The Kolkata police is providing a social platform to over 15,000 senior citizens to help them cope with loneliness
The new year could not have been happier for 76-year-old Sandhya Biswas who has been living alone in her Kolkata apartment for the past five years after the demise of her husband. On January 1, the Kolkata police invited her to a special cultural event that they had organised at the Ballygunge Police Station. It was attended by 45 other senior citizens from the neighbourhood. And as the police band performed old classics, Biswas, after a long time, danced and hummed.
The event was part of the Pronam initiative that the Kolkata Police had launched in 2009 to increase social interaction among senior citizens while saving them from old-age depression and ensuring their safety. The initiative, run in association with city non-profit The Bengal, today looks after more than 15,000 elderly who are fighting loneliness in the metropolis.
Officials and activists who are part of the initiative say joining Pronam is easy. Individuals or couples who are above 60 and living alone simply fill up a membership form and submit it at the local police station to be part of the social platform. Under the initiative, the police has set up a round-the-clock office in the campus of Ballygunge Police Station that runs helplines—033-24190740 and 9674288833. Additionally, 64 of the 70 police stations in the city have Pronam units, managed by at least two liaisoning personnel, to look after the members and act on the complaints. The Kolkata police has also tied up with 58 hospitals and medical centres where they refer members suffering from health problems. Pronam provides ambulance service for free and organises health camps for its members, in association with the network hospitals.
Geriatric problems can be physical, mental or psychological, says Rajyasree Bandyopadhyay, senior clinical psychologist and psychotherapist with the Calcutta Medical Research Institute and Woodlands Hospital, which are part of the Pronam network. One of the common situations, she says, is the empty nest syndrome, when the children settle away from home due to work or marriage. This creates sadness, depression, loneliness and tremendous insecurity among ageing parents. Many also miss their grandchildren. At the same time, deteriorating health causes anxiety and lack of confidence in them. Many elderly also face monetary stress, due to which they cannot afford entertainment or travelling that is needed to break the monotony of their life. “Under all such circumstances, the diverse and sincere services provided by Pronam bring comfort, relief, happiness and security of all kind to the geriatric members,” says Bandyopadhyay.
Sukla Taraphder, administrative officer of Pronam, says, “Nearly 70 per cent of calls we receive are out of loneliness, or due to problems associated with it. Some also call to run their errands, such as assisting them to the banks or get their TV repaired. We wish them on their birthdays and, if possible, send them cakes. Such small gestures make them feel cared.”
Amitava Ray, deputy director of non-profit Lifeline Foundation, often attends to Pronam members. He says the initiative’s approach to “befriend” elder citizens to solve their problems is a good way of improving their mental health. Under the initiative, the Kolkata police organises special events such as movie screenings at Nandan theatre, sports events, picnics and book fair tours for the elderly. “Such activities develop a mutual support system among the senior citizens, based on trust, togetherness and camaraderie,” says Agnimitra Paul, joint convenor of The Bengal. “Today, most members who met at Pronam events organise small get-togethers and outings on their own. It is now a large and growing family,” she adds. Octogenarian Chanda Mitra says pandal hopping during Durga Puja with Pronam friends is her most awaited event of the year. “We all dress up in new clothes, move around the city and enjoy traditional sweets and food together,” says she.
A safe solution
Growing interaction under the initiative is also making the city safer for senior citizens. Sujay Kumar Chanda, Joint Police Commissioner (Establishment), who is responsible for the project, says Pronam has a crucial role as senior citizens are “soft targets for criminals and anti-social elements. Even family members and neighbours harass them, making them insecure”. Crimes against senior citizens in the country have increased from 18,714 in 2014 to 20,532 cases in 2015, as per the National Crimes Records Bureau.
“Our neighbours would constantly harass us by playing loud music at odd hours and hurling abuses at us. When we called Pronam helpline, the police swung into action,” says 80-year-old Tapas Ghosh, who lives with his wife in Netaji Nagar. Subhash Adhikary, officer-in-charge of Netaji Nagar police station, says, “When our team reached Ghosh’s home, they found the couple petrified and shaken. The team heard their problem, registered a complaint and took prompt action.” Prema Dhar, the liaisoning officer who met the Ghosh couple, says that the team also made follow-up visits over the next few days to ensure the couple’s safety.
Several states are also experimenting with initiatives for senior citizens. The Delhi Police has recently launched a mobile application that allows senior citizens to contact them during emergency.
In 2012, Kerala Police launched a grievance cell under the Care, Aid and Relief for Elders (CARE) programme for senior citizens. In Mumbai, police has installed complaint boxes in Borivilli’s Dada Dadi Park, which is visited by over 7,000 senior citizens who live in the vicinity. While the impact of these initiatives is yet to be analysed, the Kolkata Police is trying to further strengthen Pronam. “Our aim is to double its membership to at least 30,000 by the year-end,” says Chanda. Paul adds that they are trying to rope in schoolchildren to “adopt” its members, visit their homes and spend time with them.
(This article was first published in the March 1-15 issue of Down To Earth under the headline 'Enforcing care').
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