27 feb 2012
Custody row: Norway to ask Indian authorities for guarantees, say sources
Stavanger/New Delhi: India today turned up the pressure on Norway to return two young children who are in foster care before their visas expire on March 8.
Sources have told NDTV that Norway will seek guarantees from Indian authorities that the uncle Arunabhash Bhattacharya’s financial needs are met. Norwegian authorities also want to ensure that Arunabhash will keep custody and other family members, including grandparents or parents, will not get the children.
A special envoy, Madhusudan Ganpathy, sent by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in Delhi to Oslo, met the Norwegian foreign minister and shared India’s concern over attempts by Norwegian officials to keep the children with them even after their visas expire. The children’s parents – Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya have objected to this plan as well, but Norwegian law makes their permission unnecessary.
A series of meetings – which sources in the MEA called ‘quiet diplomacy’ – were largely termed as positive. The envoy also facilitated talks between the family and Norwegian authorities, but whether that was enough to ensure a commitment from the government is not yet clear.
One-year-old Aishwarya and three-year-old Abhigyan were removed from their home in Stavanger in Norway last May after child welfare officials decided the Bhattacharyas were negligent parents.
Last week, Foreign Affairs Minister SM Krishna underlined India’s commitment to recovering the children, warning that Norway must recognise that the children are “neither orphans nor stateless persons.”
Anurup was on a posting to Norway; his family’s visas expire in March, and Sagarika and he worry that after that, they will find it tough to travel to Norway to fight for their children. Anurup’s brother, Arunabhash Bhattacharya, is in Norway to meet with the children. He has been proposed as a custodian for the children if Norway agrees to send them back to India. Local authorities have been supervising his visits with his niece and nephew.
In Delhi, Anurup and Sagarika’s parents tried to protest at the Norwegian embassy this morning, but were denied permission. BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, CPM leader Brinda Karat and Congress’ Mani Shankar Aiyar all came to show their support to the grandparents of Abhigyan and Aishwarya.
“We feel this is equal to kidnapping. If the matter is not resolved till the day Parliament starts, this will be the first issue that we raise,” said Sushma Swaraj, Leader of Opposition, Lok Sabha.
“You can’t just pay a woman some money and expect her to make up for the love given by a parent,” said Brinda Karat, CPM leader.
The grandparents, on a four-day protest starting today to demand release of the children by March 8, who weren’t allowed to protest in front of the Norwegian embassy, found a spot close by. Besides political leaders, they were joined through the day by supporters including school students.
“We want our children back and we want to send a message both to the Norwegian government and our Prime Minister,” said Monotosh Chakroborty, grandfather of the two children.
“By March 8 their visa would expire, and after that the children will be taken to court, where they will follow Norwegian laws. So we need to get them back before that,” said Krishna Bhattacharya, grandmother of the two children.