Ariha Shah case | Opposition steps up pressure on government as parents pursue appeal

Ariha Shah case | Opposition steps up pressure on government as parents pursue appeal

MPs meet Ariha’s mother in Parliament, demand government ensure the child is brought back to be raised in India; a Berlin court’s June 13 order rejected the parents’ explanation of Ariha’s injuries as “accidents”

Opposition parties stepped up the pressure on the government to press Germany to allow the return of two-year-old “Baby Ariha” to India, even as the child’s family and the Ministry of External Affairs prepare for an appeals process in the German courts.

On Wednesday, nearly 20 Members of Parliament — cutting across party lines — met Ariha’s mother Dhara Shah in Parliament, demanding that the government take up the case for the child’s return to India more urgently. The group met informally with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, and asked for a formal meeting to discuss the case. The MPs, many of whom had earlier written a petition to German Ambassador in India Phillip Ackerman, also demanded that the case be taken up politically at the highest levels.

‘Cultural differences’

“She is the daughter of India and should be sent back here… We urge the Union government to take the necessary steps to bring her back,” Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan said, blaming “cultural differences” between India and Germany as the reason for the “strict stand” taken by the German administration.

“What happened in the Norway case? The Prime Minister’s office directly intervened and a special envoy was sent to bring back the two children. Why can’t similar action be taken now?” asked Communist Party of India (Marxist) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat, drawing a parallel to a case involving two Indian children taken from their parents in Norway in 2012, who were eventually transferred from Norway to their extended family members in India. In an article last week, Ms. Karat had also suggested that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should take up the matter directly with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is due to visit Delhi next month for the G-20 summit.

“This is a humanitarian tragedy and rising above our political differences, if required, we will also approach Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Let him at least ensure that the child is brought up in an Indian foster home and not a German household,” Shiv Sena (Udhav) MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said. 

Adverse order

The government is expected to brief Parliament about its stand in the case and the latest developments, which include an adverse order from a court in Berlin on foster custody for Ariha. The June 13 order came despite strenuous pleas from Ariha’s parents, denying allegations by German Youth Services (Jugendamt) that the 8-month-old had suffered physical abuse while at home. For the last two years, Ariha has been kept in foster care in Germany, while the parents have taken up their case with the Indian Embassy in Berlin as well as by meeting prominent politicians and senior officials in the MEA in Delhi. 

In its order, the Berlin court rejected statements by the parents explaining Ariha’s injuries as “accidents”, and cited experts who said that they had been deliberately caused. While criminal charges against the parents have been dropped, the court held that the injuries — that include trauma to the head and deep cuts to the child’s genital area — could not be explained convincingly, and criticised the parents for furnishing “conflicting accounts” of what happened.

‘Translation problems’

The Shahs have said that the court did not give them adequate time to explain the incidents, and blamed “translation” problems. In their plea, Ariha’s parents also suggested the option of transferring Ariha to a foster family in India, identified by the Child Welfare Committee in Ahmedabad, whose details were furnished to the court. The court, however, rejected this as well, appointing the Jugendamt as the “temporary guardian” of Ariha, who is staying with a foster mother in Germany. 

“We will keep fighting for Ariha in the courts, but I know it will take time to prove our case, and in the meanwhile Ariha will grow up as a German, with no knowledge of her culture. It is Ariha’s right as an Indian citizen to grow up in her country, amidst her community and culture,” Ms. Shah, told The Hindu.  

Seeking legal, diplomatic options

While earlier demands had only been for the restoration of Ariha to her family, diplomats and officials have been looking at other possible ways of resolving the issue. The present option being pursued is to work through Germany’s legal system of appeals, furnishing counters to all the claims against the parents.

However, given the severity of the court order passed on June 13, chances of a favourable hearing during the appeal have become more difficult. In addition, while the couple has given notice to appeal the verdict in court, the hearings may only take place next year, according to legal experts, increasing pressure on the government to find a legal alternative in the case. or negotiate a resolution diplomatically.

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