Why this Case of Indian Children in Norway is Different

Why is there less outrage this time when Norway is rapping Indian parents on the wrists again? Is it because Indians used up their outrage last time? Or because of what happened after the outrage last time round.

I believe the two cases are totally different.

In the first case, the issues that were highlighted in the press and in discussions were not necessarily the most relevant ones. Thus, when the case reached its natural conclusion (that included the consequences of the interference), the reaction was a bit abashed. The expression used was ‘egg on their faces’.

Nobody wants egg on their faces this time, they are keeping their mouth shut.

It goes deeper.

In the first case, the two real issues were that of Indian sovereignity, and the duty of care of its foreign service. The issue that whipped up support was different.

Indian parenting styles had been attacked. Just as Oprah lost some of her fan following in India with her eating with their hands’ remark, here, the anecdotes that fuelled the frenzy included – ‘the mother feeds the child with her hands’, ‘the child was a little late for nursery school’, the mother could not cope as she was disorganised’ and so on. Faults that every mother in India would happily acknowledge, if they were seen as faults. These are seen as national characteristics. In Bollywood films (yes, a cliche) a mother expresses affection by feeding her grown sons with her hands. While many of us cringe, a wave of approving emotion is expected to wash over the theatre. Indians are always late, kids, esp young ones often are sent to school in the middle of the working day and are greeted normally. With two kids and no help, we become messy mummies – it is no crime to have dust around, and bundles of baby cloths out of place..we are used to having help around, paid or family. We don’t cope well alone. Many empathised with the condition, more so, many got caught up as they, as Indians were attacked by proxy.

In this case, the child (poor thing) wet his pants. Indian parenting is often about ‘showing off’ and we don’t talk about many things. One of the things we don’t talk about is late bedwetting. It is not part of shared parenting conversations. Remember, in the first case, all we knew about the children was that they were silent, and looked away. In this case, it goes beyond the pale – we can’t fight for a susu child. Not when we mercilessly tease them at schools and whisper about them, shaming their mothers. If we support this, would it not be like saying – we understand it happens. No, it doesn’t happen to us or our picture perfect singing dancing performing children. The other issue here is that of the child being slapped. Now, again, Indian parents are conscious – and here is a shift- of the fact that hitting children is not really acceptable. There is the light admonitory slap that is still practiced if not acknowledged is a dirty little secret that we are unwilling to share. It is but the mild end of the horrific line that leads to violence against children.

Of course, the subsequent facts of the first case also lost that family some support. The fact that the welfare of the children really did not seem to be the first priority of the fighting family let down their supporters. That was a sad waste of a force for good.

And yet, those were not the real issues that needed to be highlighted. EIther in that case, nor in this one.

The real question in the first case was – can and Indian child be retained in a foreign country when the parents visa is revoked or expires, against the will of the parents, or the consent of the Indian government. The embassy had not been informed or consulted till the news erupted. Is the statehood of the child something that can be ignored? Where does India stand on that issue.

The second, and equally important issue is – does the embassy network not have a duty of care to Indian citizens in foreign lands? In neither case should monetary assistance be provided, though in fact, in serious cases the embassies do help with money and tickets. But not regularly, not as a system, and really, this is not about money. In both these cases, the citizens who are lost or dumb enough not to have understood the civil norms of the land find themselves in disproportionate trouble. They need to find their first steps in negotiating their way out of trouble and bringing the family back together again. The embassy cannot do more than, but must not do less than supporting them with information and access. In these cases – at least a list of lawyers who can help them, some support, even limited with how to deal with the authorities of another culture. Possibly a bit of advice on how to appear in public – a howling mother in a Norwegian police station is clearly seen as unstable, in an Indian scenario this hysteria is seen as perfectly natural if her child has been torn away from her breast. And if, as in the first case, it is a clash of cultures, and there is a misunderstanding about Indian parenting styles and local ones, then who other than the embassy can credibly facilitate the gap? All they needed to do was provide a list of childcare experts from India who could speak with knowledge of theory and Indian practice so that the judge has the support they needed to take a balanced decision. But sadly there is neither training, nor are there resources allocated to such care. Thus every such problem becomes a rapid consultation, actions are based on the capabilities of whoever is left holding the desk.

This case will certainly receive less support, unless media frenzy is whipped up. This one is different, it is a simple misdemeanour – based on what we know so far.This one is not about Indian parenting styles vs. the west. The issues in the public eye so far are clearly problems that need intervention, if not so severe.

And yet, the same core issues remain relevant. The Indians there do not necessarily need public support – they should not need to. They need a system that helps them bridge the gap between their socio-cultural upbringing in the land their embassy comes from, and the laws and norms of the land they and their embassy is located.

(This follows a previous post written when the first case was being discussed, linked here: https://aanteladda.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/indian-children/)

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4 thoughts on “Why this Case of Indian Children in Norway is Different”

  1. Agree Meeta, we need some system where Indian families which go abroad are counselled as to the norms of the land they are moving too, so that these incidents don’t happen as often as they are.

  2. I agree. But I dont think it is about knowing the norms in a country. Its got to be something more sinister, like managing prejudice, racism. I dont think the families will be able to tackle this without help from other Indians.

  3. “They need a system that helps them bridge the gap between their socio-cultural upbringing in the land their embassy comes from, and the laws and norms of the land they and their embassy is located.”

    I don’t agree entirely.

    Quite a lot of us do not take the time to learn and understand local laws and culture, much less respect them. Ignorance of the law is never an excuse, especially when it is applicable to you. In the age of the Internet, knowledge of another country is only a click away, and many global companies have orientation sessions before employees are sent to work in other countries. At some point, the individual has to take responsibility for his actions.

  4. 1. The stand that the govt. took was ‘we cant interfere, its a private business.
    This is our national stand about violence. Parents who harm their children definitely deserve to be punished, but taking the child away is ridiculous, unless there is evidence of abuse.

    2. I feel there is a bit of the colonial spirit lingering in Norway – seems like a “omg those dirty barbarians *gasp* beat up their kids”.

    3. Expecting media frenzy to drive government action shows a sad state of affairs.

    4. The part about us being embarrassed about the susu kid, and the not-talking about it style of parenting, spot on.

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