Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway is a film delves into the life of Debika Chatterjee (played by Rani Mukerji), an Indian immigrant who relocates to Norway with her husband, Aniruddha Chatterjee (portrayed by Anirban Bhattacharya). Their lives take an agonizing turn when Norwegian child protective services abruptly remove their children from their home, alleging neglect and an inability to provide for them. What ensues is a relentless battle through not one but two legal systems, as Mrs. Chatterjee fights to reunite her family.
The story depicted in Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway had people wondering if there was a real life couple behind this movie. Biographical films often blur the line between fact and fiction, and this narrative, rooted in real-life class struggles and immigration issues, amplifies these concerns.
The Real Mrs. Chatterjee
The film is based on the harrowing experiences of Sagarika Chakraborty and her husband, Anurup, an Indian couple who lived in Norway over a decade ago. In 2011, Norway’s child welfare service, the Barnevern, removed the Chakrabortya children from their home, citing reasons such as insufficient playroom and parental caregiving concerns. Shockingly, even the act of hand-feeding their children was misconstrued as force-feeding, and the family’s co-sleeping arrangement drew objections.
More than a family drama, Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway is a story of cultural relativism
The incident garnered international attention, especially when the couple sought the Indian government’s assistance, asserting that the agency was penalizing them for cultural differences. After Indian intervention, custody of the children was granted to their uncle, effectively sending them back to India, far from their parents. However, Sagarika Chakraborty remained unyielding in her pursuit of her children, even as her relationship with her husband deteriorated. She embarked on a solitary legal battle in India, ultimately regaining custody of her daughter and son in January 2013.
When we talk about children’s rights, we’re also talking about human rights. It’s been argued that human rights, rooted in Western culture given the governing bodies that ‘set’ them, may not be universally applicable or relevant to non-Western cultures.
While Western cultures emphasize individual dignity and autonomy, many Eastern cultures place greater value on collective identities, spirituality, and communal obligations. Nowhere is this difference more visible than within families and especially in the relationships between parents and their children.
This debate often leads to discussions about cultural relativism—the notion that a person’s beliefs, values, and practices should be understood within the context of their own culture.
Central to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is the principle of the “best interests of the child,” which prioritizes a child’s protection from harm, access to education and healthcare, and involvement in decisions affecting their lives. However, this principle has faced criticism from scholars and activists from non-Western cultures, who argue that it overlooks the communal nature of child-rearing in many non-Western societies.
Bollywood’s Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway has ignited a significant debate by shedding light on the plight of parents whose children are arbitrarily taken away. The Royal Norwegian Embassy in New Delhi, while dismissing the film as “fiction,” acknowledged the difficulties faced by affected families and expressed sympathy, reinforcing the complexity of the issue. Disturbing statistics highlight the arbitrary nature of these cases.
According to AP News available data from 2012, out of 6,737 children removed from their homes, a significant 1,049 hailed from immigrant backgrounds or were born to immigrant parents. This figure starkly contrasts with the 744 children from immigrant families who faced the same fate out of a total of 5,846 cases in 2009.
Officials argue that their actions are guided by the paramount interest of the children involved. Nevertheless, their perceived heavy-handed approach has not only fueled tensions but also sparked diplomatic disputes with several Eastern European nations and India.
These cases starkly exemplify the imposition of Western cultural norms on the rest of the world, provoking a strong denunciation. The #BoycottGermany hashtag trending on Twitter in response to a similar case in Germany underscores the urgency of the issue.
Why did Norway take away Mrs. Chatterjee’s children?
You can thank Barnevernet for incidents like these.
Norway’s Child Welfare Services, Barnevernet, have been embroiled in controversy since 2015 for their actions, often involving the removal of children from families, citing “abuse.” Criticisms have centered on insufficient evaluations and a perceived disregard for cultural differences in these cases. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on September 10, 2019 that Norway had violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects family and private life.
One notable case within this contentious landscape is that of Mariya Abdi Ibrahim, a Somali Muslim refugee who arrived in Norway at 16. Norwegian authorities took her son at just 10 months old in 2010, alleging “neglect and abuse,” and placed him with a Christian family through adoption. Despite the ECHR ruling in her favor, Ibrahim remains unable to meet her child. The case has prompted international discussions about Barnevernet’s practices, cultural diversity, and family rights.
Where is Mrs. Chatterjee and her family now?
Now, a decade removed from the traumatic episode, much has transformed for the Chakraborty family. Sagarika separated from her husband and returned to Kolkata, West Bengal, to raise her children. She has pursued higher education and earned a Master’s in computer applications, ansd has worked with various international software companies.
Her journey is a testament to resilience and personal growth. Additionally, she penned a book titled Journey of a Mother chronicling her Norway experiences, yet to be published.
While the Chakraborty family has found stability, the children still grapple with the emotional scars left by their early separation from their parents.
What does Norway say about Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway?
In response to Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway the Norwegian ambassador to India authored an op-ed in The Indian Express, seeking to rectify inaccuracies in the film and clarify Norway’s stance on family welfare. Sagarika Chakraborty, in turn, penned a column reflecting on her past ordeals.
Although the film endeavors to portray a poignant story of struggle and reunion, it took creative liberties to protect the identities of those involved, given the immense media scrutiny the Chakraborty family endured.