by Sudhir Dec 2, 2012 11:17 IST
Seven-year-old Sai Sriram looks up at me with innocent eyes, with a gaze that is clearly searching for answers. He is probably wondering why I am asking for him to be sent inside when so many people and camera crew are inside his home in Miyapur on the outskirts of Hyderabad.
I am worried about the effect the picture of his parents - Chandrasekhar Vallabhaneni and Anupama - that is flashing non-stop on the TV screen, will have on his young mind. At least three vernacular TV channels have jumped the gun and are incorrectly flashing that the parents have been sentenced to jail. Monday will be the critical day when an Oslo court could sentence his mother to 15 months and father to 18 months in jail.
The boy and his younger brother Abhiram, less than two and who was still being breastfed by his mother till one week ago, look lost and confused. They are upset. They don't know why Amma is not back yet as promised.
Sriram says his father is away on work. But "Nanna" (for father) has not spoken to him over Skype for a week now and he is wondering why. He obviously does not know his parents have been arrested in Norway on charges of "repeated maltreatment of their child/children by threats, violence and other wrong".
Sai Sriram's doctor Dr Kalyan Chakravarthy who has been interacting with the child for the last three months says Sriram thinks he was earlier punished for "bad behaviour" by being kept away from his parents for many days and now his parents have been taken away because he has been "naughty". Sriram was taken away by the child welfare agency in Norway for eight weeks earlier this year on suspicion that the child was being `scolded and intimidated' at home.
Do we ever realise how much children blame themselves for what they see going wrong around them, with their parents?
The developments are clearly having an adverse effect on the emotional and physical health of the seven-year-old. Sai Sriram is diagnosed with mild to moderate ADHD or attention-deficit hyperactive disorder. He had been responding positively to treatment and to the occupational therapy he was undergoing, but the absence of both parents is obviously causing tremendous trauma and the child is regressing and deteriorating.
Sriram, always a fussy eater, has not been eating well all of last week and his paternal grandmother is obviously worried about his health. Abhiram has been running fever and is asthmatic.
The children obviously miss their mothers nurturing and cuddles. Chandrasekhar's mother Srilakshmi is in tears, unable to console the children, who are longing and crying for their parents. Both children share a strong emotional bond with their parents and that is now showing in their health and well-being, she says. "I don't think I took as much care of my children as my daughter-in-law always does. She can't bear to see them hurt in any way", she said.
Anupama's father fights his tears as he tries to explain to total strangers the credentials of his daughter as a loving mother and her husband as a caring father.
"My daughter did her B.Tech and is well-educated. But they both decided that the money he is earning is enough and they would focus on the upbringing of their children. So she remained a housewife", he said.
Sai Sriram was born premature at seven months and from the very beginning, he had been a difficult child, who needed more patience and understanding in handling, the grandfather says.
No one in the family is denying that the elder child would be every now and then reprimanded, scolded or threatened, all of which they feel is part of the Indian style of parenting to try and discipline the child. But seen through the glares of Western perception and cultural values and put in the context of what has been often called a "draconian" Norwegian law, the parents have been criminalised and painted as villains.
Even presuming that the parents were not ideal human beings, with loads of patience and with the capacity and intention to practice progressive parenting values, condemning them to jail seems an excess beyond justification. They may have even crossed the line and committed some wrongs, but surely their intention was not to torture their child or subject him to inhuman treatment.
From all accounts, they seem to be affectionate, caring parents. It is quite possible that their frustrations sometimes broke their patience and they may have acted in a manner that they regretted only minutes later. Doesn't it happen to all of us?
What they needed then and now is support and counselling on the best way to deal with the child and with their own emotions. Not a sentence behind bars. Friends of the couple in Norway insist there is documentary evidence to suggest that they sought help for their child and themselves. They never got that help. All they got was blame and were labelled criminals.
If putting the parents in jail is punishing a wrong, then who is going to correct the wrong of denying the children the loving care of their parents. Splitting a family this way would be to compound an error.
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