For 45 years Ramesh and Sheila Verma have worked as domestic helps in the homes of New Delhi's rich in order to feed, clothe, educate and marry off their three sons. Until recently, they even paid their grandchildren's school fees. Now 65, slowed down by arthritis and unable to work, Ramesh and Sheila hoped their sons would look after them. But one son told them to 'live wherever you like but not here, we have got no space for you'. The other two have also refused, conveniently blaming their wives. So much for the 'insurance' that poor Indians bought for their old age by having large families. If a bill proposed by the government becomes law later this year, elderly Indians such as Sheila and Ramesh will be able to take their children to court to demand financial help. The Old Persons Bill will apply to Indians aged over 60. 'Every rupee we have earned, we gave them. We didn't even build our own house, thinking we would be with them. I'm not working now, so I can't afford to rent even a room,' said Sheila, who cannot hide her hurt at her sons' ingratitude. The state of Himachal Pradesh in north India already has legislation that forces children to care for elderly parents. But it is flawed. 'The process is too slow, time-consuming and cumbersome. This bill will not just cover the whole country but make the process faster and simpler,' said Nidhi Rajkapoor of HelpAge India. The joint family system is crumbling in India, along with family values and the earlier cultural belief that parents must be loved and respected, and cared for in old age. Earlier, the elderly were not viewed as a burden. They were an integral part of the family tableau, personifying wisdom and stability, playing with the grandchildren when all others were busy with their own lives. These days, even if the old live with the family, they can be neglected. Children can harass them to hand over property, land and jewellery. Widows are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, as they lose their status in the family once their husband dies. Apart from migration, urbanisation and the mushrooming of nuclear families, another social change in India has been the rise in the number of old people, thanks to higher life expectancy. At the beginning of the last century, it was 20. Today, it is 62. The 2001 census showed India had 75 million people aged over 60. By 2016, this will rise to 112 million. Both trends - more old people and more filial impiety - are reflected in the number of homes for the old. From 300 in 2002, there are now over 1,000 such homes. 'Indians used to sneer at people in the west for dumping their parents in old people's homes but now they're doing the same thing,' said Pritish Sethi, 79, whose two children in Mumbai are trying to persuade him to move into a New Delhi nursing home.