Norway NRI kids row: The Untold Story by Sagarika Bhattacharya
Posted By Pravasi Today On May 29, 2012 @ 12:20 pm In Europe,NRI News | 13 Comments
SAGARIKA BHATTACHARYA met her one-year-old daughter Aishwarya and three-year-old son Abhigyan on Wednesday. PRAVASI TODAY presents her version of what happened in Norway
As a mother I am in a very much distressful situation. As a mother what is going on with me, only God knows. It is a nightmare in my life. I can’t hug my children. Every day I cry and pray to God that please bring back my children in my lap. How can I survive without them? My children were fully traumatised in Norway without me. Me and my parents were fighting for my children for one year. Now they are finally back in India, but still they are being kept away from me. My husband has not returned from Norway. How can my brother-in-law take care of my little boy and baby girl. He is only a 27-year-old single man. He does not have any experience with bringing up children and in India it is the women who take care of young babies, not men. One day he will get married and then who will take care of my children? The Norway court said that my brother-in-law has a girlfriend of six years and she will bring up my children! Why should another woman take care of children that are not her own. In India we do not let our children be brought up by girlfriends. Nobody can take care of children like the mother. But my in-laws are not letting me bring up my children. But still I keep faith on God. Maybe its a big ordeal in my life. Still I never give up hope that my children will come back to me.
I still have not been able to understand why my children were snatched away from me in Norway. I innocently went to Norway with my husband after we got married. I thought we would make a good life there. I wish we had never gone there. When Abhigyan was about a year-and-a-half old, I got pregnant with my second baby. It was a difficult time for me as I had morning sickness, but I had to take care of the house and Abhigyan. I had been noticing that Abhigyan was getting bored at home. I was also getting concerned about his development and some of his characteristics. For example, when he was very much frustrated, he would start banging his head on the ground. He seemed to have difficulty communicating and sometimes when I couldn’t understand what he wanted he would start banging his head. Another thing I noticed when I would take him for a walk near the lake was that when I tried to show him the birds, he would not make proper eye contact. I decided to put him in a kindergarten so that he would have the company of other children and I could speak to the kindergarten employees about Abhigyan’s problems. I wanted him to go to a British kindergarten, but my husband insisted on a Norwegian kindergarten as he said that would be free.
We put Abhigyan into an open kindergarten (Humlene) and talked about Abhigyan’s developmental problem with the employees there. Me and my son started to go to the open kindergarten from June 2010 twice in a week (Wednesday and Thursday) in the family group. At that time my health condition was not good, my body was getting heavy with my second pregnancy. Everyday after finishing my work in the house and I would go to the kindergarten. We didn’t have a car and it was a long way from my old home to the kindergarten. But I went to every meeting the kindergarten set up to discuss Abhigyan’s condition as I was very concerned about him.
I used to walk Abhigyan in his pram to the kindergarten. If I stopped anywhere on the way, Abhigyan would start banging his head on the pram. It was difficult as I was heavy with the pregnancy and would get tired while walking him, but I couldn’t stop on the way as that would set off Abhigyan’s head banging. When I reached in the kindergarten, I would be very much tired. Sometimes during the kindergarten sessions, Abhigyan would jump into my lap. He was very affectionate with me and always wanted to sit on my lap, but as my belly was growing large, I would have to protect it every time he tried to jump on me. The little baby growing in my belly would get hurt if he jumped on me. Later I learnt that the kindergarten said that I was rejecting him by not letting him sit on my lap. I was not rejecting him at all. I love him more than my own life. I was just trying to be careful as a new baby was growing in my belly.
The kindergarten proposed me that they will talk with health station and will give a helmet for Abhigyan to protect him when he started banging his head. But they never gave the helmet.
During this time, my husband was going to the office and he was not keen to give much time to Abhigyan. He started to learn Norwegian and also joined driving classes. We shifted to a new apartment on October 2010.
The Tiltaks people from the Barneverne came to our home in November 2010. They told me that they will come to help me after the delivery of the baby.
I gave birth to Aishwarya on 6th December 2010. My health was not good on that time. I had post-birth complications. I couldn’t bend properly. Since my first baby was C-section, I was feeling much more pain in my lower abdomen. My husband was too busy to help and when I breastfed my little daughter, Abhigyan didn’t like that I was taking her in my lap, and would start banging his head on the ground. The situation was very much tough for me because I had to manage my son and daughter and also worked in my home and went to the Barnehage, health station , legesenter, shopping… etc.
Although Barnevarne employees told us that they will come after delivery to help, they did not come until three months after Aishwarya was born.
Before delivery me, Abhigyan, and my husband were sleeping together in the same room. After delivery we changed our plan. Me and my daughter went to sleep in a different room and my husband stayed in the old room with Abhigyan. This was only for Abhigyan because my little baby was crying at night and that would wake Abhigyan up.
Before delivery I tried to spend quality time with Abhigyan but after birth I couldn’t spend sufficient time with him. Though I tried always that Abhigyan should never feel bored, he would get very jealous when I was taking my little daughter in my lap. Anyway I knew that this was one kind of sibling jealousy which was normal after a second baby comes in the family. I knew that this was a temporary situation which would settle down after few months when Abhigyan got accustomed to the new baby.
Last week of March or first week of April 2011 the Tiltaks employee started to come at our home for Marte Meo guidance. I was feeling very much tired and sick. They spent long time in my home and I couldn’t do any housework while they were there. I didn’t have enough time to prepare food because of their vists and sometimes they were coming to my home without any phone calls.
Mitchel’s (Tiltak’s employee) attitude was very much commanding and rude. She was also a patient of epilepsy, only for that reason she was fired from her job, and cancelled her driving licence. She forgot everything. She was a British woman and always used racist language. I am trying my level best, but I couldn’t go through it because I thought they wanted to impose me from their way but it’s not possible to change everything in point of seconds. I was coming from different culture and will need much more time to cope up with this culture. They came to our home 5five or six times in all.
One day I came back from kindergarten and was feeding Abhigyan in my home. The Tiltaks people were observing me which I found very much disgusting. Abhigyan spat the food on the floor. I told him that this was not good, and said to him don’t do it but he was doing the same things over and over again. Aishwarya started to cry, she was very hungry. I got frustrated. I tried to communicate with Abhigyan and tell him to behave by showing my hand. According to the Tiltaks opinion, this was kind of a threatening gesture. But I didn’t want to hit my son, I never ever hit him. I was just doing it to communicate to him by gesture that he should eat his food properly so I could go to feed his sister. According to our culture before children start speaking we communicate by gesture.
Another day I was working in the kitchen. Mitchel was inside in the living room. Suddenly a glass fell from my hand and broke. At that time Abhigyan was passing in the kitchen which was very much dangerous for him. I came to the living room and said to Mitchel “can you take care of Abhigyan?” Mitchel said me “it’s OK.” Then I entered into the kitchen, just shut the door for few moments and clean the kitchen and then opened the door.
When I was cooking in the kitchen, Abhigyan always was following me in kitchen. He would try to touch the frying pan and it’s very dangerous for him. So I would take him out in my lap and lock the kitchen door. Abhigyan would start to cry because kitchen was favourite place for him. But I could not let him come in and touch the frying pan while I was cooking. That does not mean I locked my son. I was just trying to keep him safe.
But the Tiltaks people misrepresented everything and I later saw in their report that they reported all these incidents as if I was hitting and locking up my son.
They also said lies in their report that I leave my little baby Aishwarya in the stellebrød when I was changing nappy. But we didn’t have any kinds of stellebrød in our home. Every time I was changing Aishwarya’s nappy in the baby cot which was fully covered on all sides and there was no chance that the baby would fall on the ground. The height of baby cot was one foot from the floor.
They also said that Aishwarya didn’t make proper eye contact with me. I cannot understand this. She was just a few months old at the time. This age was not enough to make out anything about eye contact. When I breastfeed her she was smiling every time and when I was talking with her, she was reacting very much and even used to made some noises. I love her so much. Even after they took her away I went to the Barneverne office every day for so many months with my expressed milk. I was desperate for her to have my milk even though I couldn’t be with her.
Despite what is being said about Abhigyan by the Barneverne people now, the Kvaleberg Barnehage report stated that Astrid, one of the employees, said that Abhigyan was improving and his eye contact was better. He had being going to the Kvaleberg Barnehage four days a week from March 2010. He started to speak in Bengali little bit and I felt he understood everything. When he wanted to go to outside, he took his shoes and was pulling my hand to go to outside. He liked to listen various songs and was dancing with me, and wanted to play with the kitchen utensils, and always followed me what I will do in the kitchen. I was taking some videos on last week of April 2011. I can show how good the bonding was between him and me. I felt that Abhigyan’s development was better and you can see in the video, Abhigyan was kissing his little sister, their relationship was much more better and he was behaving like a normal child.
On 9 May 2011, two days before the Barneverne took my children away, I went to the health station for Aishwarya’s vaccinations. She got injections on both legs. She was crying that night and the night of May 10, 2011. I was not able to sleep those two nights. My husband was also very much tired. I still went to the kindergarten for the sake of Abhigyan. I thought that when I get him back from the kindergarten, then the whole family will take rest. Mitchel was coming to the kindergarten and said me “keep your son in the kindergarten and we will arrange a meeting in your home”. I had no desire to join this meeting and was very much stressed though I came back to our home. They started to talk about the morning routine.
Mitchel: Who is preparing the breakfast ?
Me: I am preparing the breakfast.
Mitchel: Why didn’t he prepare the breakfast table? This is your husband’s duty.
Anurup thought that I wanted to blame him and he was very angry and lost his temper. He started to blame me without any cause in front of them.
They told me you are very tired, we are going to outside, please give your daughter in our lap. They took my son from kindergarten. I couldn’t understand what was happening in my life. One hour later they called me on the phone and threatened me that I would never get back my children until18 years.
After my children were taken away I couldn’t remember what I was doing in this distressful situation. I was very much upset and senseless. After one hour I calmed down. I am a mother; it was very difficult to tolerate everything. From their opinion in this scenario, I was psychologically unfit.
After they took the children away on May 11, 2011, I had no way to contact with my children. For first three months I could remember they allowed us once a week to meet with our children and after that we couldn’t meet with our children.
Finally my parents were able to get the Government of India to take action. Even after the Indian Government got in the matter, the Barnevarne refused to return my children. They even went behind the back of the Government of India and extended the visa of my children for stay in Norway, while the Government of India was still negotiating with them. I was worried that with each passing day my children were forgetting about their country, language and family and that the Barnevarne may convert them into Norwegian citizens or put them up for adoption to other parents. I was worried about them being in a foster home. Foster care is nothing compared with family care, especially for such young children. My little girl was just a baby in arms. Finally the Barnevarne put the condition that the children can return to India only if I agree that their custody will go to my brother-in-law, Mr Arunubhash Bhattacharya. I did not want to give my children away to my brother-in-law but my husband and his family insisted that I agree to this proposal. They promised me that when the children returned to India I would be able to bring them up as their mother. I had no alternative but to accept this proposal as otherwise my children might have been lost forever. A draft agreement was approved by the Government of India and the envoy who had been sent to Norway to finalise the agreement returned to India. A hearing was scheduled in the District Court at Stavanger, Norway for March 23, 2012 for the agreement to be presented to the court and the children to be released.
On 19 March 2012, just a few days before the court hearing, my husband tried to put clauses in the custody agreement saying that if he were to divorce or separate from me, I would not challenge the custody of my children being with Mr Arunubhash Bhattacharya and that neither me nor my relatives would ever challenge this agreement before any court or authority. But I refused to agree to these clauses as they were not in the draft that had been proposed by the Government of India and I could not forfeit my parental rights in this way. Upon my refusal, my husband humiliated and physically tortured me and threw me out of our house. I was left without a roof over my head and no money as my husband was the sole breadwinner. My Indian friends in Norway helped me and gave me a place to stay. While I was there, the advocate who had been appointed in our case against the Barneverne sent me the agreement with the new clauses several times by mail, but I refused to sign. My husband and his brother even instigated this advocate to take my passport which I had left at our house to threaten me into agreeing to these clauses. I was shocked that the advocate put clauses in the agreement that favoured my husband and were against my interest and the interest of the children. He was supposed to be the advocate for the family, but in fact he acted like he was the advocate of my husband. I had never wanted him on this case in the first place as he was paid for by the Barneverne and I did not trust him. I wanted my husband to hire a private advocate. But my husband refused saying he did not want to spend the money.
I was advised by the Indian government not to sign these clauses and while this was going on, I learnt from the media that my husband, his brother and parents were spreading lies about me and putting all the blame on me for the Barnevarne’s taking away our children. I was shocked to hear that Anurup and Arunubhash gave a clean chit to the Barnevarne and even said that the Barnevarne did a good thing by snatching our children and that they were doing well in the foster home. My parents-in-law also spread lies about me and abused me in the press.
After this the situation became even worse than before as the Indian Government cancelled the departure of the envoy who was to come for the hearing scheduled for 23 March 2012 and the Barneverne cancelled the hearing. I was worried that my husband did not want the hearing to take place as he did not want the children to be returned to India. My brother-in-law said to the press that he was not interested in taking over the care of my children. It was only after my husband got warned from India that he started to say in the media that he did not want to divorce me. I had to threaten the advocate that I would file a police complaint against him for withholding my passport to get me to sign the agreement with the new clauses. This scared him and he sent me a text message agreeing to remove the new clauses and return my passport.
I did not want to sign the agreement even without these clauses as my husband was talking about separating from me and taking my children away from me for good, but I had to sign as otherwise my children would be left to grow-up in a foreign country, like orphans in foster homes.
After that my husband abandoned me in Norway. My Indian friends in Norway booked my air ticket to India. I had to return as my children would be coming here and I had no means to stay on in Norway. I returned to India on 25 March 2012.
The CWS handed my children to my brother-in-law on 23 April 2012 and he returned to India with them on 24 Aril 2012. My husband has stayed on in Norway. Even though my children reached Delhi on 24 Aril 2012, my brother in-law and his family did not inform me their whereabouts and I learnt from a third party where they were. When I went to meet them, my brother-in-law and parents-in-law brutally misbehaved and mentally tortured me using abusive language and threatening me that I will never get back my children until 18 years. They seized my little baby from my lap. They also insulted my parents and relatives. I then realised that they had no intention of letting me with my children. I think that my brother-in-law and parents-in-law want to take advantage of the custody agreement under which my husband has to pay whatever expenses they claim for the children. I was hoping my husband would come back and we could be together with the children, but he has not done that and it looks as if he is not concerned that our children will be brought up without their mother or father.
I am really a hapless mother and a hapless wife. I love my children and as a mother who can do everything for her children, but I lost my children. People thought I cannot take care of my children. I am really unlucky, and don’t like to fight but will have to fight for my children. I love my husband but he has abandoned me and the children. I don’t want to fight for custody of my children. But I feel like I am forced to fight against my family just like Arjuna in the Mahabharata. He didn’t want to fight against his dearest and nearest but was forced to.
I have no other way but to fight for my children. I cannot leave them to grow up motherless. In this battle one will win and one will lose.
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Post Script: In January 2013, Sagarika was reunited with her children by order of the Kolkata High Court. They have been living in Kolkata since then. Their father, who stayed on in Norway, and whose statements against Sagarika were sensationalised in the press, has never visited the children since. Sagarika submitted to numerous psychiatric tests, evaluations by child experts appointed by the Indian authorities and was declared by all to be a fit and normal mother. This evaluation seems to have been borne out in the years that followed, with both children thriving in her care.