Ariha Shah was taken from her Indian parents by German authorities in Berlin in September 2021. Her father was working in Germany at the time, but the parents have since returned to India.
Ariha’s parents, according to Indian media reports, said she was accidentally injured by her grandmother, who was visiting from India, and authorities placed the girl in the custody of Germany’s Youth Welfare Office when they took her to the hospital.
Her custody has since become a diplomatic issue, with New Delhi taking it up with Germany’s foreign minister during a visit to India in December.
“We urge German authorities to do all that is necessary to send Ariha to India at the earliest, which is also her inalienable right as an Indian national,” Indian foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told reporters.
“Ariha’s continued placement 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,” he said.
Mr Bagchi said the child’s best interests can be fully realised when she is in her home country where her socio-cultural rights can be safeguarded.
He said India has a robust child welfare and protection system, and there are potential foster parents in India who are willing to bring up the child in her own socio-cultural milieu if necessary.
In a rare show of unity, 59 members of Indian parliament across 19 political parties, wrote a joint letter to Germany’s ambassador in India asking him to do everything possible to ensure that Ariha is repatriated, according to The Indian Express.
VIDEO | "The MEA has released a very strong statement, asking German authorities to send Ariha (Shah) back to India at the earliest. This has given us a lot of hope that Ariha will soon return to her country," says Dhara Shah, mother of the Indian baby girl who has been living in… pic.twitter.com/t9I4lB5QaC
— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) June 3, 2023
“Ariha is not a special needs child. 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,” they said.
“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,” the MPs said. Jainism is an ancient Indian religion whose central tenet is non-violence. Jains, who make up around 0.4 per cent of the population, typically observe a strict vegetarian diet.
Germany’s Foreign office said it was in contact with Indian authorities, that it could not comment on ongoing proceedings at youth welfare offices and family courts, and has no influence over them.
“The decision as to whether and, if so, under what conditions it will be possible to transfer the child Ariha Shah to India is up to the legal assessment by the responsible court in the course of the ongoing proceedings.”
Dhara Shah, Ariha’s mother, said: “The MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) has released a very strong statement, asking German authorities to send Ariha (Shah) back to India at the earliest. This has given us a lot of hope that Ariha will soon return to her country.”
During a visit to India in December, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock said the child was well and her “wellbeing is the first priority”.
Ariha’s account is reminiscent of a similar case recently made into a legal drama. The Hindi language movie “Mrs Chatterjee Vs Norway” is based on the real life story of an Indian mother fighting against authorities in Norway to win back the custody of her two children separated from her and put in foster care in 2011.