Stavanger, Norway: Much to the relief of Sagarika and Anurup Bhattacharya, child welfare officials in Norway have decided that they will recommend in court that the couple's children, who have been in foster care since May last year, now be placed in the custody of their uncle, Arunabhas Bhattacharya. One-year-old Aishwarya and three-year-old Abhigyan were taken away from their home after local child welfare officials decided that the parents were negligent.
"This week, the Child Welfare Service (CWS) in Stavanger completed its talks with the uncle in the child welfare case concerning two Indian children. It has been concluded that care of the two children should be awarded to the brother of the children's father enabling him to take the children back to India," CWS said in a press statement yesterday.
For the Bhattacharya family, it is a moment of joy after a ten-month long legal wrangle. "It is a very happy moment for all of us. It feels as if I have passed the exam. I did it for my family," a visibly elated Arunabhas Bhattacharya told NDTV from Norway. "I will now have two children," he added.
But Arunabhas will have to wait till the court accepts him as the custodian. The hearing is scheduled for March 23. The children's visas expire on March 8. Norwegian officials will apply for residential permits that will allow the children to stay on in the country till the court indicates if it accepts Arunabhas as their guardian. Sources say the court is unlikely to over-rule what child welfare officials have suggested.
Over the last three months, the Bhattacharyas' fight for Aishwarya and Abhigyan has grown into a national campaign. Anurup, a geologist, moved to Norway in 2006. Trouble began at Abihgyan's school where teachers found him distant. Visits by local authorities scaled up into an unfathomable catalogue of charges for the parents - Sagarika was determined to be clinically depressed, though no medical test was conducted.
Anurup was evaluated as a parent more committed to travelling and work than to his children. Abhigyan was found to have an attachment disorder - his reactions suggested he had been hit at home, said officials.
The Indian government was nudged into intervention by desperate visits to Delhi by Sagarika's aged parents. They held protests, met President Pratibha Patil and petitioned the media for assistance. Their efforts were assisted by CPM leader Brinda Karat. And yesterday, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna promised them that their grandchildren would be brought back to India "at any cost." BJP leader Sushma Swaraj also visited them at the site of their protest in Delhi and promised to raise the issue in Parliament.
India rushed a special envoy Madhusudan Ganpathy to meet Oslo authorities on Monday, and to stress what Mr Krishna said last week - that the children were "neither orphans nor stateless persons." The visit came after Norwegian officials asked for an extension of the children's stay beyond March 8, when their visas expire. Though Anurup and Sagarika did not consent to the application, Norwegian law does not need their approval.
Through the last month, the government has been working with the Bhattacharyas on positioning Arunabhas, a young dentist from West Bengal, as a palatable solution. Norwegian officials have supervised his visits with Abhigyan and Aishwarya. They say that if the court accepts him as the custodian, the Indian government will have to offer several guarantees like ensuring he can afford their care and medical attention for Abhigyan.