Letters to the Editor

19th January, 1997

Organise a fortnightly lottery to build more homes for elders

When we are young and healthy, we never for a moment give serious thought that we will one day grow old and feeble and that we would need the assistance of someone to look after us in the autumn of our life.

In Sri Lanka, prior to the Second World War, children were very attached to their parents and loved them. Although they were married and had family responsibilities and settled down in life, they never neglected to look after their parents in their old age, whether they had wealth in abundance or otherwise.

With times, there have been changes in Sri Lanka. Children feel that it it is a burden to look after their parents in their old age, when they are sick and feeble, perhaps due to financial strains and with the escalating cost of living. In these circumstances some would prefer that their parents die early.

I know many children who have neglected their parents and do not wish to keep their parents even for a day, although as grandparents they always love to spend their last days with their grandchildren.

Recently I met an old couple near the Pettah Bus Stand (exposed to the elements) which is now their home, far away from home. They appeared to be in their eighties, partially blind. A pathetic story was related by the old man. He was an educated person and spoke English very fluently, had lived his life in Kandy, had eight children and had sufficient wealth which he divided among the eight children equally. He gave them in marriage expecting they would look after them in their old age. As time went on, the children had taken up the position among themselves as to why the other brother or sister could not take the responsibility of looking after the parents in their old age. Everyone evaded the real issue of taking responsibility of looking after their parents and nothing was done to make the parents happy.

One day, a son who could not bear the parents' suffering and being neglected any further, decided to bring the parents to Colombo from Kandy with the idea of admitting them to an Elders' Home in the city. Having failed in his mission, he just left the parents at the Pettah Bus Stand and disappeared. Never was the son seen again. What this son did is really shocking. The couple have to beg for their livelihood.

In another case concerning the parents of a boy and girl who were given in marriage, the parents had to look after their grandchildren and when they became old and feeble the two children refused to keep their parents and started to ill-treat them. The children, affluent and educated in leading schools in Colombo, tried to get them into an Elders' Home, but failed. Meanwhile the mother died. It was a great relief to them. The father lived with the daughter. But after a week's stay she put the old man into a three wheeler and sent him to her brother's place. Again after a week or so, the son sent him in a three wheeler back to his sister's place. The old man was suffering. Since he could not bear it anymore he went to a relative's place with his problems. They refused to keep him as the children could well afford to keep him or put him to an Elders' Paying Home. These are a few isolated cases but many old people are suffering in silence today.

Is this not a cruel world that we are living in today to desert our parents at a time they really need the children's assistance?

In developed countries children leave their parents at an early age of 16 years and live by themselves. When it comes to old age the State looks after them with social security and free public transport passes etc.

Several religious organisations in our country with limited financial resources and on donations have provided for the old and feeble but this is far and few compared to the needs of the neglected elders in our country.

Our politicians have debated many matters in Parliament but never for a moment have given serious thought to the matter of opening more Elders' Homes throughout the country. Perhaps when the time comes they can count on their pensions and fall back on their financial resources. But what about the many thousands of helpless old people who continue to suffer in silence. The Government should give serious thought to elderly people who have become deadwood and whom society has also neglected.

In the meanwhile senior citizens' clubs should be organised in the 249 AGA divisions in the country. The old and neglected people living in loneliness should be brought together and their welfare looked into and suitable homes found.

The Government may not have the money to finance the building of homes for the elders who have been discarded by their loved ones in the autumn of their lives. But perhaps the Department of Social Services should undertake to launch a fortnightly lottery to find the money to upkeep these homes for the elders.

People will no doubt support a worthy cause since they may also one day seek entrance to these homes for the elders.

Early this year the Department of Social Services organised the issue of Elders' Identity Cards, through the Divisional Secretariat to Senior Citizens over 70 years of age. Many elderly people are not aware of this facility which will enable them to get priority services in Hospitals for treatment, travelling in buses, police and legal assistance, pension services and preference not to queue for their needs.

It is very surprising that the Department of Social Services failed to give the much needed publicity in the print and electronic media for the general public to give due recognition to those who hold these Elders' Identity Cards.

We have had many sponsors for Sports, Beauty Queen contests etc. Perhaps some leading banks or multi-national companies can come forward and help people over 70 years, giving the much needed publicity in the electronic and print media.

Let us leave this world better than when it was found and let our parents feel that they have not been neglected by their loved ones in their loneliness and also by the society to which they once contributed their mite.

F.A. Rodrigo Sathianathen,


Gas: up the garden path

It appears that Shell Gas Co., has taken the government, the country and the people, up the garden path after all. They have not only arbitrarily increased the price of a cylinder of gas but brazenly sell a reduced quantity of gas at the higher price. The weight of a refilled cylinder of the old Gas Co., was 13.3 kg. and the weight of the refilled blue cylinder of Shell Gas is only 12.5 kg; why is the government blind to this apparent deceit and robbery?

To rub salt to the wound they, Shell Gas, have taken full page advertisements in all the press, media to wish us a Merry X'mas too - the gas!

C. Gaffoor,


Sale: a scalp for just Rs 1000

Spectacular, gory killings by 'contract gunmen' make frightful reading in newspapers. But they are more frequently than not of the well known, important or the rich, a mere fraction of the actual victims. Small fry are not considered worth accounting for.

For instance, if a hired assassin puts a bullet through me, a newspaper might report in some corner, merely as a filler paragraph, that Mr. G. had been shot in the head by an unknown gunman (sic), and that Police Inspector Carthelies is making further inquiries under the direction of ASP Marthelis. That is the best that I could expect, and there the matters would rest, duly forgotten by all and sundry, as I would rest in pieces, in oblivion.

Some of these killings are so bold and daring, often in broad daylight, that they bear the imprimatur of powerful persons. If there had been a caring government, caring for the people as a whole, and not engrossed in its own survival, by now all unlicensed firearms would have been surrendered or their owners, whoever they may be, would have been behind bars after a search and arrest operation. What good is it to talk incessantly of improvement of the human rights situation when the most fundamental right, the right to life, is at risk?

The stark truth is that the government has got its wires crossed, its priorities tangled, and in a state of confusion even gives orders to the police to conduct 'impartial investigations' into killings. Have you ever heard of such a patently stupid directive given in any other country? What does it imply?

The police in turn are gravely handicapped, large numbers of selected men, including gazetted officers, being deployed to protect Pajero-riding (and Pajero-hawking) politicians. Protect them from whom?

In the 1970's, Malaysia was similarly plagued with guns a-plenty in the hands of criminals. That menace was completely wiped out within a short time by enacting realistic laws to suit the situation, and by implementing them. Malaysia was fortunate in having a government, firm and decisive, that allowed the law to take its course.

The law enacted (a) gave a week's time to surrender all unlicensed firearms to the police:

(b) after the expiry of that limit, any and every person convicted of possessing a firearm without a licence, was given a mandatory jail sentence for the rest of their natural lives.

The law was applied relentlessly without discrimination, with no pardons even from the King. Some of those jailed in the 1970's may still be in jail with ample time to reflect nostalgically on their ballistic fun and games, gloating over their victims struggling in pools of blood and their families crying and wailing - a grin and telling lesson for lovers of human blood sports.

The thought uppermost in the minds of many people is when, if ever, will we have a better quality of life and be able to live in freedom from fear, want and corruption. Knowing well that every government has been worse than the previous one, they shudder to think of the next.

R. A. Goonewardene


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