OSLO/STAVANGER: Child Welfare Services (CWS) in Stavanger allege proceeding with tomorrow’s Indian child custody hearing will be impossible in light of new developments.
Stavanger District Court judges were to decide on the custody issue involving Indian couple Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya’s two children, Friday, but the CWS concluded ‘’the conditions for entering into an agreement are no longer present,’’ following last weekend’s reports of conflict between the couple and their respective families.
Consequently, the CWS has now decided not to hand over the custody of the two children to their uncle Arunabhas Bhattacharya contrary to its previous recommendations. The CWS had taken 3-year-old Abhigyan and 1-year-old Aishwarya away from their parents and placed them under foster care In May 2011.
The dropped hearing is the latest development in a case of twists and turns, and seems to be by far the most dramatic to date.
CWS officials have been observing and documenting the condition of the mother and children, both individually and when in company of each other, ever since they became acquainted with the Bhattacharyas in November 2010 after their son Abhigyan was alleged to have “developmental delays”.
Until early May 2011, the CWS was involved in holding guidance sessions with the parents. However, officials concluded on 11th that month that they had only been successful to a ‘minor degree’ in creating an understanding of the children’s needs and situation with the parents.
The Family Law Court gave a decision that both Abhigyan and Aishwarya must be placed outside their home to “safeguard their protection and basic care’’ based on this assessment one day later. However, it subsequently annulled its previous decision after 11 days following oral proceedings, and allowed the children to remain with the parents.
When the case was taken up by Stavanger District Court on 7th July 2011, judges ruled that the CWS’ decision to move the children away from their home was correct, as the situation in the home had become ‘’untenable’’ for them. In November 2011, the County Committee for Social Affairs decided that the two children will be placed in “approved foster homes“, and that the parents will be allowed to meet the children three times a year, for one hour each time.
The Bhattacharyas sought alternatives to the existing situation as the case proceeded, where their children were being taken care of by foster parents. To begin with, their legal counsel argued that the biological parents are the ones who are best able to take care of their children.
After that was ruled out by the Court’s July 2011 directive, the possibility was explored of keeping the children in the custody of the extended family, either with the grandparents or the brother.
Some of the defendants’ other arguments were that the children must be evaluated separately, and that cultural differences between Norway and India, with the possibility of it being a cause of a misunderstanding between the Norwegian authorities and the Bhattacharyas, must also be regarded.
Nonetheless, pressure on the CWS to return the children to the Bhattacharyas mounted as the case grabbed headlines back in India. In January 2012, the CWS then began to consider handing over custody of the children to their uncle Arunabhas Bhattacharya, who travelled to Norway for this very purpose.
He started attending sessions with psychologists, holding regular consultations with the CWS officials and spending time with the children in a bid to familiarize himself with them, and understand more about the responsibility of assuming custody.
“The condition of Abhigyan has improved dramatically after he has been placed in the custody of the CWS,” he said, at the same time expressing concern about the legalities regarding the case.
He added, “It is virtually impossible for me to take the responsibility of the children should I not get the right legal protection and commitment under Indian law for continued custody of the two children once I return to India. I say this because I wish to stand by my legal commitments.”
Meanwhile, officials’ current decision is now a fallout of contradicting statements given by Anurup in the past two days. On Tuesday, an Indian newspaper The Hindu reported him as saying, “My wife has a serious psychological problem. She is extremely immature, like a teenager really, and all this media attention has gone to her head. I tried to protect her and do her bidding, but last night was such a shock, that I have now moved out and am seeking a legal separation.”
The following day, he denied he had made any such statement, however, declaring, “Both Sagarika and I and my brother are determined to get the agreement signed and to get the children back home at the earliest. Both our extended families are also united in this effort. I, Anurup Bhattacharya have not filed for separation or divorce. That is untrue.”
CWS head Gunnar Toresen said in a press release yesterday, “Over the last few days, both the parents and the uncle of the children have changed their position several times on the agreement that had originally been reached. This has caused Child Welfare Services to doubt their motives as far as the agreement is concerned.”
“The conflicts over the last few days have revealed that the necessary foundation for an agreement does not exist. The Child Welfare Service is no longer confident that the parties wish to enter into a genuine agreement.”
However, with the Court hearing now cancelled and the CWS unwilling to hand over the children to their uncle in view of the recent developments in the case, there is no indication as to which way the case will swing.
Mr Toresen tells The Foreigner, "We are quite bewildered by the turn of events. As of now, we are sitting down with the parties concerned and discussing the issue as the situation is back to where we were in January. At this point, it is difficult to say what will be the future course of action."
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