Kashmir opens its first care homes for old people – but not everyone is happy


No family came to visit Ali Mohammad Dar at the care home where he spent his final days. He was moved to the home in Budgam from hospital, where he was being treated for kidney failure.

When Dar died in March, staff at the home in Indian-administered Kashmir struggled to find a place to bury him because he didn’t have a family burial plot.

In Kashmiri society, elderly people usually live with their children. Beyond the immediate family, extended relations and strong kinship ties have offered a safety net to people as they age. Failing to support parents or relatives is seen as shameful.

But this year, the Kashmir authorities opened the first residential homes for old people in the region. Run by NGOs on behalf of the government, they are to meet a small but growing need that indicates a shift in attitudes.

Mohammad Shafiq Chak, director of social welfare in Kashmir, says the fact that the 10 homes only have a few residents – currently 45 – is “good news” and means the situation “isn’t alarming yet”.

Elderly men sitting by a river in Srinagar
Elderly men sit by the river in Srinagar. Some campaigners say it will be years before care homes are accepted by Kashmiri society but for people at the margins they are a lifeline. Photograph: Adil Rashid

But Sumaya Ramzan, superintendent at a home in Srinagar and a social worker, is concerned. “Individualism has crept up strongly over the last few years and traditional values that emphasises the welfare of the whole family as a unit, where elderly people would find a place of importance, are receding,” she says.

The idea of care homes remains problematic, however. “When we were looking for spaces to rent for the home, people would not let to us after they came to know the purpose. They would resent the idea of an old age home,” says Ramzan. “In one place, the father of the man who was going to rent us the building told him: ‘Today, you open this here, tomorrow you will admit me into it.’”

The disintegration of the joint family structure makes the elderly population more vulnerable to neglect and abuse

Sayeed believes it will take years for full acceptance of care homes. But residents are not retired people who choose to live there for comfort. They are from the margins of society who have been abandoned by families.

Raja Muzaffar Bhat, an activist who arranged for Dar to stay in the Budgam home, says he was initially against their establishment, “but … for those people who have no one or who have been abandoned, it is very important that such places should exist. Dar’s case is relevant. If there wasn’t such a place, where would we have taken him?”

The residential home in Srinagar with boardgames and books
The residential home in Srinagar with boardgames and books. Elderly neglect and abuse are growing problems that care homes can help solve. Photograph: Adil Rashid

Abdul Majid*, 75, had been homeless for a month when he was taken to a residential care home by Hope, an NGO in Baghi Mehtab, Srinagar, about four months ago. He had left the family home after being abused by his sons. “My nose was broken, my clothes were torn, I was locked [indoors] during the day,” he says. No relatives or neighbours came to his aid.

He now lives with two other men in the home, which has five rooms, a kitchen, two washrooms and three staff. One resident recently left after being reunited with her family.

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