Ageing, Disability, and Capability Approach: Evidence from a North-Indian Village

Gaurav, Sarthak; Kattumuri, Ruth (2016). 'Ageing, Disability, and Capability Approach: Evidence from a North-Indian Village' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

Rural India is undergoing gradual demographic and socio-economic transformation that is accompanied by changing living arrangements of families. This has implications on arrangements, particularly for care of the elderly (people aged 60 years and above) and the disabled. Using primary data from a north-Indian village of Palanpur, that has been studied extensively over the past six decades, we study the lives of the elderly and disabled in detail. In this paper, we posit that the capability approach ala Sen (1985) and Nussbaum (2000) is a useful framework for analysis of ageing and disability in the rural settings. Although, the discourse on healthy ageing (Stephens et al. 2014) and disability (Mitra 2006) tries to look at ageing and disability, respectively, from the perspective of capability approach, there is a gap in the literature in terms of detailed accounts of the social environment and living arrangements in rural societies that help explain capabilities of the elderly and disabled. We examine their living arrangements, participation in market and non-market activities, conditions of chronic illness, morbidity, and health care. Given the longitudinal nature of our study, we are able to identify capabilities that mainstream surveys usually neglect or are unable to measure. Focusing on the two previous rounds – 2008/9 and 2014/15, we find that there are considerable gender based differences in demography and living conditions of the population sub-groups of interest; with elderly widows and those staying alone being particularly vulnerable. Based on ethnography and village census, we find that although some social welfare programmes exist, there are gaps in their implementation. Detailed accounts of circumstances of the elderly and disabled brings out the importance of kinship network and informal arrangements of care are evident. In doing so, we also offer an evaluative framework where pairwise comparisons of alternative or states of affairs (Alkire 2005) can be operationalised. Furthermore, econometric analysis reveals considerable caste-based and asset based heterogeneity in participation of elderly and disabled in economic and non-economic activities: a fundamental dimension of capability for the elderly and disabled. We emphasise the variation in gender dimension of time allocation between unpaid work and paid work (Chiappero-Martinetti 2003) in rural setting. We offer novel evidence on how domestic work and non-market activities not only play a considerable role within the context of freedoms and valued functionings of elderly and disabled in a village, but also being instrumental in enhancing capabilities of other members of the household by freeing up time for them. This helps us throw light on how time allocation can be viewed as means and as ends from a gendered perspective for the elderly and disabled. In doing so, we also highlight the importance of social norms and circumstances that mediate the conversion of capabilities into functionings. Using mixed-methods approach, we also attempt to estimate capabilities by factoring in exogenous causes for latent capabilities (Kuklys 2005). Our set of findings show that, focusing on capabilities of elderly and disabled: what they ‘can do’ or ‘can be’ is of extreme importance, and it is necessary to go beyond their functionings – what they ‘do’ or what they ‘are’. Analysis of well-being of elderly and disabled should take into account the opportunities and social arrangements and should try to reduce various capability failures. In terms of potential policy implications, the focus of social policy should shift from care to autonomy, participation, and well-being that individuals value and have reasons to value.

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