As Ariha turns three, mother Dhara Shah appeals to PM to intervene

Parents worry about language barrier, as MEA, government officials discuss teaching the child Indian languages

Updated - February 03, 2024 10:43 am IST

Published - February 02, 2024 08:23 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Dhara Shah, mother of Ariha Shah during a demonstration at Connaught place to request German Ambassador to allow Ariha Shah to celebrate Independence day with Indian community in German in New Delhi on Monday, August 14, 2023.

Dhara Shah, mother of Ariha Shah during a demonstration at Connaught place to request German Ambassador to allow Ariha Shah to celebrate Independence day with Indian community in German in New Delhi on Monday, August 14, 2023. | Photo Credit: MOORTHY RV

As Ariha Shah, the Indian child taken into parental custody by German Youth Services in 2021 turned three years old, her mother Dhara Shah made another plea to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene in the matter, alleging that German authorities were making no attempt to introduce her to Indian culture. 

Ms. Shah, who was allowed to visit her daughter under supervision last week, says that despite the Ministry of External Affairs’ (MEA) request that German Youth Services or Jugendamt ensure the child is brought up culturally “as an Indian”, Ariha speaks only German and is not being taught English or any other Indian language. She also said that the Jugendamt had turned down a request from the Indian community in Berlin to allow Ariha to attend the Indian Embassy’s Republic Day function.

“When I meet my own child, she can’t understand what I say. She now doesn’t call me Mama, and refers instead to her guardian as her mother,” the mother, in tears, told The Hindu. “I am now trying to learn German so I can speak to her,” she added. 

When asked, sources said that the MEA remains in “constant engagement” with the German authorities on the matter, and are “working on a road map” to teach the child Indian languages. It is understood that proposals to teach her English as well as to find Indian teachers in Germany who could teach Ariha Hindi and Gujarati are also being pursued.

The sources said that due to the MEA’s efforts German Authorities have granted Indian diplomats consular access on periodic basis in addition to the visitation granted to the parents, and Indian mission officials have handed over “resource materials” on Indian festivals and customs to help her remain in touch with her faith and culture.

“The MEA is making efforts, but we don’t see any results so far,” Ms. Shah said in a taped statement addressed to PM Modi, adding that the child could come home only with Mr. Modi’s “blessing”. “Please, she is three years old today, please help us bring her home as soon as possible. Please Modiji save Ariha, repatriate Ariha,” she said in the video released on Friday. While the MEA and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar have taken up the Ariha case publicly, stressing that the child should be allowed to return to India, even if her custody is not restored to her parents, Mr. Modi has not so far commented or intervened in the matter, or in his public interactions with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz who visited India twice in 2023. 

The parents, Bhavesh Shah and Dhara Shah, received a major setback last year after the Family Court in Berlin granted Ariha’s custody to the Jugendamt in June 2023, two years after she was taken from her parents on charges of serious abuse. The Shahs have denied the charges of intentional abuse, and held the injuries that the child had been taken to hospital with were “accidental”. The Shahs are now working on the appeals process, but that could take years, and failing any order in their favour, Ariha will stay in German custody, cared for by appointed caretakers until she turns 18. 

“Today is Ariha’s third birthday - like any parents our child’s birthday is very important but we can’t see her today as we don’t have permission. Neither can we give her love or blessings. She is living like an orphan, all alone for 2.5 years with German services. We can’t bear to see our child like this,” Ms. Shah said in her plea.

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