Stop stereotyping mothers-in-law!

For years they have been the butt of jokes across the world. But in India, a group of mothers-in-law came together last month to fight the harassment they claim to endure at the hands of their daughters-in-law.

Networking to negotiate

Fifty women initially joined the All India Mothers-in-law Protection Forum (AIMPF), which was launched in Bangalore. The forum took shape when Neena Dhulia, coordinator of AIMPF, and a couple of other women decided it was time to stop the stereotyping of mothers-in-law as ‘evil’ and ‘bloodthirsty’.

“Many mothers-in-law are physically harassed and abused by their daughters-in-law, but the popular perception remains that they are the perpetrators of violence. False cases of harassment for dowry are filed against them but they don’t receive any help from the legal system,” says Neena. She cites the case of 90-year-old Shyamali, who is being harassed by her daughter-in-law and grandson since her son’s death last year. Shyamali, who resides in Mumbai, has reportedly been thrashed many times. Once, she was left at her daughter’s house who then rushed her to a nearby hospital to treat her for her bruises.

Programmed to hate?

Neena says changing attitudes among younger women, including a desire not to live with their in-laws, are often responsible for daughters-in-law turning against the older women. Recent research, she  says, has shown that daughters-in-law are “programmed” to hate their mothers-in-law. A book by a psychologist from Newnham College, Cambridge claims that two-thirds of daughters-in-law believe that their husband’s mother frequently exhibits jealous maternal love towards her son. A similar proportion of mothers-in-law said they felt ‘excluded’ and ‘isolated’ by a female addition to the family.

Support from harassed husbands

The All India Mothers-in-law Protection Forum has opened units in Chhattisgarh and Nagpur. Weekly meetings are held in Bangalore to devise strategies to provide assistance to mothers-in-law and a helpline has been set up for those who cannot attend the meetings. The organisation is being supported by Save Indian Family Foundation (SIFF), a Bangalore-based NGO working for harassed husbands.

A recent development is the formation of Andhra Pradesh Mothers-in-law Protection Association (APMPA). APMPA will provide moral support and counselling to victims as well as make representations to the government urging changes in “wife-centric” laws.

Neena says she receives 8-10 phone calls a day from distressed mothers-in-law. Most of the calls relate to dowry harassment complaints filed by daughters-in-law against their husband’s family under Section 498A of the IPC. The cases sound similar.

“Most are usually filed within a year or two of marriage when things go wrong for some reason and the daughter-in-law decides it’s time to extract revenge,” says an AIMPF member.

AIMPF wants mothers-in-law to be protected from ‘abuse’ by their daughters-in-law and an end to the harassment of elderly women in police stations and courts. It also advocates the protection of property rights of mothers-in-law and a life of dignity and peace for them.

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