Horrific Ordeal: The Norway Custody Case
The agreement reached between New Delhi and Oslo has ended the seven-month-long battle for custody, that resulted from cultural differences in a foreign land. A Siliconeer report.
(Above): A family in the U.S. sleeping with their infant son in between on the same bed, can this be a ground to separate the child from his parents?
Anurup Bhattacharya works as a geo-scientist and lives with his wife Sagarika in Stavanger, Norway. Last May, the Norway child welfare service, Barnevarne, took away their children and placed them in foster care.
They intervened after reports that the Bhattacharyas’ son, three-year-old Abhigyan, displayed erratic behavior at school. Officials objected to Abhigyan and his one-year-old sister, Aishwarya, sleeping in the same bed as their parents, and being fed by hand. This, they said, amounted to force-feeding.
They also said Abhigyan and Aishwarya showed an emotional disconnect with their parents. The children are now with a foster family.
Charges against the parents in Norway included the fact that Sagarika had slapped her son once; and that the children did not have enough room to play and have ‘unsuitable’ clothes and toys.
The children are currently living with two different sets of Norwegian foster parents.
The agreement reached between New Delhi and Oslo in the case has brought down the curtain on the seven-month-long battle for custody.
The agreement allows for the father’s Kolkata-based brother to be the primary caretaker of the children while the parents, who are expected to return to India in March, have been given visitation rights.
While the arrangement falls short of giving the parents, Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya, custodial right, it at least puts an end to their ordeal, and offers an emotional lifeline to the minor children.
The agreement was formulated after a great deal of diplomatic persuasion, including a forceful intervention by India’s Minister for External Affairs S.M. Krishna. He deliberated with his Norwegian counterpart as well as met with the Norwegian Charge d’Affairs in New Delhi to present the parents’ argument that cultural differences, and not poor parenting, are the cause of the problem.
In fact, given that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the Bhattacharyas are guilty of anything more than that which cannot be explained away as a misunderstanding, their three-year old son Abhigyan and one-year old daughter Aishwarya should have been returned to them long ago.
Nonetheless, the fact that the children will at least now be with their extended family, will be a matter of huge relief to the Bhattacharya couple.
However, the welcome development does not take away from some of the key questions at the center of this episode.
For instance, why didn’t the Embassy of India in Oslo swing into action immediately after the children were taken away? Why did it take more than seven months and a relentless campaign by the Bhattacharya family in India, which included petitioning the Chief Minister of West Bengal and the President, before the issue could be resolved? Why did it require a stern directive from the Minister for the Ambassador to do what he should have been doing from the day the children were taken away? And, why is it that the consular section of the Embassy did not bother to demand access to the children although they are Indian citizens and hold Indian passports?
These questions need to be answered and the lapses looked into. Indian missions exist to assist Indians living, traveling and working abroad, apart from dealing with routine diplomatic activities. This simple message is sometimes lost.
Meanwhile, the government should seriously consider advising Indians seeking employment in countries with laws similar to those of Norway to be mindful of the risk of losing their children to officials ignorant of Indian family values and cultural ethos.
It’s only when such advisories are issued that awareness can be created and Indians could be spared the pain and agony of the Bhattacharyas.