who care for this section of the society,” said Tsheten Zangmo.

Tsheten Zangmo and her husband had come to Thimphu four years ago to meet their son and family. Their son had gone out for studies two years ago and the two are currently babysitting their grandson most of the time.

“When I realise that we are getting older by the day, images of how we might die any day haunts me,” said Tsheten Zangmo. “We might die without even seeing our home back in the village which is under lock and key.”

The mother of five said that it is heartening to see people interested in looking after the elderly who are often neglected by society because of their age. “The only time I find peace is when I come here (Zangdo Pelri) and meet other elderly and share our memories of the past.”

RSSC member Dasho (Dr) Pema Thinley, the former vice chancellor of the Royal University of Bhutan said that unlike in the past, the concept of retirement is becoming a significant event with more people entering the “third age” group.

“There is a pool of knowledge, experience and wisdom within this group of elderly people,” said Dasho. “If you do not recognise this, it might just get lost,” adding that observing the day is important to draw people’s attention and educate them on the importance of this group of population. “We are all going to pass through this age. We need to pass this stage with dignity, honour and peace of mind.”

The chief guest at the celebration, Piet Vochten, acting United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bhutan highlighted the importance of addressing the issue of ageism. “Ageism is not only unfair, research shows that a negative attitude towards aging actually has a harmful effect on the health of older adults. Those with poor attitudes may live up to 7.5 years less than those with more positive attitudes.”

He said that the progress the country made in the past few decades is all because of the people who have now entered their third age. “If you want to look at the future, learn from the past. They have a life-long worth of experience in them.”

Piet Vochten added that it is important to observe Senior Citizen’s Day to pay respect to the elderly but at the same time there is no need for a celebration because respecting should be normal and it should be an everyday event.

For the Bhutanese respecting seniors comes almost naturally, said Piet Vochten. But he added that with a changing society, reminding oneself of the tradition is a healthy practise. “I wish I could retire in Bhutan,” he said.

Dasho Batu Karp, who turns 100 next year, also participated in the celebration and offered his prayers to HRH The Gyalsey and all new borns in the country. Dasho who started his service at the Royal Court of the second King at the age of nine contributed his service in several capacities as thrimpon and dzongdag in many dzongkhags.

“I would like to thank the Monarchs for this beautiful nation they managed to build for all Bhutanese,” he said.

Apart from difficulty in hearing, Dasho Batu Karp is as lively as any teenager and enjoys travelling and finds comfort in gardening.

Meanwhile, the eldery gathered at the Zangdo Pelri received healing services and medical care from the Norbu Healing Arts Centre and the national referral hospital staff.

Similarly, another 1,000 butter lamps and prayers were also recited at the Trashichhodzong to observe the day.

Younten Tshedup