Can a Hug Help Unite Generations? This Indian Campaign Says ‘Yes!’

A HUG Campaign Poster. Image courtesy HelpAge India

A HUG Campaign Poster. Image courtesy HelpAge India

For centuries, the joint family tradition in India meant that several generations from grandparents to grandchildren lived under the same roof. With India's rapid development, however, the country's social fabric is changing. More and more Indians are living in smaller family units, and younger people are migrating in search of better opportunities.

This has led to an increasing number of senior citizens being forced to live alone. Many of them face isolation, neglect and loneliness. 

One heartwarming campaign is trying to help. HelpAge India‘s HUG – Help Unite Generations encourages India's youth to befriend an elder and share a hug with the hope of building “inter-generational bonding and to increase the empathy of young adults towards elders”. 

HelpAge India, a non-governmental organization that works for the cause and care of the elderly, explains on their advocacy page how young people can make a difference:

Whenever you see an elder person sitting all alone, look again! He or she may be in your family or neighborhood or someone you’ve seen many times and is always alone. This person has one need that you can fulfill. With just one word, one smile, one HUG! Just give them a little bit of your time. These are the gestures that an elder seeks but often does not receive. The HUG Campaign encourages you to simply give a call, listen to experiences, ask how the day was and share your stories with your elder friend.

The campaign posted a tear-jerking video showing what sharing a hug might look like:

Indians are living longer, and the number of silver citizens is increasing. According to a 2011 Government of India report [pdf], India's “grey population” (defined as 60 years old and up) is likely to increase its share of the total population from 7.4 percent in 2001 to 10 percent by 2026. In terms of numbers, this is a huge leap — what was an approximate 77 million in 2001 will rise to approximately 140 million by 2026.

Manjira Khurana (@KhuranaManjira), Country Head, Advocacy & Communications at HelpAge India, believes that efforts like this could help sensitize young people to the needs of the elderly. In an email interview with Global Voices, she spoke about her aspirations for the HUG campaign:

An occasional coffee, an outing once in a while and a phone call changes lives. The Elder is happy and the Younger maybe finds that the Elder can be Cool as well! That will maybe influence this youngster to be more sensitive and kinder to elders in his later life.

The HUG campaign asks young adults to also share their experiences and photos. Shreya Misra, a fellow at Teach for India, shared a photo on HelpAge India's Facebook page, which shows her hugging her grandfather.

"I am sharing a hug with my grandfather. Its such a wonderful feeling to see him smile." Image from HelpAge India's Facebook page

“I am sharing a hug with my grandfather. Its such a wonderful feeling to see him smile.” Shreya Misra, a Teach for India Fellow. Image from HelpAge India's Facebook page

They say that no man is an island. Certainly, the elderly do not deserve to be marooned on the island of loneliness and abandonment in their silver years. The HUG campaign has given a clarion call to India's youth — in your fast-paced daily life, in your hurry to get somewhere or to get ahead, don't forget the elderly. Tarry a while and include them in your life — share a smile, a story, a hug.

Today, 50 percent of India's population is below 25. Is this young population listening? And more importantly, will they take action now so that the elderly feel cared for, loved and wanted in the sunset years of their lives? I, for one, sincerely hope so.

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