Sculpting and architecting a harmonious life at an old age in our country is now steadily perceived to be a distant and withdrawn reality in this age and time.

This undisputed and emerging malady that appears to have taken a steadfast grounding in the Bhutanese social ambit penitently and sadly is seen to be the abandonment and neglect of the elderly in this milieu.

Traditionally, senior citizens were once held in high esteem, loved, respected and revered, this culture seemingly appears to erode at a subtler yet unstoppable pace which apparently appears to spiral beyond control. No doubt that an inescapable irony in own context where ordinarily people pray to be blessed with children, only to suffer callous neglect and abandonment in their twilight years evidently seems to hold water now. From this pedestal frame of mind, this thwarting trend appears to have enveloped the Bhutanese social spheres in our times like never before in the past.

According to the World Population Aging 2015 report, one in eight, worldwide, are aged 60 years or above. Here in our country as per the Statistical Yearbook 2015, the projected population of those aged 60 and above is 36,097, which is one in 21. A dramatic metamorphosis and a paradigm shift in the traditional family values is seemingly undergoing a steadfast change on the sidelines of our vehement quest for our socio-economic expedition and survival.  Alarm bells have been ringing an impending call from amongst the Bhutanese households in both the rural and urban corridors alike.

A maiden study conducted by the Royal Society for Senior Citizens (RSSC) elucidates that the twilight years of the Bhutanese elderly have become excruciatingly unpleasant and grimy, conjuring a life of despair and anguish.  The findings seems to be startling with regard to how senior citizens are treated and neglected. This leaves us not only perplexed but increasingly alarmed at the state of the elderly in Bhutan. Old age is now increasingly viewed as an unavoidable, undesirable, problem-ridden phase of life synonymous to a life of trepidation. Perceiving old age with fear is perhaps a rather recent phenomenon. Of the few spiraling maladies that is growing endemic in our social circle, one that is not often talked about is the plight of the elderly amongst the current generation in our country.

In recent decades we have left no stone unturned to make our presence felt to the outside world. We have proclaimed our country to be a happiness destination and that “happiness is a place” (in Bhutan).

Paradoxically, on the home front, we present a sad picture when it comes to the care of the elderly in Bhutan. One might then tend to argue otherwise but the truth is that things seem to be changing. In some way this do not portend well for a country like ours from both the spiritual and the communal stand point.

Invariably, there has been an exceeding level of media attention on issues that affect young people whilst the difficulties experienced by the older citizens from across different corridors and quarters have not received due attention which merits equal focus if not more.

Until sometime in the recent past, issues such as abuse of the elderly and old age homes have been perceived to be a distant problem elsewhere except Bhutan. Not anymore. With accelerating urbanisation and migration to urban areas, traditionally, where children are being considered as “old age security, the elderly are now left to fend for themselves in their greying years.

A number of aging people have begun to come on the streets over a period of time. This only elucidates that presumably there could be many others who could not dare take to the streets but are suffering within their own confinements. The inevitable truth is that many of our senior citizens are abandoned, neglected, abused, ill-treated and looked down upon as a burden in the epitome of their twilight years.

Nowadays, the tradition of respecting our elders does not transcend or go beyond someone sacrificing his seat in the city bus or at the local Tsechu, let alone provide them their due respect. The reality has grown grim; the older the citizens become, the lesser the respect they receive.  There is now an overwhelming and absolute sense of urgency to gauge and forge ways to straighten this social malaise before it becomes an irrecoverable catastrophe.

Predictably, it is increasingly being felt that the need of old age homes has become an unavoidable necessity. While the debate has ensued at different statures and spectrums of our society on whether old age homes in Bhutan are necessary, too much water has flown under the bridge.  A home for the elderly in each dzongkhag would provide the needy ones  with much needed light at the end of the tunnel of their sunset years.

It’s about time social-welfare schemes for our senior citizens is provided. Changing these things does not only require a mindset change. It requires the strong backing of the government. Raising and elevating the quality of senior citizens’ lives must fundamentally be considered a national issue that should not be sidelined by other priorities of the hour. We need to plan better for our senior citizens and perhaps for ourselves because sooner or later all of us will eventually get there no matter how much we resist it.

There is also a need to remind ourselves that there is an enormous reservoir of wisdom and experience amongst the emerging generations of our senior citizens. It may not be imprudent or incorrect to speculate that in the same vein as hydropower is to our economy so is the senior citizens to the youth. The prospect of harnessing this wealth of wisdom and experience of our senior citizens can have no bars. There is a wealth of wisdom in these generations that must not be lost or wasted.

Senior citizens in a myriad of ways can contribute to society and the country at large. For this to happen and transpire we must create space and formulate plans for their second innings for which the onus precisely does not rest with the government alone.

The Royal Society for Senior Citizens is seen to have made headway in reversing a life of despair to that of a life of hope for our senior citizens to a certain extent. A crescendo of hope for our senior citizens has been  unleashed through the maiden and heartening celebration of  International Day for Senior Citizens in the capital city of Thimphu recently.

A spark of love, care and compassion has been ignited which must now spread its wings far and wide across both the length and breadth of the country alike with renewed vigor however arduous the path may seem. Together we must put both our mind and heart to keep this pot boiling.

Unless we alert, remind and awaken ourselves to conscientiously delve into this matter and straighten this burgeoning malady to the best we can, we cannot afford to subvert and park this matter for time to heal because sooner or later in life, we will all take our own turn to be in the position we once had someone else in.

Contributed by 

Kezang Namgyel

Bhutan Hydropower Service Limited 

Jigmiling, Gelephu