Urges Norway court to hand over custody of children to their paternal uncle
The Tingret or district court in this Norwegian city on Tuesday heard arguments presented by the lawyer for Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya and the advocate of the Child Welfare Service (CWS), on the possible return to India of their children, Abhigyan (3) and Aishwarya (1), placed in care by the authorities last May on grounds of gross parental neglect. Judge Anne Kamilla Silseth will give her verdict in the next few days.
“I am more than confident that the verdict in a week's time will be favourable and that the children will be able to return home before the end of the month and that I shall be in a position to accompany them,” the Bhattacharyas' lawyer, Svein Svendesen, told The Hindu.
The Government of India has sent two special envoys to the hearing, including Banashree Bose Harisson, Additional Secretary (West), in the Ministry of External Affairs. India's ambassador to Norway R.K. Tyagi and his consular officer Balachandran were also present.
Mr. Svendesen pleaded that custody of the children be handed to their paternal uncle, Dr. Arunabhas Bhattacharya.
The CWS' main objection to giving the parents custody of the children has been that, in its view, the mother, who, it believes, has psychological problems, is not a good caregiver and is unlikely to ever become one in future.
Mrs. Bhattacharya denies she has psychological problems and has refused to meet a psychologist.
Abhigyan has been diagnosed by the CWS with suffering from an Attachment Disorder, described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a personality disorder in which a child, in very early infancy, fails to establish a strong attachment to its primary caregiver because of neglect, indifferent or inconsistent care giving or abuse. “The ostensible reason given by the CWS included fear of possible violence against the children and lack of adequate parental care,” Minister Preneet Kaur told the Lok Sabha on March 29.
Last month, the head of the CWS in Stavanger, Gunnar Toresen, told this correspondent: “Our worry is what happens when the children go back. The father is capable and a good carer, but we are worried about the mother and her family. Under no circumstances do we want the custody of the children to go to the mother and her family.”
Sources within the CWS who wish to remain anonymous because of confidentiality clauses told this correspondent: “Mrs. Bhattacharya … lacks the emotional maturity to successfully carry the burden that is hers — to properly bring up two small children, one of whom has an Attachment Disorder. It must be understood that she may be a loving mother without being a good carer.”
With such a categorically negative analysis of the mother and her extended family's ability to give the children the care and stability they need in India, the CWS has refused to send the children back while there remains a risk of custody battle between the two sides. A careful compromise worked out by the MEA under which the uncle would take custody of the children was thrown into jeopardy when the Bhattacharya couple's quarrelling came into the open. Subsequently, Mrs. Bhattacharya left Norway for India. However, her sudden departure appears to have reassured the CWS. “We now feel the children's uncle will be in a much stronger position. The Indian government fully understands the situation and he will receive all the aid and support needs. Also this young man [the children's uncle] who is responsible, intelligent and determined, has developed tremendous rapport with the children. The attachment is deep and depriving them of his presence at this stage would cause them more trauma,” Mr. Toresen had said.
Mr. Svendesen agreed: “The fact is that the Indian government, represented by the special envoy, the ambassador, the legal specialist and the consular officer, bore witness to the trial. The government was thus witness to the facts of the case as recounted in the court and the real reasons why the Child Welfare Service did not wish the custody of the children to go to the mother and her family. This should give the uncle, Dr. Arunabhas Bhattacharya, who is to take custody, added guarantees.”
The hearing was held in camera and journalists were asked to clear the courtroom before the proceedings began.