Friday, March 23, 2012

A Tragedy of Errors

In the month of January 2012, Indian media reported a curious case of two kids of Indian parentage, aged 1 and 3 years, snatched away by Norwegian state, from the arms of their young parents, for concerns of their safety and being handed them over to foster parents for living with them. In the initial dispatches, the reasons given by the media for such high handed action on part of Norwegian authorities almost bordered on ridicule. The reason for this action were reported as the Indian parents slept in the same room as the kids and fed them with their hands. Naturally there was a huge outcry in India as 99.99 % children of age below 3 invariably sleep with their parents in India and generations and generations of Indians including the present generation, have been fed by their parents by hand and have remained healthy and hearty without medical problems. The whole incident appeared as if having come from some colonial history book and there was mass resentment against Norway and it's laws. Since India's parliament was in session at that time, a hue and cry was raised in the house by opposition members describing the episode as some kind of invasion on Indian culture and traditions. Government of India, after severe prodding by the opposition, also got into the act and Foreign affairs minister contacted his Norwegian counterpart and registered India's strong objection to this colonial kind of act by Norway, supposed to be a very liberal country.
After three months, since these first reports, the entire chain of events leading to this action from the Norwegian Government has come to light and it now appears that the real causes and the reasons of this sad outcome are somewhat different . Let me tell you in brief, the history of this tragedy of errors.

In November 2006, a geophysicist and IT specialist, Anurup Bhattacharya reached Norway with bright future prospects and a rewarding career. In December 2007, he returned to India to marry a Kolkata girl from his own cast Sagorika Chakraborty. Their first child was born on October 2008 in Kolkata. Newborn Child and his mother stayed on in Kolkata for more than a year and returned to Norway when 'Ábhigyan', the elder son was 14 months old. During this period itself, the child started showing characteristics of being an Autistic child.
In 2010, Sagorika became pregnant again. During her pregnancy months, Abhigyan's condition worsened. He was placed in a family kindergarten, where one of the parents had to be present on a four-hour, twice weekly basis. The parents also now looked for help for Abhigyan's problem. The father worked long hours, and the mother, now pregnant with the couple's second child, stayed alone with the boy. The kindergarten nurse and the child psychologist detected some kind of disconnect between the mother and the son and sent alerts to the Child Welfare Service. The father now took the boy to the kindergarten and also brought him back home. All kindergarten parent meetings on child development and also follow up meetings were only attended by the father. In month of November 2010, The Child Protection Service staff reached the Bhattacharya home after having received disquieting alerts about Abhigyan and his relationship with his mother. However, they took no action after seeing that the mother Sagorika was heavily pregnant.

In December 2010, Aishwarya, the couple's second child is was born. After her arrival, the father slept with the son in one room and the mother with the new baby in the other room. Abhigyan's condition remained a cause for serious concern. By February 2011, Sagorika was observed to be being disorganised, unpunctual, lacking in structure and unable to establish a proper daily routine for herself or her family and was given counselling. The situation in Bhattacharya household had reached a delicate state and if some support from Sagorika's own parents or from her in-laws had come at that time, things would not have gone the way they did.
A villain now enters the tragic story in form of an English social worker, Ms. Middleton. Bhattachrya's found her bossy, interfering and contemptuous and took instant dislike for her. Abhigyan now began attending a thrice-weekly special needs sessions with a specialist. His father continued to take him there. Ms. Middleton's report the made to the Norwegian authorities smelled of colonial contempt and was rambling and confused. In one place she says that the father does not own a car and so stays away from home for too long,as if it is his fault that he has to depend on public transport. She criticizes him for not speaking Norwegian. Later in the same report she says that the father gets his priorities wrong. He is learning Norwegian and taking driving lessons and so has little time for his family. Sagarika's poor English and strong Bengali accent, also appears to have influenced the Englishwoman to judge this middle class Indian couple in a wrong way. Stage was now set for removal of the children from Bhattacharya home.
On May 11, 2011 Ms. Middleton and two more care takers visited Bhattacharya home. Abhigyan at that time was dropped in Kindergarten by his father and when he returned home, he found his wife in argument with the social workers and almost out of control. At this point of time the social workers actually deceived the Bhattachrya's by telling them that the workers would take the baby out for a walk and actually carried her away from her mother. The kindergarten was also telephoned and told that the boy would not return home. This entire happening can be described almost like an act of abduction.

From May 2011 to January 2012, Bhattacharya's tried to get back their children. Things got complicated with Ms. Bhattacharya again lost her control, which made the Norwegian authorities resolute with their belief that Bhattacharya's were incapable of looking after the children.
After January 2012, when Indian media published the story, all hell broke loose. Government of India sent a special emissary to Oslo to sort out the problem and eventual return of the children to India. It was agreed that paternal uncle of the children, who is a 27 year old unmarried dentist, would be given custody of children.
Meantime Bhattacharya marriage started cracking up with Mr. Bhattacharya publicly stating that his wife has an unstable mind and needs treatment. His in- laws were not willing to give custody of the children to their paternal uncle and it was obvious that a legal battle for custody was eminent.
Indian foreign office officer, who was sent to Oslo has since seen the children and has confirmed that they are doing quite well.
Government of India, after realizing that the matter, now purely a family dispute, has washed their hands off and Norwegian authorities say that custody of the children would not be given to anyone now as it is bound to lead to a legal battle in India.
Like a classical Shakespearean tragedy, the course of events has brought upon misery for almost everyone involved. Mr. Bhattacharya finds himself alone and waiting for his divorce. His wife has lost her children and her husband with no hope of seeing them for a long time and the children can not hope to live with their parents till they are 18 and have to live with their foster parents. It is also difficult to put blame on any one except Ms. Middleton, who instead of helping a problem ridden family, has brought complete disaster on them. No one can now help the situation, though each and every one of us would feel sympathetic towards Bhattacharya's and feel sad for their misfortune.  
23 March 2012

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