Sumedha Sarvadaman
Save Indian Children from First World Governments

Forced adoption of two children from parents of Gujarati Origin in Britain resurrects the clash between the First World’s fixed notions of upbringing and the Indian concept of indispensability of one’s biological family.

A recent case involving a couple of Gujarati origin in Britain has attracted considerable support in India on social media. The case involves the forced seizure of two children from their parents by the British authorities. The parents and children are British nationals. The children are both boys, one 2.5 years-old and the other 1 year-old.  The father, Bikram (name changed), is of Gujarati origin. The mother, Sarah (name changed), is of mixed ethnic background: Her mother is a white Briton and her father was of Asian origin.

Bikram and Sarah’s son Jai (name changed) was taken away at 10 months of the age and the second child, Vir (name changed), was taken away from a hospital 18 hours after his birth in the facility. The parents challenged the action of the local authorities in court, but have lost two appeals so far. The authority is now threatening to place Jai and Vir for adoption (they might have been given away to adopters by the time this article is published).

The allegation against Sarah is that her Intelligence Quotient (IQ) is between 63 and 67, and that this amounts to her having a “learning disability”, which makes her incompetent to parent the children without support!

Under the British system, being learning disabled is a ground for confiscating children from their mother. While the British law may sound outrageous to Indians, the mother does not even concede she is learning disabled.

The allegation against Bikram is that he refuses to cooperate with social workers of the local authority and has had hostile confrontations with them, including an instance of physical fight.

As per the British system, being aggressive and obstructionist towards social workers is a ground for confiscating children from their father, as it is said that owing to such attitude the social workers are unable to assess the welfare of the child.

There is no allegation of neglect or abuse of the children by the parents. The courts to which they have appealed have recorded in their judgments that this is not a case of drug abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence or any actual harm to the children.

The courts have also recorded that the parents love their children and Jai was thriving when in their care (since Vir was confiscated hours after birth, they did not have any chance to demonstrate their ability as parents towards him). The courts have recorded this as a case of potential future emotional harm to the children caused by a combination of the following factors:

1. The father’s aggressive outbursts against the social workers, which he might  demonstrate in front of his children (and on one occasion has so demonstrated by getting in a physical fight with a social worker while Jai was in the vicinity) causing them to get frightened.

2. The mother’s inability to control the father’s behaviour towards the social workers.

3. The mother’s low IQ, which requires her to have a suitable partner for raising her children, whereas Bikram is not suitable owing to his intransigence towards the social workers.

4. The father’s inability to cooperate with the local authority, which is thus unable to assess the welfare of    the children with him.

5. The mother’s failure to separate from the father despite his hostility to the social workers.

A detailed description of the facts in the case of Bikram and Sarah is annexed. The case has attracted some support in the United Kingdom.

Concerned by the development above, many Indians have joined hands to rescue these children and others sharing the plight to petition the Government of India in general and the Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj in particular. The Facebook post by this author has already got almost 1,000 likes and way more than 4,000 shares even as this article is still being written. I have just opened a Facebook page as well to sensitise the people to the issue.

The petition:

“… This is a case of gross violation of human rights and cruelty towards both the parents and the children. No parent should be deprived of their child because of a perceived learning disability or low IQ.  Further, displacing a child for failure of a parent to cooperate with local authorities is a disproportionate, draconian action on the part of the British authority.

‘Jai’ and ‘Vir’ should not be thus orphaned, deprived of their mother’s affection and denied the protection of their father for no fault of theirs. This seizure is no answer to forcibly place the children for adoption. They have a right to their real family and parents, ‘Sarah’ and ‘Bikram’. Families cannot be broken apart and re-engineered through forced adoption. The premise that Jai and Vir’s right to their own family can be substituted by any random adoptive family, no matter how competent or well-meaning such potential adopters might be, is altogether flawed.

Though the parents are pursuing legal remedies, they have lost two rounds of appeals in the courts. With the laws permitting state authorities such overbearing powers to confiscate children, even when there is no allegation of actual harm, the courts in the United Kingdom have very little leeway in helping families remain united.

Besides, the courts operate in a culture of suspicion and hostility against families, especially working class families such as Bikram and Sarah’s, and have a tendency to function virtually as a rubber stamp for decisions made by the local child protection authorities. This British system is like the similar systems that exist in most First World countries. Similar issues were faced in the widely reported cases of the Bhattacharya children in Norway and the Saha family in the United States where children of Indian citizens abroad were taken into foster care on the flimsiest of grounds.

Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya's children were taken away by authorities in Norway.

Anurup and Sagarika Bhattacharya’s children were taken away by authorities in Norway.

It is relevant to note that in both these cases the children were restored to their Indian families and are thriving with their families in India. The Bhattacharya children have been with their mother in this country for nearly two years now and doing very well. In the case of the Sahas, they pursued an appeal in the United States and last month the allegations against them were found to be “unfounded”; the entire record of the proceeding has been expunged from the records.

It is shocking that their child was kept in foster care for six months at the tender age 11 months with the US authorities threatening to keep him is state care forever when the ultimate result of their own investigations was that the allegation against the family was unfounded.

A petition was filed in October 2012 by some activists and lawyers with the National Commission for Human Rights drawing attention to this problem and asking for the Indian government to set up a mechanism for immediate repatriation of Indian children confiscated from their parents abroad. A copy of the petition is attached as Annexure B to provide an overview of the inhumanity and abuses of these state authorities acting in the name of child protection.

Though this is a case of foreign — and not Indian — nationals under the applicable laws in Britain, these draconian laws apply even to Indian citizens travelling there even in cases where they are in the UK only as tourists or for temporary work assignments.

Moreover, with Indians having family members settled all over the First World, these anti-family laws are of immediate interest to many Indians; our deep bonds with our family members do not end when they immigrate overseas.

It is fitting for the Indian government to protect the interests of persons of Indian origin abroad, especially when it is a case of innocent children and their right to be raised by their families.

Therefore, it is our humble request that the Government of India take up this issue regarding inhumane treatment of persons of Indian origin in a foreign country, including by taking the following action:

1. Express concern to the British authorities at this inhumane treatment of a family of Indian origin. The British government must be told that no parent should be deprived of their child because of perceived learning disabilities/low IQ or for failure of a parent to cooperate with the local authorities. Their law is draconian and action disproportionate to the so-called crime.

2. The British administration be told that Jai and Vir should not be thus orphaned by state authorities, deprived of their mother’s lap and denied the protection of their father for no fault of their own.

3.The British administration be told that adopters, howsoever competent and well-meaning, cannot substitute real parents.

4.Express concern at the failure of the foreign government to respect the religious and cultural rights of the children, including by obstructing the father from conducting a Hindu naming ceremony for his second child and threatening to feed his children beef in foster care.

5.Issue a travel advisory to all Indians travelling with their families to the United Kingdom to beware of the threat of finding their children permanently confiscated by local authorities acting in the name of child protection — even when they have done no harm to the child — based solely on the local authorities perception that the parents pose a risk of emotional harm to the child.

This issue needs worldwide awareness among Indian citizens and persons of Indian origin. We must know the risks to which we are putting our children when we go abroad, ironically often for the sake of our children having a better future.