Fifty-nine MPs from 19 parties have written to the German ambassador to India seeking his intervention in ensuring the return of an Indian baby girl who was taken away from her parents by the German authorities in September 2021.
The German child welfare agency Jugendamt took custody of Ariha Shah, when she was seven months old, alleging that the parents harassed her. "We do not cast aspersions on any agency in your country and assume that whatever was done was thought to be in the best interests of the baby. We respect the legal procedures in your country, but given that no criminal cases are pending against any member of the said family, it is more than time to send the baby back home," the parliamentarians wrote.
The letter has been endorsed by MPs cutting across party lines. They included Hema Malini (BJP), Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury (Congress), Supriya Sule (NCP), Kanimozhi Karunanidhi (DMK), Mahua Moitra (TMC), Agatha Sangma (NPP), Harsimrat Kaur Badal (SAD), Maneka Gandhi (BJP), Praneet Kaur (Congress), Shashi Tharoor (Congress) and Farooq Abdullah (NC).
What happened with Ariha?
They said Ariha's parents Dhara and Bhavesh Shah were in Berlin as the baby's father was employed in a company there. The family should have been back in India by now but for some tragic events, Ariha was taken away from her parents after the child had suffered an accidental injury in the perineum for which she was hospitalized.
An investigation was instituted against her parents for child sexual abuse. In February 2022, the police case was closed without any charges against the parents. The hospital too issued a report ruling out sexual abuse, the letter read.
"Despite this, the baby was not returned to her parents and the Jugendamt pressed for permanent custody of the child in the German courts. The Jugendamt has held that the Indian parents are incapable of looking after their own baby who will be better off in German foster care.
Indian MPs said shifting in Germany will be a trauma to the child
The case has taken over a year and a half for an evaluation of the parents by a court-appointed psychologist, they said. "Shifting her around from one carer to another will cause deep and damaging trauma to the child. The parents are allowed only fortnightly visits. The videos of these meetings are heart-wrenching and they reveal the deep bonds the baby has with her parents and the pain of separation.
"There is another aspect. We have our own cultural norms. The baby belongs to a Jain family who are strict vegetarians. The baby is being brought up in an alien culture, being fed non-vegetarian food. Being here in India, you can better appreciate how unacceptable this is to us," the letter stated. It also said that "India can well look after her own children".
"We request you to consider how your country would feel if a German baby was forcibly kept in Indian foster care. The Indian government has formally asked the German government for the child's return to a Jain foster family in India under the supervision of the Indian child welfare authorities.
MEA also urged Germany to return India's baby
"The foster family is willing to accommodate the parents in their home so as to carry out the court psychologist's recommendation for the child to be with the parents under supervision. This is a fair way to resolve the issue, by respecting the German court-appointed psychologists' recommendation and implementing it under the supervision of Indian authorities, here in India. We are aware of the court proceedings. This solution may be offered to the court by the German authorities without delay," it said.
India on Friday urged Germany to send back at the earliest Ariha Shah, asserting it is important for the child to be in her linguistic, religious, cultural and social environment. External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Ariha's continued stay in German foster care and "infringement" of her social, cultural and linguistic rights is of deep concern to the government of India and the parents.