Father says custody document signed in Norway valid in India, but mother swears by CWC’s powers

Even as Sagarika Chakraborty complained in Kolkata on Friday that the police had not assisted the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Burdwan, in executing its order to hand over her two children to her, Anurup Bhattacharya, the father, reacted angrily to the CWC’s action of issuing the interim order. The order had directed the removal of the children from the paternal uncle’s care in order to hand them back to the mother. The children were placed in the custody of their uncle following a series of developments involving the family in Norway last year.

He told The Hindu on the phone in Europe: “The decision of the parents to hand over custody of the children to Dr. Arunabhas Bhattacharya, my younger brother, was taken voluntarily by my wife and myself. My brother is their legal guardian and has full parental custody over the two children. The document we signed in Norway was attested by the Indian government, and is valid in any Indian court of law. India is a country governed by the rule of law.”

The father added: “In that document we specifically stated that we were entering into this agreement out of our free will and volition without any coercion or influence from anyone.”

Mr. Anurup Bhattracharya further said the CWC cannot arrogate powers to itself to remove the children from their legal custodian by simply alleging ‘negligence.’ “That negligence has to be proved. I speak to my son over the phone every day. He has made massive strides in his mental physical development. A chid who was terrified by his mother to the extent that he would bang his head and cry whenever she approached him now sings nursery rhymes to me over the telephone. These conversations have been videotaped and can be produced as proof of the child’s welfare,” Mr. Bhattacharya added.

Mother’s view

However, Ms. Chakraborty dismissed questions on whether the CWC was competent to pass such an order as the parents had signed an agreement with their uncle, Arunabhash Bhattacharya, to hand over the custody of the children to him – a document signed at Stavanger in Norway, in the presence of a senior official of the Indian Embassy there.

“In the agreement itself it is clearly written that it would be governed by the relevant laws of India. My children are Indian citizens and they are in India now….Barnevarne [the Norwegian Child Welfare Services] was the child welfare authority in Norway, the CWC is the child welfare authority in India,” Ms. Chakraborty said.

Under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, the CWC was the competent authority to decide on matters concerning foster care, she added.

Mr. Anurup Bhattacharya, however, said: “The CWC is alleging that the father pays no attention to the children. I am financing their treatment at the Apollo Gleneagles Hospital, paying for their welfare and upkeep. If I’m not in India it is because my wife and her family have misused the Anti-Dowry Act and slapped a totally fictitious charge of taking dowry against me... I will be arrested if I return. What sort of justice is this? Sagarika, my wife, and her parents, are playing a diabolical game to try and wrest control of the parents. They are not thinking of the welfare of the children but of their own selfish ends. My brother has sacrificed his life to keep these children happy, to give them the care and love they need. It is no accident that the neighbours and people from the area surrounding our house in Kulti gathered at our house to prevent the CWC from taking the children away. If my parents and brother had been neglecting or ill treating the children, there would never been such support from the community,” he said.

He added that the issue of custody and care had come up in Norway because his wife ill-treated the children and was violent towards them, especially Abhigyan. Psychologists’ reports produced in court and statements made by the Norewegian Child Welfare Services had demonstrated that there was lack of proper parental care. The Norwegian authorities, he said, had held his wife responsible for the trauma suffered by the older child who suffered from attachment disorder and totally rejected the mother. Giving the children back to such a poor carer would not be in their interests at all, Mr. Bhattacharya added.

Questions

Observers in Kolkata pointed out that questions remained about the manner in which the CWC issued the 14-page order on November 8, directing the police to remove the children from the Bhattacharyas’ home in Kulti in Bardhaman and hand them over to a non-governmental organisation, Childline.

For, on November 6, the CWC had issued a “rescue order” to the NGO, entrusting it with “the task of rescuing” Abhigyan and Aishwarya, which “might take place” on November 8. “You are instructed to hand over the above mentioned children to the CWC, Burdwan, immediately after rescue at the Commissioner of Police office, Asansol,” it had stated.

On November 7, Childline wrote to the Commissioner of the Asansol-Durgapur Police Commissionerate, Ajay Nand, seeking “proper police protection” so that the order may be executed, district authorities told The Hindu in Kolkata over the phone.

“What was the emergency that required the preparations for the execution of the order to be made even before it had been passed?” asked one source.

The day it was issued, a copy of the order was sent to the police and without the chance to even study the order they were asked to act upon it, the district authorities added.

Questions have also been raised on whether the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Rules, 2007 were adhered to when the November 8 order was passed.

According to Rule 65 regarding the restoration of a child, the order for restoration should be made by the Board or Committee on the basis of a “fair hearing” of the child, his parents or guardian as well as the reports by Child Welfare Officers or NGOs.

The Bhattacharya family has alleged that neither Dr. Bhattacharya nor the children’s father, had had their say before the CWC.

Significantly, the November 8 order was signed by three members of the five-member CWC. Its chairperson, Kripa Sindhu Chatterjee, is not a signatory.