Page last updated at 11:12 GMT, Monday, 7 September 2009 12:12 UK

India mothers-in-law fight abuse

By Geeta Pandey
BBc News, Delhi

Indian woman
Many elderly women say they are ill-treated by their daughters-in-law

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.

'As vamps'

"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.

Wedding henna
Dowries are often paid by bride's families in India

"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.

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