Oslo/New Delhi/Hyderabad: A court in Norway will decide today whether an Indian couple arrested in that country for the alleged abuse of their seven-year-old son are guilty or not. The prosecution has proposed a jail term of 18 months for the father, Chandrashekar Vallabhaneni, and 15 months for the mother, Anupama.
Mr Vallabhaneni and his wife were arrested on November 28 on charges of "gross repeated maltreatment" of their child by "threats, violence or other wrong". They were arrested while obeying court summons in Norway. Their two children, aged seven and two, are in Andhra Pradesh and their grandparents say they have been constantly weeping asking for their parents and are not eating properly.
Mr Vallabhaneni works with software giant TCS, which deputed him to Oslo 18 months ago to handle a project. He took his wife and two sons - Sai Sriram and Abhiram - along with him. Sai Sriram was found wetting his pants in the school bus which was reported to Mr Vallabhaneni. The Norway authorities allege that the father threatened the child that he would be sent back to India if he did that again.
The couple have refuted these allegations. Mr Vallabhaneni's family says that Norway's child welfare authorities took Sai Sriram away earlier this year, but returned him to his parents after two months when medical tests established that the child had minor behavioural problems. The family also says that the authorities were convinced then that it was in the best interest of the boy to stay with his parents and that his safety was not under threat. The family returned to India in July.
In November, Mr Vallabhaneni visited Norway for work and was issued court summons; Anupama travelled to attend the court hearing with him and the two were arrested last week. According to a statement made by the Oslo Police Department, the couple was remanded in custody as there was reason to fear that they would evade prosecution by returning to India.
Their families in Andhra Pradesh say the charges are "false" and claim that the Norway "police have framed" the Vallabhanenis. They have appealed to the Indian government to intervene in the matter, but the Centre has pointed out that it is essentially a case that involves local law.
"This is an issue that relates not to the government. It relates to a private citizen and to the local law of that country...Sometimes, we express concern about something that happens to the citizen of our country but within the parameters of the law as is applied by those countries...But of course there is public interest and concern. Our Mission will make contact and do whatever is appropriate and necessary," External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said.
Friends of the couple, too, are extremely upset with the treatment being meted out by the Norwegian authorities. "It makes us wonder seriously if we need to reconsider working and staying on in Norway. They respected the law of the land, even surrendered their passport and yet they are being treated like criminals who are looking to run away," said Mr Naga.
A few months ago, another Indian couple in Norway - Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya - were involved in a prolonged custody battle with Norwegian authorities after their two children were taken away by child welfare services in May last year.