New Roles and Old Bodies: Role Transformation Among Ageing Women in Kolkata

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal BIG 1 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
The landscape of care for the elderly in India has been undergoing a change since the last decade of the 20th century where care practices around elderly family members in India, are increasingly relegated to various care organizations that are predominantly non-governmental and/or private. This study aims to explicate changing modalities of care forging newer social roles and identities among ageing women. Through an ethnographic study of two contexts of care in Kolkata, the processes of role-transformation among ageing women is explained. Analyzing the lived experiences of women in old age homes and those who are cared for in one’s houses by ‘companions’ from private agencies, highlights not only emergent social roles among the elderly women in contemporary times, but also delineate the continuities and ruptures in the roles when individuals relocate outside their own homes. The study operationalizes nostalgia as an analytical tool to understand the importance of home and kinship ties in consolidating role and identities in old age.

Women are considered to fulfill the role of the primary care-giver all throughout their lives. The study unpacks the idea of caregiving in these two contexts and finds that an intersectionality of class, marital biographies and kind of relationships, past and present play a significant role in determining their roles, either as ‘active citizen’ or consumers respectively in the two cases. It also exposes the fallacy of assuming that a woman’s life in later years is defined only by her familial roles. For instance, not having to undertake traditional roles of grand parenting or performing duties of the wife can be quite liberating for women. The study concludes that the kind of mediation of care, by caregivers other than relatives, to a great extent determines the kind of attitudes, role and identities ageing women acquire.