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Old age – Home?: New Perspectives on and Representations of Ageing in Urban India

Annika Mayer, Dr.

Grandfather with granddaughter watching a wedding ceremony in Delhi 2013 (photo: A. Mayer)

In Indian public discourses the emergence of 'old age homes' generally symbolizes the disintegration of the joint family and therefore the country's social and moral decline.  Indeed, several residences for older persons have rapidly emerged throughout India’s urban and suburban neighbourhoods in the last decades, primarily for the Hindu middle and upper-middle classes. While many narratives still stigmatize living in old age homes, quite a few recent newspaper articles emphasize the potentials of “senior citizens' retirement communities”, which are - amongst other things - seen as golden business opportunity considering the changing dynamics of Indian society and demographics.

Although media discourses centre on this new phenomenon, the absolute number of (middle-class) older persons cared for in old age homes remains fractional. The vast majority of India’s elderly population still lives with their (extended) family. However, this joint-family living is undergoing severe changes, as children (as well as daughters-in-law) are either facing long working hours or are busy with their children's education. Job offers, school admission or new ideas of nuclear family living are some of the reasons for children to move within or out of the city or to migrate abroad. Nevertheless, ethnographic studies have underlined that filial obligations of care have not been eroded but rather are being renegotiated by both generations.
This subproject studied how older persons (and their families) dealt with recent urban and social developments. It asked how they reinterpreted familial bonds and sociality. Furthermore, it enquired how growing old is influenced by urban processes such as urban planning and property development and how the elderly themselves shaped localities and places.

Grandmother & grandson at home (photo: A.Mayer)

Looking at ageing in a middle-class neighbourhood, an upper middle-class old age home and residential communities in Delhi the project took into consideration the multiple, recently created or changing spaces and living arrangements in urban India. It contributed to the much needed but still marginal research on ageing within mega-cities which are subject to intense global change. Ageing was used as a means of gaining perspective on notions of urban space, family, gender, migration, and sociality. While examining the perspectives of a variety of mainstream and marginalised media sources, the ethnographic field study particularly focused on the ways elderly people consumed, performed, validated or contested normative discourses in their everyday lives and relationships.