How the Child Welfare Service got the Bhattacharya kids

March 23, 2012 12:39 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:42 pm IST

A geophysicist and IT specialist, Anurup Bhattacharya arrives in Norway in 2006. In December 2007, he returns to India to marry Kolkata girl Sagorika Chakraborty.




The wife returns to Kolkata for the birth of their first child, Abhigyan (born October 12, 2008) and stays on for a year. During this period, the child begins displaying “characteristics of autism.”


Ms Bhattacharya returns to Norway on December 27, 2009, when Abhigyan is 14 months old.


Abhigyan's condition worsens. The couple places him in a family kindergarten where one of the parents has to be present on a four-hour, twice weekly basis. The family seeks help for Abhigyan's problem. The father works long hours, and the mother, now pregnant with the couple's second child, is alone with the boy. The kindergarten nurse and the child psychologist send out alerts to the Child Welfare Service (Brnevarnet) about a disconnect between the mother and the child. The father takes the boy to the kindergarten and brings him back. He also attends all the kindergarten meetings on child development, follow up meetings, etc.


The Child Protection Service staff reach the Bhattacharya home saying they have received disquieting alerts about Abhigyan and his relationship with his mother. However, they take no action seeing that Ms. Bhattacharya is heavily pregnant.


Aishwarya, the couple's second child is born on December 6, 2010. The father sleeps with the son in one room, the mother with the new baby in the other. Abhigyan's condition remains a cause for serious concern.


Late February

The mother is given Marte Meo counselling since she is observed as “being disorganised, unpunctual, lacking in structure and unable to establish a proper daily routine for herself or her family.” The Marte Meo method uses video to film children and their carers, which are then discussed with the counsellors.

The parents have signed for Marte Meo guidance only for the baby and the counselling does not concern the son. The social worker in this case is an Englishwoman, Ms Middleton, who, the parents claim, is bossy and contemptuous. The couple take a violent dislike to her and see her and the other care worker, Ms Signe, as interfering. From this time on Abhigyan begins attending a thrice-weekly special needs sessions with a specialist called Astrid in a kindergarten located opposite the family group centre where the Bhattacharyas take him.

May 11

Ms Middleton, Ms Signe and a third care worker are in the Bhattacharya home at about Noon. Ms Bhattacharya has left the boy at the kindergarten and returned home for this meeting. A furious argument breaks out between the care workers and Ms Bhattacharya. One of the care workers says she will take the baby out for a walk until the situation cools down. But according to their report (and corroborated by the father) Ms Bhattacharya continues to shout. The care workers telephone the kindergarten and announce to the couple that their children have been taken into care. Clearly, deception has been practised to remove the children.

May 13

The parents are allowed to meet the children at the police station. Ms Bhattacharya is unable to control herself which proves to be another setback for the family.

Throughout the period that the CWS was involved from end-November 2010 (courtesy visit) through February 2011 (when the Marte Meo classes began) to May 11, 2011 when the children were removed, Abhigyan did not receive any medical attention.

Only once was he examined in November 2010 by a child psychologist from the child psychiatry unit and that too because the child was seen to have issues with his mother. Another evaluation took place in March 2011. The tests and assessments took place after the children were removed and the CWS gave the diagnosis of Attachment Disorder. The parents are not aware of when and how the child was examined for psychological or neurological problems.

May 18

The parents appeal the decision of the CWS to remove the children as an “emergency measure.” The County Committee for Social Affairs or the Fylkysnamnda declares there is no emergency and asks that the children be sent back.

At which point the CWS immediately obtains a stay order and keeps the children in its care. The Bhattacharyas appeal this stay order and the Stavanger District Court on July 7, 2011 rules that the stay order will remain in place until the case come up for hearing again. The children's uncle and paternal grandparents are in court to give evidence. Suggestions that custody should be handed to the grandparents or the uncle are turned down by the CWS, which claims it is unsure of the family's unity.

November 28

The hearing by the County Committee on Social Affairs is held in camera and the decision is drastic: The children will be separated from their parents and placed in foster care until they attain majority. The parents will be allowed three visits per year each of an hour's duration. The parents appeal again. The CWS is adamant that the mother should not get custody of the child.



The case makes headline news in India and Norway. The Bhattacharyas claim it is a clear case of cultural bias — parents sleeping in the same bed as the children or hand feeding, etc. The CWS says there are serious problems with the son, between the mother and son and between the spouses. As the pressure mounts, Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna meets his Norwegian counterpart in Oslo. A compromise is sought. The CWS says it will evaluate the children's paternal uncle to see if he is capable of taking custody of the children. Towards the end of February the CWS announces it has decided to award custody to the uncle. This announcement is followed by Secretary (West) Madhusudan Ganapathi's visit to Oslo and Stavanger where he sees the children who are said to have shown a vast improvement in the foster home.

The parents sign an agreement to hand over custody to the uncle, Arunabhas Bhattacharya, a 27-year-old unmarried dentist. Both he and the CWS want foolproof, legally binding custody documents that will be valid in an Indian court of law. More so since the break-up of the Bhattacharya marriage now seems inevitable, with the likelihood of a very ugly custody battle. The final hearing when the kids are to be handed over to the uncle was set for March 23. But the CWS on 22 March declared it no longer believed in the compromise that would allow the uncle to take custody. There have been many dramatic swings in the case. This is certainly not the end of this very tragic tale.

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