Stavanger Child Welfare Service unsure of family's unity

In what can only be described as a volte face, the Stavanger Child Welfare Service on Wednesday decided it will not be handing over custody of the Bhattacharya children to the uncle, after all. This is surprising. But not entirely. Stavanger CWS chief Gunnar Toresen had hinted at such an outcome when he told this correspondent that the situation to him appeared “blurred.”

The Stavanger Child Welfare service will thus not pursue the court hearing set for March 23 (at least for the moment). The CWS is unsure of the family's unity, especially after the recent falling out between the Bhattacharya spouses amid reports that he was seeking a divorce, which he has vehemently denied. It is difficult to understand why a public quarrel between the spouses should so colour the CWS view given the fact that it has known all along that martial discord was a staple of their lives. In the CWS view, the family was too disunited and the uncle now no longer appeared to be the right custodian for Aishwarya (1) and Abhigyan (3), it is reliably learnt.

The Stavanger Kommune was expected to publish a press release to the effect and post it on its website. However, as we go to press, no such press release spelling out its objections to proceed with the March 23 hearings has yet appeared. It is reliably learnt that the CWS' lawyer had reservations about presenting the case in court because she felt it was still not watertight. A negative decision by the court on March 23 would have made matters far worse.

“The parents now say they are united, but child welfare services do not trust it. Which is why they no longer wish to go in for this solution. The uncle will probably have to leave for home without the children,” the Bhattacharyas' lawyer Svein Kjetil Lode Svendsen told TV2. He did not pick up calls from The Hindu presumably because he was arguing another case in court.

This news can be interpreted in two ways: the positive interpretation would be that the CWS would like more time to better prepare the case; that its ultimate objective is to hand over custody to the uncle and that it is seeking more time. The CWS will surely need better and stronger guarantees from the families to the effect that there will be no interference in the children's future lives either by the mother or the maternal grandparents. And that the children especially, will never be witness to family violence in any form.

According to sources close to the case, there has been too much hesitation, too much back and forth, including by the uncle especially after the quarrel this brother had with the children's mother Sagarika who is considered unstable and unpredictable and capable of verbal and physical violence.

The negative reading of this decision would be that the CWS now no longer has any intention of returning the children and will not seek a fresh court date in the near future. It will then not present the compromise worked out with the uncle but fight the case tooth and nail in the Stavanger District Court next June.

This decision is particularly regrettable since all the parties had finally agreed on the transfer of custody document. A clause in that document states that the parents will not attempt to take back custody before any court, institution or organisation in India or elsewhere. The uncle who was wary of the Sagarika Chakraborty family and what it would do to get the children back was fully on board. It was just at this crucial point that the CWS, especially because of the misgivings of its lawyer, developed cold feet and reneged on its commitment.

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