Boy Caught Up in International Custody Battle - NBC Chicago

Boy Caught Up in International Custody Battle

Malini Byanna can't get her son, Tejas, back from India



    Boy Caught Up in International Custody Battle
    Tejas, 9, is with his father, Vikram Akula, in India.

    The Christmas tree is still up at Malini Byanna's northwest suburban home.  Presents are still wrapped under the tree.  An evergreen centerpiece remains on the dining room table.  And she says they will stay there, until her son, Tejas, comes home.

    Tejas is in India, and Byanna says she will keep the house just as it is, until he returns, and can celebrate the holidays the two couldn't spend together.

    The battle over Tejas raises the question over which nation's courts, should have the final say, when a bitter divorce crosses international boundaries.

    Byanna and her ex-husband, millionaire entrepreneur Vikram Akula, are engaged in a custody dispute over the 9-year-old. 

    It was late July when she says she made a custodial visit with her son to see his father in India.  Byanna returned to Chicago the first week of October to undergo some minor back surgery and to attend a professional conference, but she soon learned that her ex-husband had no intention on making good on a promise to bring Tejas home to Chicago himself.

    Now, she and her attorney contend the boy has been, to all intents and purposes, "kidnaped".  And now both sides are dueling it out in courts in Chicago and India, to determine where, legally, he should live.

    "I cannot, in good faith, feel that Tejas is going to be protected and safe," she said.

    It was last October 10 that Byanna made a formal police report to authorities in northwest suburban Hoffman Estates, alleging her ex-husband had abducted the boy; cut him off, she alleged, from his suburban Chicago Church, his Cub Scout pack, his karate class, soccer team, and friends. 

    But the front lines of the fight are now in a courtroom at the Daley Center, where lawyers representing Byanna and her ex-spouse, have battled over which nation, exactly, has jurisdiction over the custody of the case. 

    Cook County Circuit Court Judge Pamela Loza is expected to rule on that very issue within the next few weeks.

    For now, Tejas and his mother communicate mostly by internet, when her ex-husband allows it.  They even play board games.  A few weeks ago, Tejas' friends gathered in Byanna's dining room for a surprise birthday via Skype that they themselves planned and organized, having slept over the night before due to the time difference.

    The banners for the party still hang in the dining room, and the heart-shaped cookie cake is preserved in the freezer. Byanna said  she will keep them there until he returns.

    She shows a visitor a copy of Forbes magazine with her ex-husband on the cover.  He's a powerful person in India, she says, and she believes his position and influence have aided him in repeated favorable rulings regarding Tejas in Indian courts. 

    Conversely, she contends the legal process has virtually bankrupted her.

    For now, the largest question, is which nation's courts should have the final say over where the 9-year old should live.  Until that decision, Byanna says Christmas day will remain frozen in time, waiting for her son's return.