Norway custody row: Indian Govt steps in, asks mission to file report

Norway custody row: Indian Govt steps in, asks mission to file report

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New Delhi:  After media reports of Norwegian authorities sending a letter to their parents asking them if they can give their consent to the children to settle in Norway, the Ministry of External Affairs has asked the Indian mission there to find out what is happening on the children's visas.

In a setback for the NRI couple fighting for the custody of their children in Norway, authorities there applied for a short-term resident permit for the children on Tuesday without the parents' consent. The Norwegian child welfare services, which is currently looking after the children, directly approached the country's immigration office for the permit.

The parents, Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharyya, received a letter yesterday asking them if their children could stay in Norway, also asking them to file an explanation if they decided otherwise. The parents say they will not apply for the renewal of their children's visas that expire on March 8. So if the children are allowed to stay on in Norway, it would likely be on humanitarian grounds.

Sources had earlier told NDTV that keeping the children back in Norway without the parents' consent was possible under the country's law.

Three-year-old Abhigyan and one-year-old Aishwarya, have been in a foster home for the last 10 months. They were taken away by the child welfare service in Stavenger, Norway, and the court found reason not to re-unite them with their parents because the kindergarten staff and child welfare professionals who were in their home to assist them, said Sagarika was clinically depressed and needed help with the children. Sagarika says she has not been tested medically before being termed clinically depressed.

The court also found her attitude towards the children "erratic". It noted that son Abhigyan was diagnosed with attachment disorder; the boy, the court said, reacted if the mother raised her hand, as though she intended to hit him and concluded that he had either been hit before or had seen physical violence between the parents. It also criticised Sagarika for describing Abhigyan as arrogant and for leaving infant Aishwarya "in dangerous situations when changing diapers."

Father Anurup, a Geologist, got his share of blame from the court; the observations would make the average Indian father reassess his work-life balance. The court has objected to his "prioritising work" and for enrolling in a Norwegian language course and taking driving lessons instead of spending more time at home. Sagarika was "rigid", the court said, for not insisting that the husband stay more at home and help. It found Anurup "rigid" because he did not encourage the children's grandparents to come to Norway. It even found Aishwarya, then barely six months old, a "rigid and silent child."

The Bhatacharyas have, through their months of ordeal, said that "cultural misunderstandings" caused this tale of separation. The Norwegian authorities have categorically denied that cultural differences have played a role in their decision to take the children away. Yet, the court noted as part of its case against the parents that they had an arranged marriage; commonplace in India, not largely understood in the West.

And the court takes umbrage at Anurup Bhattacharya saying that going back to India is the solution for the beleaguered family.

Last week, the parents met their children for a few hours watched closely by officials of Norway's child welfare services. They can only meet the children once every three months. A plea by Anurup's brother Arunabhas Bhattacharya that he be given custody of the children is yet to considered by the Norwegian authorities, which agreed to even look at that option only at the intervention of the Indian government.

The uncle, a bachelor and a dentist by vocation, has left his practice in West Bengal to live in Stavenger till he gets custody. He is being made to attend regular sessions with the welfare service and psychologists. He needs to prove to the Norwegian authorities that the upbringing of the two children will "meet with their needs."

In India, the grandparents plan a sit-in in protest against the two children being kept away from the family.

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