Senior citizens in Bangladesh are beset with plethora of problems which they do not deserve after so much of their sufferings and sacrifices in life. In Bangladesh most of the senior citizens belong to the generation boomers who were born after the end of Second World War, the time period being from 1946 to 1964. Some of them witnessed the birth of Pakistan and subsequently all of them were involved directly or indirectly in the creation of Bangladesh. Their sacrifices should be considered by the concerned ones for doing justice to them. The nation to be grateful must recognize their struggles, sweat and tears in the past as well as also shedding of blood by three million people in the liberation war in 1971.
Values and norms of Indian Sub-continental culture have always played the role for showing the respect and honor to the elderly people. It has been observed that in the rural agrarian society of recent past, this social practice was prevalent, any deviation of which was not allowed by the society. Over time, there has been noticeable change in this regard. Gradual urbanization, migration of rural people in the urban areas, small families, individualism, etc. have been the factors working behind erosion of the so long prevalent practice of respecting and honoring the elderly people. It is said that rural agrarian mode of production dictated such kind of acculturation and resulting behavioral practice of community people.
Modernization and urbanization in the countries of the Sub-continent have not yet totally erased cultural norms and practice of the rural agrarian society. Still there is hangover of this practice in some cases. In the neighboring India of Bangladesh, the prevalence of high caste and low caste social system over long time went to create the norm of disrespect towards the lower ones, irrespective of tender and young aged or elderly people in each case. It is of course true that even within low caste, elders generally got respect from the younger ones in the past era. In such a society, a recent bank advertisement saying to go to the doorstep of senior citizens to give them necessary services might have surprised many in Bangladesh. It is not only for business interest of the bank, but a conscious institutional policy and initiative to help the old aged people recognizing their lifelong contribution to the society to go on.
It is not only the Indian bank in the advertisement offering its services to the doorstep of senior citizens, but the differentiated better services for the benefit and comfort of senior people are given by other institutions-both public and private there. I feel like sharing my one personal experience when I went to visit Shantiniketan in India some years ago. During my return from there, while I was purchasing my ticket at the counter of Bolpur station, the person selling the ticket asked me if I was a senior citizen. After my affirmative reply, he wanted national identity card as necessary proof. When I said that I was a Bangladeshi citizen and I had my international Bangladeshi passport, then he told me that that would suffice. I got the benefit of reduced price made available to the senior citizens as their entitlement. This entitlement to senior citizens was an institutional arrangement. Such entitlements were given in all sectors too and were the norms.
The partition of India in 1947 by the colonial British ruler and subsequent emergence of Bangladesh in 1971 by a bloody war of liberation initiated a process of rapid socio-economic changes impacting the traditional slow changing culture. The more migration of rural people to urban areas and consequent urbanization did not have a parallel matching socialization and acculturation necessary for normal cultural development. Nouveau riche urbanites wanted to tear the prevailing values and norms for their own aggrandizement. This situation was viewed by many a critic as "forged urbanization". The rural folk with the spell of mobile phones and digital devices have also undergone change and transformation making the long-held prevailing values and norms as non-matching to the requirement of new ones.
That old is gold is no more fully true in social arena of Bangladesh due to changes in so long held values and norms. The culture of respecting the old has now become dusted and rusted. So, there is a need of laws and institutions for amelioration of suffering of the senior citizens of Bangladesh. Old age is the burden of senior people and this burden should be lessened as much as possible by institutional support and help. State itself as a mega institution of its other institutions should have the obligation to do the needful. Senior citizens in Bangladesh get perplexed and troubled when they are in buses, trains, hospitals, banks, offices-both public and private, all public places and so on.
I am a senior citizen and feel like sharing a recent experience of mine. In order to have my e-passport, I went to the regional passport office at Agargaon, Dhaka. I was dumbfounded to see a long queue of applicants - both young and old- to complete necessary formalities and finalize submission of their applications. Army personnel were there for necessary duty and discipline. I was fortunate to convince the army personnel to have the preferential treatment. But had there been institutional arrangement for the senior citizens, the sufferings and troubles faced by them would have gone, obligation of institutions discharged and justice meted out to them.
Bangladesh has celebrated its golden jubilee and left half a century behind. Most of the people who fought for creation of Bangladesh directly or indirectly have all become senior citizens by crossing the age limit of sixty years. Citizens in generations boomers and X in Bangladesh had untold sufferings in the liberation war and have also been suffering continuously due to many reasons including demolition and construction for physical development. Can there be necessary institutional arrangement to ameliorate the sufferings of senior citizens by treating them separately and such arrangement would go a long way meeting this need of future generations to come?
The author is a columnist and vice-chairman of CDIP.
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