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Child-Rearing, India-Style Clash Of Cultures In Norway

Updated: April 14, 2012 10:46 am

The cultures of the two worlds—East and West—have such a gargantuan chasm that it cannot be bridged in the near future. This was witnessed in the story of an Indian couple’s children being taken away by Norwegian Child Welfare Services on objections of them being fed by the hand and sleeping in their parents’ bed. Since the story has come to the fore, it has attracted worldwide attention. Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya’s children Abhigyan and Aishwarya were taken under protective care by Norwegian Child Welfare Services and they have been taken into a foster care for about ten months. Norwegian authorities consider feeding by hands to one’s children to be the force feeding and sleeping with one’s children to be inappropriate, whereas in India, the same traits are regarded as the signs of a close-knit family, where parents care for their children’s upbringing utmost. This episode has put the Indian-Norway relations on a devastating mode, as the Norwegian Child Welfare Services is not giving house room to well-established Indian sentiments. Suppose, if the reverse had happened, i.e. a couple belonging to a western country had been charged with not breast-feeding and not sleeping with their children, the government authorities concerned would have certainly invited an escapable ire. First, the West-inclined media would have blown out the issue. Then the Western country concerned would have come cracking the whip, supported by other Western countries under the aegis of, of course, the self-proclaimed globocop—the USA. And they would have raised one question in unison—How dare you do this? Thereafter, a resolution would have been passed in the UN criticising India. The end-result: All the members of the government authority concerned would have been either forced to resign or expelled. But can we imagine such a scenario in the Norwegian episode? Not at all. And what rubs salt into the wounds is another incident. When recently two Italians were kidnapped by Maoists in Odisha, the Italian Consulate General immediately rushed to Odisha from Kolkata and has been staying there in the state for over two weeks for the safe release of both the Italians—though one has been set free by the Maoists, yet the diplomat is there in the state. Against this backdrop, it is very perturbing that in the case of Indian couple and their children in Norway, the Indian government has put off the planned visit of its diplomat to Norway.

It cannot be gainsaid that happy families are the result of concerted efforts of each and every member of the family, parental counselling, social impressions in a homogenous eco-system of a nation. All this would change and differ drastically when a family is out of an accustomed eco-sysytem, more so in this case. But the Norwegian child care authorities have compounded the problems of this family by separating the children from the parents. It is noteworthy that trans-generational mould of a child-rearing is attributed to the idea that family factors are transmitted from one generation to another. These factors include, but are not limited to, personality characteristics, religious beliefs, value of education, and child-rearing techniques. I interpret it to mean that we will raise our children exactly in the same manner as we were raised in terms of discipline and ethics and how we react to certain situations. The colonial era is long past and formulations premising a culture as superior to another do not enjoy much acceptability except among a chauvinistic section of society. Every culture has traits that appear positive and others that appear idiosyncratic, if not harmful, when viewed from outside. This is applicable to child-rearing practices as well. There are certain universal aspects in the growth and development of a baby, such as insatiable hunger which is satisfied by feeding. And there are other aspects of child-rearing that are culture-specific. From the Indian cultural viewpoint, it could be asserted that European or American children are sensually starved as they sleep in a separate bedroom and are cuddled less. It is worth mentioning that the figure of 12,500 children having been taken away by the Child Welfare Services in a small country like Norway is worrisome, more so if it involves a disproportionate number of immigrant families. No wonder, such a situation triggers depression among couples of being left alone in a foreign land with little family support. Under deep stressful conditions, 100 per cent of couples will fall out crying foul. This substantiates that the Norwegian Child Welfare Services does not have clean hands. It would seem that it has played the parents for a fool. A more responsible organisation would have served notices, offered counselling, before pulling the children away. Also, a responsible Norwegian Child Welfare Services should have alerted the Consulate of India for matters involving its citizens and impending course of action if the situation was not corrected. But sheer negligence on the part of Norwegian Child Welfare Services leaves no doubt that it acted in an irrational, culturally biased and possibly racist manner. So, it is high time the GoI exerted pressure on Norway as far as rights of its citizens are concerned.


Deepak Kumar Rath

Deepak Kumar Rath

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