How India adapts to aging

In India, 90% of the workers are part of the informal economy. Out of 110 million people over 60 in the country — which has 1.3 billion people — only about 20 million seniors are brought to a real retirement relative to their former profession called “official”

In 1995, the Indian government introduced voluntary pension insurance to allow these former workers in informal sectors — mining, marine, agriculture … — to reach a minimum 1000 rupees per month.

“This minimum pension is obviously insufficient. It should be at least 3000 rupees [37 euros] to allow them to live decently”, explains Irudaya Rajan, professor at the Trivandrum Center for Development Studies (Kerala, South India) and co-author, among others, of the book Elderly People in India: Needs and Vulnerabilities. “These people become poor at the age of 65. And without a re-employment policy, they can simply starve if they do not continue to work,” explains Irudaya Ranjan.

It is the same problem for the elderly care system: 100 million old Indians have no social security system. They can not take care of medical costs or expenses:

“Only those who have worked as civil servants or in the private sector have insurance from their employer. But there is no large-scale social security system for the elderly.”

In South India, initiatives such as the The Institute of Palliative Medicine or HelpAge India, and NGO that defends the rights of the elderly, are training communities and volunteers in caring for the elderly. “How can old people go to the hospital or see a doctor? They do not even have enough money to take a cab,”says Sathiya Babu, who is in charge of the palliative care program at Tamaraikulam Elders Village, a HelpAge-created senior citizens’ village where residents are trained to take care of each other.

Children’s departure

99% of older people continue to live at home … But often far away from their families. Another phenomenon pointed out by Irudaya Rajan to explain the situation of idleness faced by millions of old Indians is the recent exodus of children who have gone to look for economic opportunities. “2.4 million workers leave Kerala to work, and 15 million Indians leave the country to find work abroad: in the Gulf countries, in Canada, in the United States,” says Irudaya Rajan.

The specialist advocates the implementation of a policy of “aging well” at the national level combining access to care, retirement, physical activities and opportunity to work longer for older people. This last point is the most urgent, according to him:

“Out of 110 million people aged 60 and over in India, at least 50 million are in good health and can contribute to society. You have to see these old people as a force, able to earn an income for themselves and their families.”

This explains the success of self-help groups between healthy seniors in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, set up by HelpAge India. “The self-help groups of seniors bring together 12 to 20 people. They come together to create an economic activity,” says Elango Rajarathinam, in charge of this project at HelpAge India.

“Each member gives the group a small amount of 50 to 800 rupees [65 euro cents to 10 euros]. This allows them to borrow from the group to start their business, or to borrow from banks through these groups, which have provisions and which banks trust because these groups are more than ten years old.”

This initiative, launched in 2005 by HelpAge India, has grown significantly in the South of the country. There were 1,017 self-help groups in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in December 2017. That represents about 15,000 seniors.

We met one of these groups during our visit in Tamil Nadu, as well as a village inhabited and self-managed by elderly people. These initiatives reveal the spirit of resourcefulness and mutual assistance of these old people from South India. Here you can discover them on