Indian children…

Indian children being snatched away from the presumably loving arms of their natural parents by a government is naturally an emotive piece of news. Facts are few, and fed to us in drips by one side alone. Received through our various filters of patriotism and ancient practice, this seems wrong, very wrong. And yet we stay silent.

The Norwegian child protection services took a four year old and a one year old into their custody almost a year ago  stating that they were not being adequately looked after by their natural parents. The boy was picked up from his nursery school while the infant girl from home. The case is not being discussed by the Norwegian authorities as they say it is sub-judice. Presumably the privacy rights of the children also stop them from making many details public. What we have been told is that the elder child demonstrated autistic tendencies and  was not being looked after properly.

Some of the accusations seem horribly warped – the younger child co-sleeping with the parents is supposed to be wrong and punishable. That is ridiculous – most civilizations ensure that babies sleep close to their mothers. Not only does it help the child emotionally and physically (the mother’s heart beat has been known to revive children), it is much easier for an exhausted parent to constantly look after the baby. There are arguments on both sides – as there are for everything relating to good parenting – but for any normal human – co-sleeping cannot be a crime punishable by separation. Similarly, they have been accused of feeding the child by hand. And pray, what did you do before cutlery was invented? Feeding by hands provides two way communication, is the natural organic way of doing things. Billions of people feed their child this way. It is also the Indian way of doing things – and the children are Indian.

Co-sleeping, feeding by hand – the story cannot be as simple as this. Conversations with Indians who live in Norwayreveal their faith in the authorities. Yet, the Norwegian CPS has been slammed by UN agencies for its harsh judgements and large number of children it has taken away from parents. The results of these fostering arrangements have not always delivered positive results. The internet is rife with stories of children being ignored, mistreated or ill treated  by their foster parents despite it being a lucrative arrangement for them. There is clearly something very wrong in a country where over 12,500 children are taken away – a double digit percent of their child population.

Clearly the Bengali parents were unable to assimilate and figure out the Norwegian way of doing things. The family is now bearing the consequences of  something travelers the world over face – dealing with laws and rules that are strange and unfamiliar. There are many who say that just as ignorance of the law is no excuse for a crime, ignoring your current cultural circumstances has penalties. In this case a bit of both seems to have happened. If they live there, however temporarily, they should know the norms.

More importantly, it becomes incumbent on every traveler to be aware of the mores of the places they go to in order to ensure their own safety and well being. For it takes very little for cultural cross connections to be triggered off. Want proof? Start a conversation about the use of toilet paper and watch the divide that cannot be bridged. The poor family is trapped in such a situation where neither side can comprehend the other point of view.

The family has not helped their case much either – more evidence of their naiveté in dealing with different cultures. When the children were taken away, the couple went to the police station to seek redressal. Where the mother apparently shouted and cried. This is perfectly normal and expected behaviour inIndia. The parents were distraught. Worse, motherhood had been violated. This is extreme provocation. Yet her outburst was seen as further evidence of emotional instability, thus making her more unsuitable to look after children.  C’mon, try it inIndia- snatch a child from a mother and that is exactly how they will react. Ghaayal sherni is the ideal that has been placed before us for centuries – or at least since Bollywood took over. Here, in India, if you are not loud and hysterical, you are not taken seriously. That has been their training. In a different context and place. They forgot that last bit.

Even her parents have not helped their case – after meeting the West Bengal Chief Minster to help them with this, they spoke to the press and were quoted saying that the mother of the tiny tots ( and I paraphrase here) had gone crazy with grief – and elaborated on that. That does not support their case at all! While her grief does need to be publicized to garner support for their cause, the language needs to be carefully crafted to support their goal.

The Norwegian authorities seem to have pinned the blame on the mother, even asking the couple to separate, saying that the mother is unfit. Do they even know what they are asking? Splitting a couple (saat janam ka saath and all) is far more offensive than simple stuff like co-sleeping and feeding with one’s hands. Here  they clearly advocate breaking up a family. If one were to given to conspiracy theories, the current evidence seems to indicate that destroying this family was what they wanted.

This case seems to have been mishandled all through. The elder child has shown signs of autism, the CPS says. Firstly, autism is not a disease – it is a spectrum disorder that shows up in different ways, often in extraordinary gifted maths and music talent, often as social incompetence. (Been to IIT, anyone?) Some children need some support to navigate societies, others need intensive care. Was the child really autistic? Was the abilty of the Norwegians so limited that they could not offer support services without uprooting the children?

Even the evidence, as shared, is inadequate.  The child went to nursery, sat in a corner and banged his head on the floor. If the child has been brought up in a traditional Bengali household-and there are plenty of them spread across the world – then he was facing an overwhelming situation and merely reacted to that. Indian children do emote with their bodies and throw more tantrums in public than most other cultures. If he did not know the language, was left in a corner by other children and was given limited portions of bland white looking food that he has rarely been asked to eat, then a three year old child will certainly want to bang their head in frustration. In a traditional household, a three year old would rarely have had to feed themselves – and would not know how to. It is a wonder they have not brought that up as a disability.

This neatly brings us to the other learned disabilities that are a consequence of our parenting techniques, but we leave that for another day.

But it is true that inIndia, we are a co-dependant culture. This is seen as a psychological condition in other parts of the world and the right way to bind families and societies here. We build networks based on creating dependencies. A person coming from such a bright world filled with affection expressed via dependence, via incompetence (there is even a word for it in Bengali – Naekami) is thrust into cold and lonely climes where interdependence is neither sought nor encouraged. Indeed the concept of community is very different, with nobody to share the burden, no family to take for granted when you need that desperate break from the continual burden of parenting. Let us not fool ourselves into saying that parenting of young children is easy just because it has been done before.

It is said that it takes a village to bring up a child. Indians are normally not trained to do things on our own. We have people around us – servants, relatives, cousins, neighbours. Our social structures share the load, seeking to spread it so that nobody cracks under the strain. Is it possible that the mother was overloaded and overwhelmed. Sure. Which mother is not? Does that mean you take her children away? Which parent really knows how to juggle two children when they are only three months into the job? If this mother was unable to take the elder child to nursery on time as she was breastfeeding the younger one – was that neglect? It would be far worse to snatch an infant from her food – she prioritized, as mothers do. Punctuality, for Indians, for a three year old is not such a priority – being late cannot constitute criminal neglect. We are humans, not programmed machines. Flexibility, adjustment and learning on the job is the stuff of life.

Norwegian CPS have been cold and cruel in this case. Unless the children were abused (which we will never know), the evidence in the public domain combined with the past history of the CPS indicts the service agency. Their rulebooks need to recognize the cruel trauma of separation as child abuse.

What of the children? What happens if they stay in care? What happens when they get sent back – will the four month old, now at a year in age even recognize her mother? Will the four year old recover from separation anxiety ever in his life? If he is autistic, will he get good care away from his parents? Or will he be better off in alone, fostered in a country with institutions to guide his life. There is no good way out of this horribly mangled situation. The key concern in this should be the welfare of the children, and whatever the outcome, the current series of unfortunate events has compromised that for ever.

10 thoughts on “Indian children…”

  1. This story seems really weird to me.

    Unless the Norwegian CPS has overarching powers to go into people’s houses and investigate on mere suspicion, something must have prompted the original investigation. I haven’t seen any mention or even speculation about that. (If the CPS does have those sort of powers, that is an even bigger scandal than this particular case.)

    I am very annoyed at the reporting of this case. Very one-sided, pandering to outrage and emotion, and devoid of investigation. Someone must have made a complaint or recommendation for investigation on some grounds? Who? What were those grounds? Silence.

  2. Thanks for writing on this sad episode very difficult for the children 7the parents,here. Also another issue is the CPS not considering the Culture from which the Children & parents come from. This is a serious issue that is one of the primary rules ingrained in all Social Workers,Whichever country.As the discipline of MA. [Social work’ or M.S.W. is only a 50yr old development that grew out of European,British &U.S. social welfare movements.So I find it funny they[the Social caseworkers who handled this case] are going against the grain of their own Profession,leave aside humanity!Nor have they shown even the basic understanding of Child Development,which all social workers in Child &Family Welfare are drilled in.You might find out more about the CPS if you can get info about the Training given to their Social Workers. I call it Legal Kidnapping.

  3. Very well written. Reading stories on the case, it seems as though some critical information is missing or has been withheld. Co-sleeping and feeding by hand and even indications of autism do not warrant separation from the parents. Why would a country burden itself with taking care of so many such children? Arent those running this authority parents themselves? There has to be an understanding of cultural differences or you bar foreigners and live as an island nation. Nothing indicates that the safety and security of these children has been violated. They have lost precious time that should have been with their family.

  4. There are some interesting information about Norwegian Foster Care & aslo other revealations from Indian parents running on web. I doubt however the source of many such information as you have not provided them.

    I tweeted on this issue yesterday and perhaps you missed it, there is a very lengthy inquiry in such cases. If we think that Foster Care Agents come and take away the child without any inquiry, we are wrong. First there is a complain. Who made them aware ? They certainly don’t have cameras fit in every household. You have missed to raise this point.

    I think there is some serious issue. I know personaly few Indian families living in Norway who have raised very traditionally their children as we do in India. The main issue is not feeding with hands or sleeping with children – stories made by parents. & even if it is true which we will know later, it might be serious in that particular case.

    Sleeping beside child is not advisable in many culture. Because, there is a danger that parents can crush the child in the sleeping position by their body weight. It is always good to have a separate bed. You missed this point.

  5. I find this “oh I’m shocked” attitude of Indians amusing and hypocritical. And, bizarre when it starts degenerating into a cultural superiority argument – which is also extraordinarily dumb and racist. There is worse in our own police and judicial systems so if anything we should understand that authorities can go horribly wrong and justice can be delayed. Don’t get me wrong – I am not justifying this (by any means) and the demarche and consular help is very appropriate as is criticism of the Norwegian authorities. But, do you have the same level of shock, and have you spent the same amount of time on people wronged by Indian authorities (both Indians and foreigners)? When Indian authorities wrong foreigners in India will you make a cultural inferiority argument? You won’t even hear of crimes against foreigners half the time because it will be brushed under the carpet. So, while doing all that is possible to help is great, making dumb cultural superior arguments is merely good cocktail conversation for the dumb Indian elite.

    1. If you read it carefully, with a good understanding of the language, you will realise that each and every word is valid even today. And will always remain so. Listening skills are key to understanding nuance. Please do re-read the post 🙂

      1. Lol – no its not valid – it never was! It just became starker after the subsequent events. Please read my first comment as well, posted before the subsequent events, as to what I disagree on. And, I’m listening, and sorry I’m in your space without invitation! You can delete my comments. You are talking about nuances, while I’m attacking the underlying, illogical bias of the post. Every sentence being politically correct is not my concern.

        And, please feel a proportional sense of frenzy when you hear a Gurgaon well-to-do couple leave a child in the hospital today because she’s a girl and when 1000s if not millions of female children are killed in India (and many in rich families), when Gurgaon head of police says that women can’t work after 8PM (and this is our millenium city – fine shining example it is of our social superiority), when khap panchayats kill sons and daughters because of marrying out of caste, ad infinitum.

        Please be ready to examine parenting and social structure in India objectively before you take a lame, uninformed, biased, potshot at another country. And, in proportion. Further, I’ll point to social indicators for comparison with other countries. Please lock horns against them the next time around.

        By the way, I don’t have a bias for Norwegians – I agree that their children protection system has issues. And, I really don’t want to compare in the first place. It just really, really bugs me when we Indians pontificate about the greatness of our culture when by all measures it is quite bad and deteriorating. Most Indians are spineless and silent when facing our own ills and that above all, bugs me beyond anything else.

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