CHENNAI: After woeful wives and harassed husbands, it’s the turn of mothers-in-law to form an organisation. More than 500 of them from across the country will come together in Bangalore to launch the All-India Mothers-in-law Protection Forum (AIMPF) on Sunday.
For some, it will provide a forum to be heard; for others, it is to break the ‘cruel woman’ stereotype that TV soaps have been reinforcing. So varied is the constitution of the forum that it has as members a university teacher from Chennai, a forensic expert from Delhi and a surgeon from Karnataka.
“In TV dramas, we are the villains; in real life, we are the victims,” said Nalini (name changed), a homemaker from Chennai, who has joined the AIMPF. The organization is being supported by the Save India Family Foundation (SIFF), a Bangalore-based NGO working for ‘harassed husbands’.
So will the AIMPF protect mothers-in-law only from their daughters-in-law and not sons-in-law? “Mostly the women are accused and dragged to court by their daughters-in-law. So we are focussing only on them. The organization is not against anyone; it is for mothers-in-law,” said SIFF public relations officer Virag Dhulia.
The forum plans to use its website, www.aimpf.org, to host discussions and debates. “The forum will take up issues, including amendments to inheritance laws and the Domestic Violence Act,” SIFF convenor Manoj David said.
Some AIMPF members TOI spoke to had horror tales to narrate. One said that whenever she went inside the bath to shower, her daughter- in-law would turn on the geyser from outside.
Supporters of the forum said that though there were several incidents of mothers-in-law torturing their daughters-in-law, there were also many mothers-in-law who silently bore the brunt of domestic violence. “There are several mothers-in-law who are victimised and threatened with Section 498 (a) of the IPC, which speaks of up to three years’ imprisonment for husband’s relatives in dowry harassment cases,” said Virag.
A group of Indian mothers-in-law have come together to fight the harassment they claim to endure at the hands of their daughters-in-law.
Fifty women have joined the All India Mothers-in-law Protection Forum (AIMPF), launched in Bangalore city.
A spokeswoman told the BBC that while there were 15 laws to protect the younger generation, there was nothing to protect mothers-in-law from abuse.
India's National Commission for Women has acknowledged the problem.
It says that cases against in-laws are often registered by brides who are protected by strict anti-dowry laws.
But a number of the accusations turn out to be false.
"The mother-in-law is portrayed as a villain in our society," says Neena Thuliya, coordinator of AIMPF.
"In television serials, films and the media, we are shown as vamps. It's an age-old belief that the mother-in-law physically assaults and mentally tortures the daughter-in-law."
The AIMPF recently did a survey in Bangalore studying cases of abuse and torture filed against the mother-in-law.
Mrs Thuliya says that of the nearly 50 cases they researched, all turned out to be false allegations.
"There was a time when the daughter-in-law had to live with so many restrictions, but now the time has changed. Today's daughter-in-law is free and works outside the home. It's the old mother-in-law who now faces abuse at the hands of the daughter-in-law," Mrs Thuliya says.
"In tele-serials we are the villains, in real life we are the victims," she adds.
Mrs Thuliya says elderly women are sometimes thrown out of their homes by their daughters-in-law.
The forum, she says, will hold meetings every Sunday and will devise strategies to provide support to "harassed mothers-in-law".
The AIMPF says it will also campaign against the demonisation of the mother-in-law in popular culture.
For centuries, in many Indian families, daughters-in-law have been harassed for bringing in "inadequate dowry" - a South Asian tradition where the bride's parents give cash, jewellery and gifts to the groom's family.
The Indian government outlawed giving and accepting dowries in 1961, but the practice continues and even today few arranged marriages take place without an exchange of dowry.
Campaigners say the system has led to the abuse of young brides, making them vulnerable to domestic violence.
Every year, hundreds of women are scalded or even burned alive by their in-laws.
In the past few years, India has introduced several strict laws to protect new brides from abuse and torture.
But it is being accepted by the authorities that the laws are being increasingly misused by young women to harass their in-laws or settle scores.