Indian couple in US wage a desperate battle for their children and freedom

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Their American dream has become a nightmare of sorts. Two months ago, Prakash Settur and Mala Paneer Selvam had their six-month-old twins taken away from them. Since then, they are allowed to see the kids only for an hour each week.

Their crime? They questioned why their daughter Himisha needed a full body MRI. The hospital deemed them uncooperative and summoned Child Protective Services who took the twins away.

The couple is now facing criminal charges of child abuse. They were arrested on Friday and are currently in jail in Fort Lauderdale. A case has been initiated against them and bail has been set against USD 200,000. Prakash, who is a software engineer and has been living in Florida for five years, doesn't have the money to obtain bail.

“We have reached out to the Indian Embassy, but so far we haven't had much of a response,'' said Nizammudin Karimuddin, a friend of the parents who has come to India to drum up support for them. “Now, they have been arrested.”

This is not the first time Indian couples have found themselves embroiled in a battle with Child Protective Services. Fresh off the boat immigrants find themselves unable to negotiate the American system that often doesn't take into account cultural differences. But in the case of Prakash and Mala, the authorities have been aggressive.

“Whenever you are accused of negligence, there is a possibility of a criminal case being filed. This is the first time I have come across a case where this has happened,'' said Suranya Aiyar, who has documented many cases of Indian parents in America who faced allegations of child abuse.

Unable to conceive for years, Prakash and Mala were successful this year. Their twins, premie, were born in America. Two months ago, they noticed that Himisha had a swelling on her arm. They took her to the hospital where she was given an antibiotic intravenously.

“The nurses had difficulty finding the vein and initially tried putting the intravenous injection in the swollen arm,'' said Aiyar. “Then they administered it through the leg, asking the parents to hold down the legs quite firmly. They also did an x-ray which showed nothing. A few days later, they did an MRI which showed a fracture. They also claimed to find some earlier formations in the bones which indicated earlier fractures and on this basis they accused the parents of abuse or neglect,'' she said.

This was the beginning of their nightmare. The doctors wanted to do a full body MRI. This would mean that they would put Himisha under general anesthesia. Concerned, the parents asked if this was necessary. The word 'insurance' was mentioned.

“They wanted to take the baby to another hospital for a second opinion. The doctors thought they were resisting treatment and called Child Protection Services,'' said Karimuddin.

Prakash's parents, who live in Salem, traveled to Chennai to submit a letter to the chief minister of Tamil Nadu asking the government step in and support Prakash and Mala.