Indian mothers-in law are consistently legally implicated in violence against their daughters-in-law, particularly in dowry-related cases. This paper explores whether current sociological, psycho-dynamic and feminist explanations are adequate, arguing that policy and research must incorporate deeper understandings of the relationship between violence, abuse and the continuum of everyday practices of power and control in middle-class Indian households if women are to be protected from abuse. Critically, policy and research must recognise the impact of the socio-cultural preference for sons. Daughters are viewed as inferior; however, mothers to sons enjoy a relatively elevated position within the family. Even leaving aside issues of socialisation into traditional gender roles, this encourages a particularly close bond between mothers and sons that causes tensions between mothers- and daughters-in-law once sons marry. These tensions are complicated by the normative nature of patrilocality where sons stay within their parents’ home even after marriage, while married women join their husbands in their in-laws household. Thus, mothers-in-law, having finally obtained a relative position of power, often have a vested interest in perpetuating practices of control and power over their daughters-in-law. This represents a culturally specific form of patriarchal bargain that has significant implications regarding addressing the gender inequalities endemic in Indian society, with equally distinct psychological implications.

Author Biography

Martin Rew, MSc (LSE), PhD (Contab) is a Lecturer at the Institute for International Development, University of Birmingham. He specialises on South Asia, and China and has worked on gender, poverty analysis, rural livelihood sustainability, resettlement, governance and social movements. He is currently working on religion and development, and on decentralisation, elites and political devolution in Orissa, rural labour relations and migration in Orissa, and the political economy of mining and protest in eastern India.

Geetanjali Gangoli, M.A, MPhil, PhD (University of Delhi) is a Senior Lecturer at the Violence Against Women Research Group, University of Bristol. Her research interests include domestic violence in the UK and China, prostitution and trafficking in South Asia, Indian feminisms and law; perpetrators of domestic violence, forced marriage, honour based violence and domestic violence amongst Black and Minority Ethnic Women in the UK. She is the Chair of the Management Board of the journal ‘Policy and Politics’, published by Policy Press, after having edited it between 2008-2012.

Aisha K. Gill (B.A., M.A. [Di], PhD (University of Essex) PGCHE, is a Reader in Criminology, University of Roehampton. Her main areas of research are health and criminal justice responses to violence against black, minority ethnic and refugee (BMER) women in the UK, Iraqi Kurdistan and India. Her current research interests include rights, law and forced marriage; gendered crimes related to patriarchy;”honour” killings and “honour”-based violence in the South Asian/Kurdish Diaspora; femicide in Iraqi Kurdistan and India; missing women; acid violence; post-separation violence and child contact; trafficking; sexual violence; gender and the England riots.