Debashish and Pamela Saha are struggling to win back the custody of their 11-month-old son Indrashish from the American government, hindered by prohibitive legal costs, the strictness of child protection laws in the US, and the evidence of alleged negligence that has been put up against them.
Debashish Saha, who works with IBM, is on an assignment in the US. He says the baby fell on August 9 and needed a surgery, after which the authorities told him the injuries were too serious to have been caused by a single fall and informed child protection authorities. A New Jersey court found the parents negligent and directed the government to take custody of the baby.
Debashish Saha says he has been trying to get help from Indian authorities in the US, who have taken up the matter. At home, his family has been lobbying for support and the baby’s grandparents met the South Dinajpur district magistrate on Tuesday. The next hearing in New Jersey is on Friday.
The court’s order, a copy of which has been accessed by The Indian Express, says the medical investigation report has revealed that the baby had suffered a subdural haematoma earlier too. “A CT scan was completed on Indrashish, and it was found that the child had suffered subdural haematoma and was also positive for retinal bleeding as a result of the fall,” reads the September 7 order. “The CT scan also showed that Indrashish had suffered a prior subdural haematoma earlier in his life. Pamela Saha reported that Indrashish was on the bed and fell off backwards onto the hardwood floor. Various doctors stated the injuries that Indrashish sustained were not consistent with the explanation that Mr and Mrs Saha gave, but were consistent with Shaken Baby Syndrome. A pending criminal investigation is also being completed by the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.”
Shaken Baby Syndrome, or SBS, is identified by three conditions — subdural haematoma, retinal hemorrhage, and cerebral oedema — from which doctors infer intentional shaking. SBS can be fatal or cause severe brain damage and lifelong disability. The court order says, “The court determines that the removal of the child is necessary to avoid an ongoing risk to the life, safety or health of the child...”
Debabsish Saha insists his son fell accidentally and they are as caring as any parents could be. About the baby’s earlier haematoma, Saha said over the phone: “Yes, my son fell from the sofa once earlier, when we were in India. The doctor said he was fine. The earlier haematoma could have happened from that fall but in India it was not detected. The child protection agency is not ready to listen to that,” he said.
What all this highlights is how strictly a country such as the US enforces child protection laws as compared to developing countries such as India, says V K Tickoo, a senior member of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
“I cannot comment on the current case as we do not know what exactly happened there,” Tickoo said, while highlighting differences between one country’s general approach from that of the other. “In our country we have certain child protection laws but we do not have the kind of legal framework in which countries like the US, Norway and other European countries, Australia and New Zealand work,” he said. “We have the largest child population in the world with 44 million but it is difficult to have adequate monitoring. Besides, in this country, we do not have such stringent laws and implementing agencies to take care of such a vast child population.”
He said that in other countries agencies for health and social service, civic bodies, police administration and others are tuned in with child protection laws, while in India child protection committees generally take cognisance of a case of abuse only when the media highlights it.
Among those lobbying for the Sahas is Prof Omprakash Mishra, a leader in the West Bengal Congress. He met the baby's grandparents in Balurghat before they took up the matter with the district administration. “After speaking to the grandparents, I am convinced that it is not an instance of wilful negligence. It was an accident,” Mishra said. “I have written to Minister for External Affairs S M Krishna with a copy to our ambassador to the US Nirupama Rao, requesting legal assistance to the parents in the US from the Indian government.”
The Consulate General of India has requested the US State Department to address the concerns of the Sahas, according to a PTI report from New York. “The Consulate General has requested the US Department of State (Office of Foreign Missions) in New York to have the concerns of the parents addressed. The embassy of India in Washington has also taken up the matter with the US Department of State,” a consulate statement said.
Indrashish is at Children’s Specialised Hospital in New Jersey. The Sahas have been allowed to visit him once a week under supervision. PTI quoted Saha as saying he calls up the hospital to enquire about his son and is worried about whether he is getting proper care and food. At one time, a nurse reportedly told him the boy had been crying for two hours and would stop crying once he gets tired. “This is not the way we take care of our children,” Saha said.
He has said he would not return to India until he gets his baby back .