Norway: Cultural ignorance or cultural arrogance? Nay, it's cruelty

Is it cultural ignorance or cultural arrogance? Whatever it is, the attitude of the Norwegian authorities towards the Indian couple fighting for the custody of their two children stretches the boundaries of cultural insensitivity.

Since May last year, the Indian couple — Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya — has been fighting a bleak battle against the Norwegian authorities to get their kids,  Avigyan,3, and Aishwarya,1, back from a foster home.

The Norwegian Child Protective Services had separated the kids from their parents after discovering, during an inspection, that they were being fed by hand. That according to the Child Protective Services, was force feeding. Also, they shared bed with the parents, which was deemed unacceptable behaviour, as the boys are expected to have separate beds.

The Norwegian Child Protective Services had separated the kids from their parents after discovering, during an inspection, that they were being fed by hand. Image from ibnlive.com

The parents were allowed to visit the children at a foster home twice a year. A lower court has already decided against the parents and ordered that the children be under foster care till they reach 18 years of age. Such separation is painful for any Indian parent. Hope good sense prevails in Norway.

If Norway sets special standards for parents of its country to bring up their children, it is nobody’s business to complain. Different cultures fix different ways of grooming children. In India, we have no such rule. That’s okay with us; we have survived and grown up without it. Our food habits are different. Not many food items we consume could be taken using the fork, knife and the spoon. Imagine eating crispy dosa and tandoor-fresh naan with all these instruments.

Using hands is the best way to go about our food. It is not necessary that foreign nationals visiting our country do the same. Nobody forces them to dump their habits. Indians, part of several cultures as they are, are respectful of cultural differences. Why must the Norwegians find our eating habits so outrageous?

And children sleeping in the same bed as parents... Which family in India does not allow that? Officials of the Child Protective Services must visit some middle class Mumbai homes to get a better idea. In India, beds are not a pressing necessity, a roof over one's head is. It does not matter how many get under it.

Though the authority has denied the charges made by the Bhattacharyas, it has been accused of excesses before. NDTV, quoting Svein Kjetil Lode Svendsen, a lawyer, said, "There has been a report in UN in 2005 which criticised Norway for taking too many children in public care. The amount was 12,500 children and Norway is a small country." The report had sought Norway to provide normal family environment and look at foster homes as the last resort.

"What gives the Norwegian authorities the right whether morally, or even under international rules to take away these babies from their parents? On what basis have they kept them? How can they do this? This is against all international norms...the cruelty can be gauged by the fact that the baby girl who was being breast-fed was taken away from the mother," said CPM leader Brinda Karat, who took the grandparents of the children to President Pratibha Patil today.

There seems to be some hope for the couple now as External Affairs Minister SM Krishna has intervened. On Monday, he directed the Indian ambassador in Norway to convey to his Norwegian counterpart that the kids must be sent back to their parents. He has also asked the envoy to lodge an official protest. It now emanates that under a compromise formula, the kids would be handed over to their grandparents.

Hopefully, the ordeal of the family would soon be over. But what the developments bring to the fore is the inability of many nations in Europe to get over the cultural superiority complex and accept the habits and ways of others  gracefully.

Just one passing thought: does not Norway's action amount to cruelty?


Updated Date: Jan 23, 2012 21:12 PM

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