Ahead of court hearing on March 23, children's father shifts blame to his wife

Given the rapidly unravelling sequence of events within the family in question, Indian diplomats who have left New Delhi for Oslo to resolve the ongoing custody crisis involving Abhigyan (3) and Aishwarya (1), taken into care by the Child Welfare Service (CWS) in May 2011, may have a tough time getting the compromise agreement between India and Norway work, it became clear on Monday. Battle-lines between the children's young parents, Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya, were hardening over the weekend. The father has now virtually given a clean chit to the CWS and put the blame on his wife for what had been going on.

The diplomats sent to Norway by External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna are to oversee the transfer of custody of the Bhattacharyas' children from the parents to the paternal uncle, Dr. Arunabhash Bhattacharya. The dental surgeon from Kolkata is considered by the CWS as “fit, capable and responsible enough to shoulder the burden” of caring for children, one of whom has been described as “severely damaged.” But the newly revealed acrimony between the couple could yet derail the process.

The relationship has deteriorated to such an extent that the two have come to blows. Mr. Bhattacharya said his wife had attacked him – hitting him and clawing at his face, hands and legs in the early hours of March 19. On Monday morning, he met the chief of the Stavanger CWS to seek help, apparently determined not to continue with the pretence. Mr. Bhattacharya moved out of the apartment he shared with his wife.

Mr. Bhattacharya's allegations are upsetting and sensational. “This is not the first time this has happened. Sagarika has assaulted me many times before. You can find all those details in the dossier. But this time she created a massive commotion and physically assaulted me. The noise was so great that the neighbours came and my wife told them I was hitting her! If I concealed the seriousness of Abhigyan's and our family's problems it was because I thought that was the only way we could get our children back. But I now realise that was a mistake and I should have spoken the truth right from the start.”

“It was not just cultural bias that prompted the CWS to act. My wife has a serious psychological problem. She is extremely immature, like a teenager really, and all this media attention has gone to her head. I tried to protect her and do her bidding. But last night was such a shock that I have now moved out and am seeking a legal separation,” Mr. Bhattacharya told The Hindu.

In fact, this correspondent received a phone call in Paris at 3 a.m. on March 19 from Arunabhash, the panic-stricken brother of Mr. Bhattacharya, seeking help. He was advised to contact Rahul Tiwari, a geophysicist with Total in Stavanger, who knows the family well. Mr. Tiwari apparently managed to call Ms. Bhattacharya and calm her down. But he told The Hindu it was extremely difficult because she was “shouting and in an almost hysterical rage.”

Attempts to contact Ms. Bhattacharya failed; her telephone had been switched off.

Mutual suspicion between the two sides now runs deep: Mr. Bhattacharya was advised to have the scratch marks and bruises on his body photographed — in case he was eventually accused of wife-beating.

Arunabhash, who has been visiting the children in the kindergarten and with the foster-parents, says the children have made remarkable progress since they were taken into care. This fact was confirmed by the Stavanger CWS chief, Gunner Toresen. “Every time I see Abhigyan play and laugh, my heart wells over with joy. He's so happy here. And then I get worried because I don't know how much support I'll get in India. If Sagarika's family comes to our home to take away the kids, what will I do?” the desperate uncle asked this correspondent.

India has put much pressure on Norway to hand over the children, accusing the CWS of cultural bias. But the CWS had all along insisted that the children were removed because they were victims of parental neglect and that the older child had serious psychological or neurological issues. Both were “damaged children,” the CWS has contended.

How all this pans out on March 23 when the court is to hear the case, will become clearer in the days ahead.

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