Oslo/New Delhi/Hyderabad: As the families of the Indian couple arrested in Norway for alleged abuse of their seven-year-old son anxiously await the verdict on Monday, the Indian government seems reluctant to intervene in what it sees essentially as a legal case.
"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.
The government's cautious approach comes following an appeal by the families of the couple to intervene in the matter. Chandrashekar Vallabhaneni and his wife Anupama have been charged with "gross repeated maltreatment" of their child by "threats, violence or other wrong". The prosecution has proposed a jail term of 15 and 18 months for the mother and father respectively. The Oslo District Court is expected to deliver its judgement on the couple on Monday. The duo, hailing from Andhra Pradesh, was arrested on November 28 and remanded to custody till December 3.
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 - seven-year-old Sai Sriram and two-year-old Abhiram - along with him. Sai Sriram was found wetting his pants in the school bus which was reported to Mr Vallabhaneni, who in turn allegedly threatened the child that he would be sent back to India if he repeated that again. "It might be a false allegation (criminal charge) that they (police) are framing...I don't accept that," Mr Vallabhaneni's nephew V Sailender told reporters in Hyderabad after meeting Chief Minister Kiran Kumar Reddy on Saturday evening.
Mr Vallabhaneni's family claims that child welfare authorities took Sai Sriram away earlier this year but returned him to his parents after two months after medical tests established that the child had minor behavioural problems. The family also says that the authorities were convinced 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 home in July. But Mr Chandrasekhar returned to Norway for work in November and was issued court summons, after which he was arrested along with Anupama, who had travelled to attend the court hearing with him.
According to a statement by Oslo Police Department, the couple has been remanded in custody, as there is reason to fear that they will evade prosecution by returning to India.
Speaking to NDTV, Anupama's lawyer Marte Svarstad Brodtkorb said it was wrong to keep the couple in prison in Norway. "If the court sentences them, we will appeal against it," she said. "They (couple) have done everything they have been told to do," Ms Brodtkorb said, adding, "they didn't hurt their children...they had some difficulties in handling the boy but they didn't hurt him and they didn't mean to do anything wrong. They tried to get help but they did not get any help."
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.
Mr Vallabhaneni's mother and sister say they were informed by a colleague of his arrest. The authorities have not contacted them nor elaborated on the charges against the couple, they allege.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the government, Anupama's father Veerabhadra Rao has pleaded for help, saying couple's children were crying, not eating and were insisting on seeing their parents.
"In successive reports that I have faxed to the lawyers in Norway, I have said the child who showed so much improvement has begun to deteriorate physically and emotionally after separation from his parents. Physically because his appetite is gone and he is not eating. He is not sleeping well because he would always like the cuddle of his mother to sleep," said Sai Sriram's psychiatrist Kalyan Chakravarthy.
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.