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Flying in the face of facts

The government should have done its homework in the Norway child custody row.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2012 08:18 IST
Hindustan Times
Norwegian child welfare services,Norway,news

This was one of those rare occasions where the media and the government appeared to be in tandem. Neither had any doubt that the case of the two Indian children being put in a foster home by the Norwegian child welfare services was anything but motivated by racism at worst or cultural misperceptions at best. Now as it turns out, the case was not quite so simple. New facts have emerged with the parents filing for separation, news that the children have not been separated and that the foster home is that of Indians. It would also appear that the mother has some sort of psychological problem, or at least that is what the father alleges. And in the days to come, we are sure more facts will be revealed as the dispute will play out legally.

The media in India, barring a few exceptions, spared no effort to demonise Norway. All sorts of reasons were given as to why the children were torn away from their parents. In many ways, the story was tailor-made for sensationalism though that is no excuse for irresponsible and speculative journalism. But what is astonishing is the conduct of the ministry of external affairs which is looking into the case. The whole case was turned into a diplomatic incident of international proportions. It did not strike the Indian authorities who were going up and down from Norway to carefully examine the record of the Norwegians in matters of child rights. Did they, for example, question other Indian families living in that country? But worst, did they seek information from the Norwegians who must surely have documented enough evidence before taking the drastic step of taking the children away. There could very well have been an element of prejudice or extra caution when it comes to families of other cultures. But that does not necessarily mean that the children would have been taken away without a valid reason.

In this case, at least prima facie, it would appear that the mother was not on top of things when it came to taking care of a child with special needs. A far more thorough examination of the case should have been undertaken before the external affairs minister himself got involved. The main concern should have been the welfare of the children rather than scoring a diplomatic victory against Norway. At no point did the Indian officials produce any concrete evidence of racial bias, yet the charge was freely bandied about and lapped up by the public. This type of knee-jerk reaction can be seen in many cases involving Indians abroad. Every perceived injustice is assumed to be driven by mala fide intent. The media is often accused of being shoddy on facts and with some justification, but when official actions are based on unsubstantiated information, the result is the sort of embarrassment India is facing now.

First Published: Mar 21, 2012 23:53 IST