Custody battle: Huge setback for Indian couple; Norway says can't let children go back to family

Custody battle: Huge setback for Indian couple; Norway says can't let children go back to family
Stavanger:  In a huge setback to the Indian couple fighting for the custody of their children in Norway, the Child Welfare Services (CWS) has categorically said the children cannot go back to family now and the case will be dropped.

In a statement, the CWS said, "New developments involving two Indian children make it impossible to carry out the hearing in Stavanger District Court that was scheduled for Friday, March 23. The conflicts over the last few days between the parents and their respective families mean that the conditions for entering into an agreement of this kind are no longer present."

In that hearing, the Indian authorities were supposed to recommend to a court in Norway that the children - three-year-old Abhigyan and one-year-old Aishwarya - be placed in the custody of their uncle. What's worse is that there is no indication that there will be a new hearing.

The CWS "is no longer confident that the parties wish to enter into a genuine agreement. Over the last few days, the parties to the agreement have provided conflicting and different information, both to the Child Welfare Service and to the media, on their positions in the case," CWS chief Gunnar Toreseen said.

He emphasised that the CWS was well aware that there was a great deal of external pressure on the family, and that this made it difficult for them to agree on a clear position. "But in the light of the great uncertainty that now prevails, the Child Welfare Service cannot maintain that a move to India would be in the best interests of the children."

"Even if the parents and the children's uncle should nevertheless now want to sign an agreement, the Child Welfare Service does not have sufficient confidence that an agreement would be fulfilled as intended, because the necessary consensus and understanding between the parties and their families does not exist," he said.

The children were placed in foster care in Norway last May against the wishes of their parents, Anurup Bhattacharya and Sagarika Chakarborty. However, reports emerged that after a fight with his wife, Anurup had told Norwegian officials that he would prefer for Abhigyan and Aishwarya to stay in Norway. Different newspapers quoted him as saying that he wanted to separate from his wife who allegedly attacked him over the weekend and has a record of being violent towards him. But yesterday, Anurup said that his goal remains to bring back his children to their country. "I, Anurup Bhattacharya have not filed for separation or divorce... Whatever our personal differences, we are united in our sole principal aim, which is to get the children back to India," he clarified in a press release. That plan includes placing the children in the formal care of his brother.

During the custody battle, the CWS had agreed to give children to their uncle, a dentist from Asansol named Arunabhas Bhattacharya. But over the last few days, Indian government sources said that the parents and the uncle of the children have changed their position several times on the agreement that had originally been reached.

"This has caused the Child Welfare Service to doubt their motives as far as the agreement is concerned. The Child Welfare Service does not have sufficient confidence that an agreement would be fulfilled as intended because the necessary consensus and understanding between the parties and their families does not exist," the CWS statement said.

For months, the Indian government has thrown its weight behind the Indian couple. But these new developments have embarrassed the Indian government which had been pressuring Norway to send the children back with their parents. A series of Indian diplomats were sent to Oslo to talk to authorities there to plead the Indian couple's case. "The government has tried its best to bring the children home so that they have a future in the country. But a new situation has developed.... we cannot interfere. The visit of a Joint Secretary (to Norway) has been postponed," Minister of State for External Affairs, Preneet Kaur, told reporters yesterday.

Sources have told NDTV that the government is very upset with the parents, but they are still trying to bring the kids back. Sources say the Foreign Ministry intends to tell the Indian ambassador to speak to parents.

If Sagarika and Anurup say that they are now involved in a domestic dispute, the Indian government will step out of the picture and treat their children's custody case as a family matter. This despite the family making amends and saying that despite their disputes they still agree that the children's custody should go to the uncle.

The children's visas have expired and the CWS had earlier applied for resident permits for them without the consent of the parents. The CWS assessed that the parents were not capable of bringing up their children. They had earlier suggested that they would be willing to give the custody of the children to the father if he were to separate from the mother. The parents had refused this option back then. The CWS had also said children cannot go to the grandparents because they are too old to take care of them. They had earlier said the uncle was too young to get children's custody but later did agree that the uncle could take the children back to India but on the condition that Indian authorities provided legal guarantees that the children on their return to India will not be handed over to the mother. However, the children's mother Sagarika does not want to sign the agreement between the uncle and the parents because she finds that one line that says "the agreement will not be challenged by any relatives before any court or before any authority or institution" rules out the possibility of her challenging Indian courts for getting the custody to her or her family.

Both the parents and the uncle say they are in Norway only to fight for the children to come back to India and that despite their family disputes they are still united in their stand that children should return to India as they are Indian citizens and their family wants them back.

Story First Published: March 22, 2012 07:30 IST

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