Following the release of the trailer ‘Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway,’ where Rani Mukherjee stands up to the Norwegian government after the Child Welfare Services took her children, Twitter erupted, and #BoycottGermany began trending in support of another Indian parent whose infant was taken by the German Child Protective Services.
Before we dive into the incident in Germany, for the unversed, here’s some background about the case in Norway.
The Real Story Behind ‘Mrs Chatterjee vs Norway’
In May 2011, Norwegian Child Welfare Services (CWS) snatched Sagarika and Anurup Bhattacharya’s children Abhigyan and Aishwarya, flagging issues such as parents sleeping in the same bed as children and using their hands to feed the children (which was equated to force-feeding).
Sagarika, who was in her late 20s at the time, was branded mentally unfit to take care of her children, got estranged from her husband, and ended up engaging in a two-year-long strenuous legal battle which even saw the Indian government step in.
While Sagarika’s efforts to argue and reason with the CWS continued to fail, and her marriage continued to suffer, the case began to make headlines both in Norway and in India.
Sagarika’s first taste of win came when the Indian government intervened, and the Norwegian court handling the case allowed Abhigyan and Aishwarya to return to India under the condition that they would live with their uncle.
After a long and strenuous legal battle, during which Sagarika’s image was attacked in public and became estranged from her husband, she was declared psychologically fit to raise her children.Expand
What is Ariha Shah Case?
Ariha, a one-and-a-half-year-old baby girl from an observant Indian Jain family, was taken by Germany’s child protection agency and has remained in their custody for over 14 months now.
The case garnered attention in India and sparked outrage among the Jain community, who claimed that the child was taken away because of their religious practices, such as strict vegetarianism and fasting.
Her Ahmedabad-origin parents, Bhavesh and Dhara Shah, were living in Germany. They claimed that the authorities alleged that the pair sexually assaulted Ariha after she was found with a “serious injury” and took Ariha from their custody.
The parents initially stumped about the origin of the injury and said that Ariha’s paternal grandmother “accidentally caused the injury while visiting us, the child, in Berlin.”
After informing lawyers and German authorities, Ariha’s grandmother also submitted a detailed affidavit regarding the incident. At the same time, the parents tried their hardest to explain the situation to German officials and prove themselves as good parents in a system that was alien to the pair.
“They are facing immense challenges with language differences,” a change.org petition with over 48,000 signatures said.
While the criminal investigation into the case was ended without charges, the German Child Services - Jugendamt - filed a civil custody case for their parental rights to be terminated, pointing out an earlier incident of Ariha slipping while being lifted into the bathtub.
Moreover, the Jugendamt also said that Ariha should have “minimum contact with the parents,” keeping in mind both Ariha being in a sensitive phase regarding “attachment” and the agency’s intentions to permanently place the Jain child in a German family.
Bhavesh and Dhara, who continue to fight the case, fear that child services are dragging the matter to take advantage of child law’s “continuity principle,” where if a child has spent significant time with the state-appointed carer, they are said to be settled and are not shifted back, even if their parents are found fit to raise them.
In December 2022, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar addressed the case of Ariha Shah. He expressed concerns about ensuring that Ariha should be able to reside in an environment that aligns with her linguistic, religious, cultural, and social background.
During a press conference last year, Jaishankar stated that this was Ariha's right. He also indicated that the Indian Embassy was actively pursuing the matter with German authorities.
Jaishankar emphasised the importance of the case, stating that it was a cause for concern. During a meeting with the German Foreign Minister, who was visiting India for two days, he raised the issue of the child's situation.
Ariha’s parents have raised a serious concern about her losing her Indian and Jain culture, religion and identity, claiming that the German Youth Welfare Office refuses to serve her vegetarian food because they believe that “only a non-vegetarian diet is nutritious” for the child.
“Requests that her Jain heritage is preserved as far as possible are rejected by them saying that this is our, her parents' heritage, and not hers,” the petition said.
Moreover, the parents also alleged that despite multiple requests for temple visits on festivals and play dates with fellow Indian children, which the Jain community has supported, the German child services have refused to entertain any requests.
They added that Ariha has stopped responding when her name is called out in an Indian accent.
Bhavesh and Dhara continue to long for Ariha. While the Indian government has taken cognisance, it would take years for the pair to navigate the case against them, whose trial date has still not been set, to reunite with Ariha.