New Delhi: After spending nearly a year in foster care in Norway, toddlers Abhigyan and Aishwarya are back in India. They arrived at the Delhi airport a little before 10 am today with their uncle, Arunabhas Bhattacharya; they are expected to leave for Kolkata in the evening. The children's paternal grandparents received them at the airport.
Abhigyan (3) and Aishwarya (1) were separated from their parents Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya by the Norwegian Child Welfare Services (CWS) in May last year. Thereafter followed a long legal battle, which ended yesterday with a Norwegian court ruling that the children's custody be handed over to their uncle.
Their mother, Sagarika, returned to India last month. Father Anurup however is still in Norway. Arunabhas and the two children left Norway for India less than two hours after the court gave him custody. At the Stavanger airport, Abhigyan was mostly in his uncle's arms and Aishwarya was seen with her foster mother. But only the children's foster father has accompanied them to India.
"I am the father of two children now. I am happy with the responsibility and am aware it is a huge responsibility," Arunabhas said before leaving Norway yesterday. Sources say just before they left for India, a faction of the CWS reportedly wanted to get a stay on the court order.
Reacting to the children's return to India, Foreign Minister SM Krishna said he was delighted to welcome them. "They belong to India. They are Indian nationals. I am confident that the uncle will take care of them in an environment of their extended family in India". He also thanked the government of Norway. "I particularly want to thank my distinguished counterparts for their constructive approach in resolving this humanitarian issue. I also wish to congratulate the judicial system of Norway for taking this decision," he added.
Minister of State for External Affairs, Praneet Kaur, was present at the Delhi airport this morning when the children arrived with their uncle. "The grandparents are very happy to see the kids. The family is relieved. As of now the grandparents of the children are here. Aishwarya is with her grandmother. The boy Abhigyan is with his foster father, who shall leave for Norway this evening," she said.
Anurup and Sagarika fought a long legal battle with Norwegian authorities to get their son and daughter back to the family. During a hearing in the case held in Stavanger District Court on April 17, the CWS, the children's parents and the uncle, Arunabhas Bhattacharya, submitted a joint statement to the court stating that they agreed to the solution that the children's uncle would be their guardian. The CWS, which has kept the children in foster care since May last year, made a recommendation to the Stavanger district court that the children's custody should be given to the uncle and they should be allowed to return to India.
"I am very relieved today," said Anurup after the verdict was announced yesterday. "I am glad the year-long nightmare is finally over...I congratulate the Indian government for the excellent work and I hope others in distress also get relief," said CPM leader Brinda Karat, who had extensively campaigned for the release of the children.
Trouble began for the Bhattacharyas when the workers of the kindergarten where three-year-old Abhigyan used to go noticed that he had been showing symptoms similar to autism. The workers reported his condition to the CWS which began observing the family closely ostensibly to offer help even inside the privacy of their homes. The parent's interactions with the children were recorded on camera and were analysed. The CWS later concluded that the boy was suffering from attachment disorder which they said was a result of a disconnect between the mother and child; they also said the child had witness violence between the parents.
The CWS workers started then interfering over how their children should be fed or where and with whom they should sleep. They asked the father to take leave from work to help build the relationship.
On May 11, 2011, when three CWS workers came to the Bhattacharya home, an argument broke out with the mother. One of the workers said the little girl should be taken outdoors as the atmosphere at home was too tense, but a little later the parents were told on the phone that their daughter had been sent in emergency foster care. On the same day, their son, who was away at the kindergarten, was also taken away directly to an undisclosed location. He too was put in emergency foster care.
In November 2011, a family court in Stavanger declared that the children will stay in foster care till they turned 18. The CWS refused to give the custody of the children to any family member. Sagarika's parents then started a campaign back in India and sought the help of the Foreign Ministry which intervened and got the case reopened.
Gunnar Toresen, the head of the Child Welfare Services, still insists that their initial decision to separate the children from their biological parents was correct. He, however, said they were satisfied with the uncle as the new primary caretaker of the children.
The Norway chapter of the custody row now seems closed. But the family will perhaps need some time before they can adapt to new equations - the children's mother, Sagarika, moved to Kolkata after a dispute with her husband. Anurup, meanwhile, has been advised to stay on in Stavanger for a few more months. For uncle Arunabahas too, the return to India will not be an easy one. The polyclinic where he worked as a dentist has replaced him with someone else for his absence from work for three months while he was in Norway meeting the children under the watchful eye of the Child Welfare Services workers.