Hindu community outraged over family's case in Norway

January 19, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
There is outrage in the Bay Area Hindu community after an Indian couple living in Norway had their children taken away over what appears to be a cultural misunderstanding. The parents say it's because they were feeding their kids with their hands.

The family moved from Calcutta to Norway several years ago after the children's father took a position there as geologist for Halliburton.

The Bhattacharya parents said, "We have lots of emotional attachment with our kids. And it's really, very, very difficult for us... for us to survive and still stand on our own feet."

Anurup and Sugareeka Bhattacharya are making a global plea for help. They spoke of their ordeal on India-based NDTV. The two are living in Norway and eight months ago, the country's child protective services put their two small children in foster care.

"The reasons given by the Norwegian Child Protective Services have been that one, the couple was feeding their children with their hands and number two is that the children were sleeping with the parents in the bed. Both of which are common practices not only in Indian culture, but I think are found in Western societies as well," said Samir Kalra of the Hindu American Foundation.

The Bhattacharya's pain is felt here in the Bay Area. Now, the Hindu American Foundation is taking action. The group launched an online petition to put pressure on the Norwegian government to return the children to their parents.

"We've had 444 signatures," said Kalra.

Norway officials meantime, insist the 1 and 3-year-old were being raised inappropriately.

"They [said to] me 'Why are you sleeping with your children in the same bed?' And this is also purely a cultural issue," said Anurup.

"Nationwide, you would not see children removed because they were being fed with hands or because they were co-sleeping with their parents," said Andrew Cain, a children and youth legal advocate.

Cain is a child welfare attorney. He calls Norway's decision surprising and he questions Norway's past dealings with children.

"They were cited by the United Nations in 2005 for concerns about their resorting to foster care too quickly," said Cain.

Those we spoke with Thursday night are shocked by the Bhattacharya's treatment.

"Feeding by hand is a very normal thing. All of us have been fed by our parents by hand" said Suhanya Ramakrishnan, a Santa Clara resident.

"It seemed a little odd that they'd whisk the kids away just for sleeping in the bed with the parents," said James Butler, a San Jose resident.

Right now, the parents are only allowed to see their children twice a year and their visas to stay in Norway expire in March. They say they refuse to leave the country without their children.