Kolkata: The grandparents of three -year-old Abhigyan and one-year-old Aishwarya, the two Indian children who were taken away from their parents in May last year by the Norwegian child welfare services, have decided to bring the custody battle to Delhi. They say they will sit on a four-day dharna outside the Norway embassy in Delhi from February 27 to protest against the delay in the handing over of the children to their uncle.
"We have decided that we will stage a dharna in front of the Norway Embassy from February 27 to March 1. We appeal to the citizens of India and Delhi to join us in our effort. The process that the Norway government has followed is really shameful. They are delaying the process and I doubt the care being bestowed upon the children by the government," the children's maternal grandfather Monotosh Chakraborty told NDTV.
Mr Chakraborty's daughter and son-in-law - Sagarika and Anurup Bhattacharya - have met their children only thrice in the last nine months. They last met them yesterday. For about an hour and five minutes it was family time as usual. They held the toddlers, fed them and played with them. Then, it was time to go.
As parents and children met on Friday, officials of the Norwegian child welfare services kept a close watch through a two-way mirror; "We can't see but they monitor our actions...they watched us from a glass window," Mr Bhattacharya said.
Anurup, a geo-scientist, lives with his wife Sagarika in Stavanger, Norway. In November last year, a Norwegian court ordered that Abhigyan and Aishwarya would live in a foster home till they turned 18. This after the Norwegian child welfare services alleged that the Bhattacharyas had "an emotional disconnect" with their children and that this could be harmful for the children's safety and development.
After the court order, the Indian government intervened and the Norwegian authorities agreed to consider giving custody of the two children to their uncle, a dentist from Asansol in West Bengal, who has left his practice in India to stay in Stavanger till the children are allowed to return with him to India.
Arunabhas Bhattacharya is being made to attend regular sessions with the welfare service and psychologists. He is being taught how to take care of the children. He has been asked by the child welfare services not to stay at the house of his brother and sister-in-law, which has also promised to foot his hotel bill. Arunabhas will be granted the children's custody only after the authorities are sure that their upbringing will "meet with their needs." He too met the children on Friday.
The parents feel their children are being held hostage. But the Norwegian authorities insist that their intention is only to secure a safe and comfortable environment for the children. "These children are my responsibility now, and I care for the children I have in custody. I want to do my utmost to make sure that they have a good life when they go back to India. I cannot do anything when they are there, but I can do something before that," says Gunnar Toresen who heads child welfare services in Stavanger.
The Norwegian body, unused to media and diplomatic attention at this level, is treading carefully. After the Indian government intervened in the case, it has become a high-profile one with the foreign offices of both countries involved. India on Wednesday summoned the Norwegian ambassador in Delhi seeking a speedy solution to the row. The External Affairs Ministry reportedly asked the envoy why the process of bringing the children together with their family was taking time. After the issue was raised, the foreign office in Norway has reportedly decided to expedite the process. India wants the children to be handed over to their uncle before the family's visas expire on March 8. If the children are not handed over by then, the family fears there could be more complications.
The Bhattacharyas say "cultural misunderstandings" has caused this tale of separation. The Norwegian authorities, however, have categorically denied that cultural differences played a role in their decision to take the children away. They say they intervened after reports that Abhigyan displayed "erratic behavior" at school. They reportedly objected to the manner in which the children were being fed and made to sleep.