India to Norway: Reunite kids with parents

India urged Norway on Monday to act quickly to reunite two Indian children with their parents after Norwegian child welfare services put them into foster care eight months ago.

India to Norway: Reunite kids with parents
Brinda Karat (Photo: Debjani Basu)

Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya lost custody of three-year-old Avigyan and one-year-old Aishwarya after Norwegian officials objected to their feeding the children by hand and sharing the same bed, according to press reports.

These are common practices in India, where they are seen as part of the bonding between mother and child.

Indian foreign minister S.M. Krishna told reporters he had urged the Norwegian authorities "to find an amicable and urgent solution to ensure that the children are returned to the biological parents".

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre's office said in a statement that he had spoken with his Indian counterpart Monday and had assured him that Norwegian authorities were "working hard to find a solution that is in the best interests of the children involved".

The Child Welfare Services in the south-western Norwegian town of Stavanger, where the family lives, would not comment on the grounds for removing the children from their home, insisting the information was confidential.

Gunnar Toresen, who heads the local branch of the agency, strongly denied that the "case in any way is based on cultural prejudice or misinterpretation".

He said in a statement that "the Child Welfare Service has a responsibility to intervene if measures in the home are not sufficient to meet a child's needs".

"Examples are when a child is mistreated or subjected to other serious abuses at home, or when there is every probability that the child's health or development may be seriously harmed because the parents are incapable of taking adequate responsibility for their child," he said.

The parents are now fighting a legal battle for their children and have already lost their case in a lower court.

According to Toresen, the parents' explanation for why their children had been removed did not figure in the ruling of the County Committee, a family court.

Krishna said he believed that "given the children's young age, removal from the care of natural parents and to be placed in foster care till they turn 18… is an extreme step which should normally be taken as a last resort".

"It's like a nightmare," Sagarika Bhattacharya, the mother, told India's NDTV news channel. "We only hope that the Indian government will intervene and bring back our children to our laps."

Krishna said he expected to reach a solution which would be acceptable to the children's families and to the Norwegian court.

In a statement released at the weekend, India said the children were being deprived of the "benefits of being brought up in their own ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic milieu" and must be reunited with their parents.

The case has attracted considerable attention in India in recent days, with many questioning the decision of Norwegian authorities.

Brinda Karat, senior member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) attacked Norway's child welfare services.

"The question is what gives the Norwegian authorities the right, whether morally or even (under) international rules, to take away these babies from their parents?" she told NDTV.

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India ejects Norwegian ‘for protesting’ against citizenship law

A Norwegian tourist on Friday said authorities had ordered her to leave India after taking part in protests against a new citizenship law, becoming the second European to be ejected over the demonstrations.

India ejects Norwegian 'for protesting' against citizenship law
People protest against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in Kolkata on December 12th. Photo: AFP

Janne-Mette Johansson, 71, told AFP that police gave her “verbal assurances” that she could take part in peaceful demonstrations against the law that critics say discriminates against India's Muslims.

“Yesterday (Thursday), Indian immigration officials came to my hotel for questioning and I was mentally tortured. Today, they again showed up at my hotel asking me to leave the country or they will take a legal action and deport me,” she said.

The woman, who had posted photos from the demonstration in the southern state of Kerala on Facebook, added that she would leave India for Dubai on Friday evening and then fly to Sweden.

European visitors to India require visas and the Press Trust of India news agency quoted an official from the Foreigners Regional Registration Office as saying that Johansson “violated visa norms”.

Earlier this week a German studying physics in the southern Indian city of Chennai was also asked to leave after taking part in a protest and comparing the law to anti-Jewish Nazi legislation, PTI reported.

Photos on social media purportedly of the student, named as Jakob Lindenthal, showed him carrying a placard saying “1933-1945 We have been there”.

“After the Nazi era, many people claimed not to have known anything about genocides or atrocities or stated that they were only passive,” Lindenthal told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

“Therefore I see it as a duty to learn from these lessons and not only watch when things happen that one believes to be the stepping stones to a possibly very dangerous development.”

Indian authorities have not commented on his case.

The protests, which have raged for two weeks and left at least 27 people dead, were set to continue on Friday with mobile internet snapped in places and riot police deployed.

The government says that the law easing citizenship rules for religious minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan excludes Muslims because they face no persecution in those countries.

But coupled with a mooted citizens register, it has stoked fears including in Washington and the UN rights office about the marginalisation of Muslims who make up 14 percent of India's 1.3 billion people.

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