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Norwegian child services scandal makes Bollywood hit 

A Bollywood film, 'Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway', has recently been released and is based on the real-life battle of a mother whose children were taken away by Norwegian authorities. 

Bollywood actress Rani Mukherjee
A film adaption of a child services scandal in Norway has launched on Netflix. File Photo. Bollywood actress Rani Mukherjee attends a musical tribute concert for the first death anniversary of late Bollywood playback singer Lata Mangeshkar. (Photo by SUJIT JAISWAL / AFP)

The film premiered on March 17th and stars one of India’s leading actors, Rani Mukherjee, in the leading role. 

The film is based on a child welfare scandal dating back to 2011. In May of that year, child services in Stavanger placed the five-month-old daughter and three-year-old son of Anurup Bhattacharya and Sagarika Chakraborty into care. 

The case garnered a large amount of attention in both Norway and India, with the parents claiming that custody of their children was removed due to cultural differences, such as the mother sharing a bed with her child and feeding her children with her hands. 

Both the foreign ministries of Norway and India became involved in the case, and it was called the “Norway Nightmare” in the Indian press and sparked demonstrations outside the Norwegian embassy in New Delhi in 2012. 

Child services initially became involved after a nursery one of the children attended at the time flagged up concerns. 

According to an account given by Bhattacharya to Norwegian broadcaster TV 2 in 2012, child services became involved due to cultural differences. 

“My wife is used to feeding with her hands, but the people who came from the childcare centre said that she should be fed with a spoon. When she did this (feed with her hands), they wrote in the documents that it was forced feeding,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Stavanger Municipality argued that the case was solely focused on the welfare of the children and was not about cultural differences. The decision to remove the children from their parents was made after police were called to the family home to deal with a disturbance at the property.  

In 2012, the grandparents and an uncle of the children in India were granted custody. Authorities, including the foreign ministries of Norway and India, were involved in the case, with authorities from both countries engaged in resolving the incident. 

Chakraborty decided to return to India while Bhattacharya remained in Norway. The pair are now separated. In the film, Bhattacharya is portrayed as hitting his wife, something he has denied doing

Human rights lawyer Gro Hillestad Thune, who has worked on child welfare cases as a judge in the European Court of Human Rights, said the film should act as a wakeup call to Norway. 

“This film will strengthen Norway’s bad reputation internationally, and it is deserved. Many people from abroad react with sensible anger after their experiences with the Norwegian child protection system,” Thune told the Norwegian newspaper VG.

VG also reports that since 2015 the European Court of Human Rights has dealt with 40 child protection cases against Norway. 

The Norwegian Ambassador to India, Hans Jacob Frydenlund, criticised the film in an op-ed and accused the filmmakers of factual inaccuracies and misrepresentation of Norway’s approach to family life and cultural differences. 

Before its release, several officials from the Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family (Bufdir) said they planned to watch the film. 

“We are preparing for debate in light of the film, even though it is fiction and not a documentary,” the department director for international services at the directorate, Kristin Ugstad Steinrem, told FriFagbevegelse (the news publication owned by trade union group LO) before the film’s release.

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How the government’s Norwegianisation policies harmed indigenous people in Norway

The Norwegianisation of the Sami and Kvens has had severe consequences, which are being felt to this day, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report has found.

How the government's Norwegianisation policies harmed indigenous people in Norway

Beginning in the 1700s, the Norwegian government carried out the official policy of Norwegianisation, which aimed to assimilate the non-Norwegian-speaking population into an ethnically and culturally uniform society.

The policy was initially targeted at the Sami people of northern Norway but later also directed towards the Kvens. On Thursday, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission delivered its report on the policy and its impacts to Norway’s parliament.

“Norway does not have a history to be proud of when it comes to the treatment of minorities,” Dagfinn Høybråten, who chaired the commission, said of the report’s findings.

The policy aimed to suppress the language and cultural practices of several minorities. There are around 80,000 Sami, 15,000 Kvens and 10,000 Forest Finns in Norway today.

“Norwegianisation policies and injustice have profoundly negative consequences for the group’s culture, language, health and traditional industries. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s investigation shows that Norwegianisation has affected much more widely and has been more intrusive in more areas of society than previously known. Children and young people, in particular, have been affected by Norwegianisation measures throughout the history of Norwegianisation,” the commission said in a statement.

The report said that more needed to be done to increase the awareness and knowledge of the culture of the Forest Finns, Sami and Kven.

The Sami have traditionally been involved in semi-nomadic reindeer herding, fishing, fur trapping and sheep herding. They speak the Sami languages; there are around ten different Sami languages. The Kvens are descended from Finns who emigrated to the northern parts of Finland, Sweden and Norway. Only in 2005 was the Kven language recognised as a minority language in Norway.

Forrest Finns are the ancestors of Finnish migrants who settled in the forested areas of Sweden and Norway. Their language became extinct in the mid-20th century.

Indigenous people continue to face discrimination in Norway today. Last August, a report from the Norwegian Institution of Human Rights found that 11 percent of residents held negative attitudes towards the Sami and that hate speech against the group was widespread.

“The commission hopes that the report itself will increase the knowledge base of the entire population and that the proposals for measures will be followed up as a contribution to a continued reconciliation process. This will be a challenge for both the Storting and for national, regional and local authorities and the rest of society,” the commission writes.

President of the Norwegian Parliament, Masud Gharahkhani, has said that Commission’s report confirms Norway’s failures towards minorities and indigenous peoples.

“How good we are at protecting indigenous peoples and our minorities is one of the most important signs of whether we live up to our duties and values. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was appointed because we realised that we as a society have failed in that task. Today we get serious confirmation of this,” he said.

The commission was initially set up in 2018, with the report taking five years to finalise.