While The Hindu's extensive coverage of the Norway-based young Indian couple — quite obviously lacking experience in the art of child-rearing — will help in creating better awareness, the editorial “This is no way, Norway” (Jan. 26), which lucidly analysed all aspects of the issue, was most welcome.
Rules are rigid and their enforcement is strict in some countries. I am reminded of an incident in New Hampshire. My friend's son was driving, with me, my friend and his two-year-old grandson occupying the backseat. My friend held his grandson on his lap. The police intercepted the car and pointed out that we had violated American safety rules and that the proper place for the child was the special child's seat. My friend's plea that no other seat would have been safer than his lap did nothing to convince them. They imposed a hefty fine.
The plight of Indians who go overseas, temporarily or permanently, has to be understood in the right context with reference to the controversy of child custody in Norway. Parents need to follow the law of the land on child upbringing and cannot say ‘we are different.' This is not to say we should abandon our traditions while living overseas. Not all Indian parents, in our own country and abroad, bring up their children the way they should be brought up.
With a top of the ladder HDI, there is no reason to disbelieve Norway's claim that the mother did not care for the two children properly. Why should it single out the Indian couple for child neglect when thousands of immigrant Indians, Sri Lankans and Pakistanis work there and raise families? Indian and Norwegian ways of rearing children may differ but that does not mean the Bhattacharya kids were not subjected to neglect. How can one explain the erratic (violent) behaviour of the older child in a play-school? We have no locus standi to criticise Norway when we have the cradle baby scheme here — a reflection of the way we treat our newborn.
Even if the handling by the Norwegian authorities is a little overboard, there are a few lessons we, in India, need to learn from the episode. Most of us are not aware of the parenting skills required to bring up children. We dump children in unsafe vehicles while sending them to school. My son's school bag weighs at least 4 kg. We see parents abusing their children and beating them up in public, yet we do not interfere as we feel parents know what is best for their children. Many parents do not even know how to conduct themselves in front of their children. Let us not hide our lack of parenting skills by saying our way of bringing up the child is the best since we have strong family ties. India has one of the highest rates of female infanticide and child malnourishment in the world.
A child in India continues to be in a symbiotic relationship with his or her parents throughout life. While the child is cared for as a baby, parents are looked after in their old age by him/her. This pan-umbilical tie is typical of our tradition and ethos. In the West, on the other hand, given tenuous marriages, the child faces an indifferent parental atmosphere. Which is why the state's concern and care for the child citizen is so all-encompassing.
We need to go beyond the Bhattacharyas' episode. While we ought to be sensitive to our traditional parent-child bonding and the sanctity thereof, we must also look at every child beyond the limited dimension of a family — as an entitled citizen. Our attitude to female foeticide, child labour, girls' right to nutrition and education must undergo a sea change.
The editorial runs contrary to common sense. Do we have any sensible and functional child welfare expert in our country? We beat our children with impunity, attack them emotionally, and cannot appreciate the child welfare-centric policies of Norway. The suggestion that parents should be counselled is laughable. Parents are adults, capable of taking care of themselves, while children need protection.
Norway can have its own laws but it must learn to respect the culture and practices of other countries. The least the Norwegian authorities could have done, if they found that the Bhattacharya children were not being properly cared for, was to have asked the couple to leave the country with their kids. They are certainly not competent to determine what an Indian child's needs are.
In the West, children are brought up in isolation. But in India, the child is nurtured with love and affection. That is why we find many parents in old-age homes in foreign countries. The Bhattacharyas should pack up their bags and return home or go to a country where they can bring up their children the Indian way.