Norway snatches Indian children from their parents

A major story in The Hindu, India's most serious English daily, has caused shock and consternation among readers here. Two young Indian children in Norway have been taken into foster care. Their mother Sagarika was accused by the Norwegian Child Protection Service last May of being unfit to take care of her two-and-a-half-year-old son, Abhigyan, and five-months-old daughter, Aishwarya.

The reasons cited will appear bizarre to the average Asian, African and, I imagine, South American parent. The child rights authorities decided to visit the Bengali home when baby Aishwarya was still being breast fed. The Norwegians decided, after observing her for one hour every week, that the mother, Sagarika, was unfit because she overfed the boy and fed him with her fingers. Anyone who knows Asian or African cultures would know that we eat with our fingers and it's normal to feed children using your fingers, not a spoon. Many Asians overfeed their kids (when they have food and don’t come from impoverished families).

Another black mark against the young Bengali parents was that the boy slept with his father. Most Indian families, except the ultra-westernised ones, always keep young children in their beds. Asian people are appalled at the idea of babies and young children being in separate bedrooms. It’s viewed as another barbaric, misguided Western custom. How can they possibly leave a baby alone all night in another room, all by itself!

I know Norway is not terribly multicultural, but it seems to me ludicrous that they should be allowed so terrorize a young, foreign mother, deeming her unfit, with no respect for her culture, background or social customs. Social service departments are often callous and frightening. Their ability to take away children from their parents is nightmarish, like something out of a horror film.

The father, Anurup, has been employed in Norway as a senior geoscientist since 2006. It’s unlikely the mother of the children, or indeed either of the parents, has fully learnt the Norwegian language. One can imagine their plight, temporarily in a foreign land where they don’t fully understand the language. Suddenly, they've had their children forcibly taken away from them. The babies, now aged three and one, are separated, put into foster homes, where the new parents probably look alien and frightening and speak a different language.

As a flight attendant thirty years ago, I once had to accompany an Indian infant who had been adopted by a German couple. On reaching Frankfurt, the new parents were waiting with joy and hope for their baby. The child, confronted with alien, white faces, screamed in terror. There was nothing I could do but hand over the baby. Even now, I vividly remember that terrified, traumatised, screaming child.

The news report stated that the parents are now allowed to see their children for one hour, once a year. And the kids will remain in custody until they are 18. For the bewildered, terrified, young couple this is a total nightmare. Their Norwegian visas will expire shortly and they have no clue what will happen next.

For the average Indian who reads this story, we cannot imagine how a foreign government has the right to do this. The grandparents of the children have appealed to the President of India to help them get their children back.

I hope at least the Norwegian embassy in India can intervene to rescue the traumatized parents and infants and give them back to their family. They, at least, should know that Indians eat with their fingers, overfeed their kids and never leave babies alone in another room.