Sundaram* and his wife Latha*, senior citizens from Chennai’s Ambattur, both over 80 years of age, fell victim to a burglary in broad daylight in November last year.
The couple had only just moved to Ambattur from Thiruvanmiyur a few months before the incident. Their son and daughter live abroad.
On the day of the crime, two women who posed as domestic breeding checkers employed with the Greater Chennai Corporation approached Sundaram’s house asking to check their house for points of mosquito breeding if any. Since Sundaram was used to such visits by the Corporation staff in Thiruvanmiyur, he allowed them in.
However, as soon as they entered the house, the women locked the doors and threatened the elderly couple at knifepoint demanding they hand over all valuables in their possession. The women made away with money and jewellery worth Rs 3 lakhs.
While Sundaram is relieved that they escaped without any harm or injury, Latha continues to lament the loss.
“Those jewels were among the first few ones that my husband got for me when we got married nearly sixty years ago,” she says.
Instances like this, where senior citizens in Chennai and elsewhere fall prey to such crimes, have become increasingly common.
According to the data from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a total of 4,264 cases of crime against senior citizens (aged above 60 years) were registered in 19 metropolitan cities in 2021 as compared to 4,029 cases during 2020, showing an increase in number of crimes by 5.8%.
The data reveals that theft, with 1,208 cases, was the most reported crime against senior citizens followed by forgery, cheating & fraud.
The data also reveals that 11.3% of a total of 1,686 murder cases reported in Tamil Nadu accounted for the murder of elderly people.
Notably, Tamil Nadu also topped the country in the number of murders of senior citizens.
Given that there is an increasing population of senior citizens living by themselves, how can they be safeguarded from such crimes?
Senior citizens targeted due to vulnerability
In many instances of crimes against senior citizens, the criminals target them due to their age and vulnerability. They also look out for those who live by themselves.
Kaveri, a sexagenarian from Saidapet, fell prey to chain snatching recently.
“I was going to a nearby shop to buy some groceries. A couple of men who came in a bike snatched my chain. Their faces were not visible as they wore black helmets. I tried to fight back but it was of no help. On the given day, the particular stretch of the road was also empty and so I was not able to ask for help,” she says, adding that she ended up with severe injuries in her neck, arms and knee as they pushed her down while snatching the chain.
Notably, Kaveri lives alone in Saidapet as her son moved to Bengaluru recently.
In the aftermath of such ghastly crimes, both Sundaram and Kaveri found the police unhelpful.
“The first response of the police when I approached them to file a complaint was negative. They asked me why I did not ask for the identity cards of the women who posed as corporation staff. The ordeal of filing a police complaint was more than the trauma caused by the incident itself,” says Sundaram.
Similarly, in the case of Kaveri, the police personnel registered the complaint but also cautioned her to be more vigilant while walking on the streets and also not wear gold jewellery while going out.
“No matter where I keep my jewels, be it at home or that I wear them while walking on the road, it seems like one or the other person is going to steal them from me. So, what am I expected to do? Why do the police caution me rather than take steps to ensure my safety at least in future?” asks Kaveri.
Lily, a senior citizen from Chintadripet, lived with her son’s family after the demise of her husband. Her son’s single-room home did not have the space to accommodate her for an extended period of time. She moved out into a makeshift home in the same neighbourhood.
However, since she started living alone, she has been facing a lot of issues related to safety.
“Some men in the vicinity tried to misbehave with me. Sometimes, when I leave some money in my house, it turns out to be missing,” she says.
When asked how helpful had the police been in dealing with such issues, Lily says that she does not have time to approach the police.
“We all know how the policing system works here. I work as a domestic helper now. I cannot afford to lose my pay for a day or so to file a police complaint for every such issue I face,” she says.
Strengthening policing to safeguard senior citizens in Chennai
Given the projected rise in the population of elderly people, it is high time the government looks into addressing the vulnerability of senior citizens in Chennai and across the state.
According to the report titled ‘Elderly in India 2021’released by the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, the decadal growth in the elderly population will be 40% between 2021 and 2031.
“We have petitioned the government to create a conducive environment and ensure safety and security for the senior citizens in Chennai and across the state,” says S Meenakshi Sundaram, General Secretary of the Federation of Senior Citizens Associations of Tamil Nadu (FOSCATAN).
“Many senior citizens from the lower economic strata of the society are made to fend for themselves. There was also a recent incident in Vyasarpadi where an old lady was murdered by her grandson as she refused to give him money to get drunk. This is a large systemic issue. We do not have a system that will provide social security for the senior citizens in Chennai and elsewhere,” he adds.
Raghukumar Choodamani, Convener of the Community Welfare Brigade, notes that many senior citizens in his area (Perambur) live alone as their children have settled abroad.
“We used to have more crime rates ranging from chain snatching to drunken brawls. After over two decades of struggle, we managed to place a beat patrol register in our area. Before the outbreak of COVID-19, the police used to patrol the area at least four times a day and they signed the register. This register was maintained by the law and order department of the Greater Chennai Police. This helped in reducing the crime rate.
But the scenario has taken a turn for the worse in recent years.
“Post COVID, the police rarely patrol the area, citing a shortage of personnel. Even when they patrol at night, they switch on the siren. This only helps in alerting the thieves than catching them red-handed during the patrolling duty,” he notes, adding that the residents of the area have been requesting the police resume beat patrolling as done by the department before the outbreak of COVID-19.
As long as there was visible policing, crimes targeting senior citizens and other such vulnerable groups were on the decline, feels Raghu. With the shortage of personnel, policing has taken a hit. But there could be workarounds to deal with this issue.
“While the government should focus on increasing visible policing in residential areas, they should also use technology to their benefit. They can identify vulnerable spots and install CCTV cameras to monitor the spots. This will highly help in ensuring public safety, especially that of senior citizens,” says Raghu. “Previously installed CCTV cameras should also be made functional, as most of such cameras do not work and serve no purpose at present.”
“While the beat patrol is deployed by the law and order division, there are also police personnel deployed for monitoring the areas from the crime division of the police department. The areas that come under the jurisdiction of a police station will be divided into sectors. Each sector will have around 10 to 15 streets. Two police personnel will be deployed to patrol the sector on a three-shift basis. A register on this is also maintained which the patrolling police personnel sign after each shift is over,” says a police personnel on patrol duty.
For those who seek improved patrolling in their areas, reaching out to their police station is the first step.
“The residents can send a letter to their police station requesting deployment of the beat patrol in their locality if needed,” he adds.
What can senior citizens who lack social security and safety do?
The senior citizens can get the beat patrol police personnel’s contact number to reach out at times of emergency.
They can also install mobile applications like Kavalan to alert the police in case of emergencies.
Apart from reporting to the police, Meenakshi Sundaram, says that senior citizens can reach out to the Federation of Senior Citizens Associations of Tamil Nadu (FOSCATAN) for assistance.
The federation comprises over 20 associations that work for senior citizens.
The federation has been playing a major role in creating a social fabric that will keep the senior citizens in Chennai and across the state connected.
Those who are in need can reach out to FOSCATAN at 9380520878.
*names changed on request