After their much-publicised flip-flops, NRI couple Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya have re-signed an agreement to hand over their children to their uncle Arunabhash, with India pressing the point that the best bet for children would be to bring them up in an Indian cultural milieu.
“Both parents have agreed to hand over the children to the uncle. The agreement was signed today (Friday) and will be handed over to the Norwegian child care service," the lawyer representing the NRI couple told news channel Times Now. The document was attested by the Indian embassy in Oslo, confirmed government sources.
The renewed pact offers a way out of the impasse the custody case had reached after marital problems between the parents became public and the Norwegian authorities refused to hand over the two NRI children on grounds that there were no credible guardians for them.
Abhigyan, 3, and Aishwarya, 1, children of the couple living in Norway's Stavanger, were taken under protective care by Barnevarne (Norwegian Child Welfare Services) last May on the ground that they were not looked after properly by their parents
Over a month ago, India and Norway had struck an agreement under which the parents named Anurup's brother Arunabhash Bhattacharya as the primary caretaker of the two children.
The re-nomination of the uncle as local guardian came after some reports that he had backed out of the agreement amid speculation that parents were planning to separate.
The parents' marital problems and the disclosure about the mother's unstable mental condition had embarrassed the government which has invested much diplomatic capital in pressuring the Norwegian authorities to help children return to India in the care of their extended family.
If the pact is accepted by the Norwegian court as sufficient guarantee for handing over the children, it will be a major boost to the government which has faced some criticism for intervening in the case without cross-checking the facts.
Anurup Bhattacharya has told NDTV that his wife and he remained committed to bringing their children home with Arunabhash as their legal guardian.
Under public pressure and media scrutiny, the external affairs ministry had mounted a diplomatic offensive, that included sending a special envoy to Oslo, to pressure for returning the children to India.
Last month, the ministry had brokered a deal with Norway under which the children were to be handed over to their uncle.
However, the deal seems to have fallen apart after marital problems between the parents became public and the uncle allegedly showed diffidence in taking over the responsibility of guardian.
However, the government hopes that the family will be able to find credible legal guardians who can convince the Norwegian authorities about their capability to look after the children.
“We want them to return to India. They are Indian children; their future lies with the extended family,” said government sources.
The sources stressed that it is India's responsibility to look after Indian nationals in distress. “Whatever the parents' troubles, children can't be alienated from their culture,” said the sources.
Agrees Brinda Karat, the CPI-M leader who was part of the demonstrations pitching for reuniting children with the family.
"The family quarrel can't be used as an alibi by the Norwegian authorities to deny any wrongdoing,” Karat said.
"This is a highly traumatised family. We can't sit in judgement over tensions in the family. Our stand still remains, children should be reunited with the family,” she said.