Sixty eight-year-old Srikant Iyer had been living a life of a recluse after his wife died a few years ago. He spends most of his time sitting idle in a park nearby as his son and daughter-in-law are working in MNCs. He has absolutely no one to speak to and monotony almost killed him when he got a marriage proposal from Vina Mulya Sewa, a marriage bureau. Srikant Iyer is leading a happy married life today and goes out to the parks with his wife.
“In India,10 per cent of its population consists of senior citizens. More than 10 crore Indians are over 60 years of age, and 12,00,000 of them are in Mumbai alone’ says Natubhai who had organised a Senior Citizens Jeevan Saathi Sammelan that was meant to create awareness to senior citizens about their marriage bureau which believes in marriage for the elderlies.
“When a senior citizen loses his or her spouse, he/she becomes really lonely, but they are not allowed to express it because society does not expect ‘old’ people to want a companion at that age,” explains the founder.
“Research shows that while the longevity of senior citizens in our country is going up each year, women have been found to outlive men. But again, it is very difficult for a woman of that age to say that she needs a companion, that she wants to spend the rest of her life with somebody. We feel that senior citizens should also get the chance to find a suitable mate,” he said. To incentivise women’s participation in the Sammelan, all women who attend the meeting will be given basic train fare, lunch and a saree.
Vina Mulya Sewa is a marriage bureau with a difference. Though it is based in Ahmedabad, it reaches out to lonely old people above the age of fifty. The organisation has united more than 200 couples who were considered as grand old elderlies by society.
“I would like to believe that age is just a number. Anyone can find love, regardless of age, and social taboos should not stop senior citizens from finding their life partners”, says the founder, Natubhai Patel
Natubhai Patel’s marriage bureau Vina Mulya Amulya Sewa helps people above the age of 50, helps them to find love and companionship and organises matchmaking sessions every month across Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Jaipur, and other cities in the country.
The journey of creating Vina Mulya Amulya Sewa began when the founder was posted in Gujarat as an official of the Ministry of Planning Department. In 2002, Gujarat was rocked by a massive earthquake, in which he lost his colleague.
“The aftermath of the earthquake that shook Kutch on January 26, 2001 altered my perception. I witnessed the anguish of those who were left alone after the death of a partner, dealing with isolation and loneliness. “I realized how important having a companion is,” he says. “In 2002, I established this marriage bureau for senior citizens. “Three marriages have failed out of the 95 we have conducted so far,” Natubhai adds.
Given that marriage is still viewed solely as a social obligation in India, an initiative to assist the elderly in their search for companions is a brave step.
Across India, public meetings are held where individuals can meet to find a compatible partner. The organization’s name has spread so quickly that even non-resident Indians have joined it.
Natulal shared the classic example of a couple who tied the knot in 2012.
Before her marriage, Renu, 60, was living in Bhuj, with her mother and younger son. Her older son Sushant decided to approach Natubhai. With Natubhai’s help, he was able to find a match for his mother in ONGC-employee Dhanji Jadhav, 61.
Similarly, Praveen Kumar Srivastava, a government employee, came knocking on Natubhai’s door looking for a bride for his uncle Jivandas Virdas Sadhu, 60. “My uncle is settled, but he has been alone for the last 32 years,” Srivastava says.
According to the founder Natubhai Patel, “Many senior citizens want to marry but are afraid of social repercussions. Social stigma is a significant impediment, particularly for women.”
Women prefer to stay alone rather than face the trauma of societal indifference if they married at that age. Depression has become a chief public health dilemma in India. In India, Both Men and Women experience considerably high level of stigma and discrimination if they ever ended up getting married at such an age. However, Women in comparison to Men experience significantly greater level of internalized stigma especially in domains of discrimination experience and social withdrawal.
The organisation has grown in dimensions and and now it has taken the challenge to help the older differently-abled persons also find their match. Recently, a 50-year-old woman has sought their help. Many more differently-abled persons who are abandoned at this sensitive age of post retirement have began approaching the bureau seeking help.
(The writer is the founder of Powerful Teachers, an organisation that works for senior citizens)