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Under threat in India: mothers-in-law?

But fear not. Here comes the All India Mother-in-law Protection Forum.

Women pray during the Hindu festival of Karva Chauth inside a temple in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh Oct. 7, 2009. Married Hindu women observe a one-day fast during the festival and offer prayers for the well-being of their husbands. (Ajay Verma/Reuters)

BANGALORE — Each week, in a corner of Bangalore’s historic Cubbon Park, a group of men and women gather to swap stories and vent their emotions. They are part of the newly launched All India Mother-in-law Protection Forum.

It is a motley gathering of teachers, retired air force officers, doctors and software engineers, all educated, urban Indians drawn together by a common cause.

They are "victims," who have banded together to fight the harassment and abuse they say they endure at the hands of the rude, domineering, greedy young women who marry into their families.

A hundred or more members attend these weekly sessions in Bangalore, a trend that sociologists say reflects the breakdown of traditional roles in India's fast-changing urban society.

“These groups are a response to the growing tensions and ruptures within the established Indian family system,” said professor A. R. Vasavi of the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore.

Such developments present a surprising flipside to the story in India where, according to alarming official statistics, thousands of young women die every year after allegedly being harassed for dowry — including cash, jewelry and expensive gifts — by their husbands or in-laws.

Such suicides and burnings, which are often passed off as "kitchen accidents," are so common that "dowry death" is accepted usage in the country’s crime lexicon.

But in a shift, more young Indian women are using India's stringent laws to blackmail their husbands or families.

Take the example of Neena Dhulia, a mother-in-law who is now fighting back. Two years ago, Dhulia, her husband and her son, a software engineer, were all arrested and dragged to a police station.

Dhulia’s daughter-in-law had filed several cases against her husband and his family including dowry harassment, domestic violence and subsequently, divorce and maintenance.