Rani Mukherjee is set to make a return to the big screen with her latest release 'Mrs. Chatterjee Vs Norway' on March 17. The release of the trailer on February 23 generated a lot of buzz as the film is based on the true story of an Indian woman whose children were taken away from her by the Norwegian government.
Sagarika Chakraborty had made headlines as she fought against the Norwegian government to get back custody of her children. The entire issue had even caused a diplomatic row between India and Norway.
Here's a look at the timeline of Chakraborty's decade-old custody war for her two children, which had hit the headlines both in India and Norway, in 2012.
-According to a report by The Hindu, Sagarika Chakraborty married Anurup Bhattacharya, and they emigrated to Norway. The couple's first child, Abhigyaan, was born to Sagarika a year later, who soon displayed autistic traits. Aishwarya, the couple's second child was born in 2010. By that time, Abhigyan's condition worsened and the couple enrolled him in a family kindergarten and sought the help of a child psychologist.
-A disconnect between the mother and the child was reported to the Norwegian child welfare service, also known as the Barnevernet, by the kindergarten nurse and the child psychologist. The reasons cited for this "disconnect" included only Anurup driving Abhigyaan to kindergarten and not the mother. They alleged he was the only parent, between the two, who participated in all follow-up meetings, child development meetings, and kindergarten meetings.
- According to The Hindu, Sagarika had been taking Marte Meo counseling since she was observed as “being disorganised, unpunctual, lacking in structure and unable to establish a proper daily routine for herself or her family”. Marte Meo counseling is to support the development of children on the autism spectrum. The sessions are recorded on video. The video clips are then examined to demonstrate to parents and experts how they may help the growth of a child, adolescent, or adult.
- The situation escalated in May 2011, when the Marte Meo care workers were in the Bhattacharya home and a furious argument broke out between them and Sagarika. This was followed by the care workers calling the kindergarten and announcing to the couple that their children have been taken into care by the Barnevernet.
- The couple was accused of sharing a bed with their children, hand-feeding their kids—which Norwegian authorities viewed as force-feeding—and using corporal punishment (Sagarika had allegedly slapped the children once), as reported by The Indian Express. While these actions might appear "normal" in the Indian context, they were anything but that for the Norwegian authorities.
- Anurup defended the couple by pointing out the "upbringing issues because of cultural differences" in India and Norway and said, "They asked the mother to breastfeed baby Aishwariya at scheduled times as a routine instead of feeding her when she cried as is the practice in India."
- Commenting on the issue, the child welfare service was reported as saying that it was their "responsibility to intervene if measures at the home are not sufficient to meet a child's needs".
-The case made it to the headlines in India and Norway.
- While her children were still with the Barnevernet, Sagarika could only spend an hour with them once every six months. Her greatest worry was that she and her husband Anurup would be compelled to return to India without their children once their visas expired in February 2012, The Times of India reported.
- Shikha Chakraborty, Sagarika's mother, was reported saying during the time, "I do not know how to console her. How can a mother live on without her children? It is better to die".
- According to the reports, Sagarika's parents, Shikha and Monotosh Chakraboty, had appealed to West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to escalate the matter to the foreign affair ministry.
-The Indian government finally took an initiative in order to win the release of three-year-old Abhigyan Bhattacharya and his one-year-old sister Aishwarya, in February.. "We are in touch with the Norwegian government and we are hopeful that an amicable settlement of this question could be arrived at," S M Krishna, the Indian foreign affairs minister, told reporters. "Whatever support is needed under the circumstances will be provided to the Indian couple," he said.
-According to a report by NDTV, the conflict over their release from Norwegian foster care put India and Norway's diplomatic ties to the test. But in the end, a private arrangement between Sagarika, Anurup, and Anurup's brother Arunabhas—which was approved by a local court—was used to bring them back to Bengal in the custody of their uncle, Arunabhas, in Burdwan.
-By that time the couple was on the verge of separating, yet they presented a united front. Sagarika returned to India and Anurup continued to work in Norway, as reported by NDTV.
- In May 2012, Sagarika embarked on yet another legal fight to get the custody of her children, as she approached the Child Welfare Committee in Burdwan. This time the custody battle was against her husband's family.
- Sagarika was ready to give on her fight to get the custody of her children. "I am not an unfit mother," she said as the Burdwan CWC handed over the custody to her, in November 2012.
-The Committee decided in her favour and noted that their "findings as to the fitness of the mother and her interaction with the children at visitations establish a reasonable basis for giving an opportunity to the children to be re-united with their mother".
- However, the order was not carried out by the police, nor by her in-laws. The local police said it would not interfere till it had documents to establish that the children need to be transferred, till then they will stay with their uncle.
- Sagarika then moved to the Calcutta High Court on December 20, 2012, in her unrelenting fight to reunite with her children.
- Justice Dipankar Dutta directed that the children's grandfather Ajay Bhattacharya and uncle Arunabhas would be allowed to meet them in the chamber of state counsel, every Saturday.
-Following the verdict from the High Court, Sagarika expressed her satisfaction with the court's decision and expressed her desire for her husband, Anurup, to return to India so that the children could live with their parents, as reported by The Indian Express.
-Ten years later, this story of a feisty mother who fought against all odds to get back her children, has inspired a Hindi movie which goes by the name of 'Mrs Chatterjee vs. Norway".
- As the movie hit the theatres on March 17, Hans Jacob Frydenlund, the current Norwegian Ambassador to India, said that the movie "incorrectly depicts Norway’s belief in family life and respect for different cultures". Child welfare is a matter of great responsibility and is never motivated by payments or profit, he added, tweeting out his Op-ed published in the Indian Express.
- Sagarika, who now works as a software engineer in an IT firm in Noida, expressed her excitement for the movie."I hope it will inspire many more parents whose children have been taken away by Barnevernet, to fight back", The Times of India quoted her as saying.
- She is now based in Noida due to her work while her children live at her parents' house in Birati. Sagarika has enrolled herself in a master's degree in computer applications. Her children, Abhigyaan and Aishwarya, are now 13 and 11 years old, respectively.
- Sagarika has also penned a book enumerating her struggle. The book is titled 'Journey of a Mother' and is stated to release soon.
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