NEW DELHI - A rare, heartwarming story played out between arch rivals India and Pakistan when a deaf and mute woman in her early 20s who accidentally crossed the border into Pakistan 12 years ago returned home Monday.
Draped in a bright red and white kurta (shirt) and salwar, Geeta waved as she stepped out at New Delhi airport to a warm welcome from scores of people, Indian authorities and members of the Pakistan High Commission.
A a news conference, a smiling Geeta said in sign language she was happy to be back in India.
She arrived accompanied by members of the Edhi Foundation, which has looked after her in a shelter in the port city of Karachi.
How she landed in Pakistan, across one of the world’s most heavily guarded borders still remains a mystery because Geeta, who was about 11 years old then, could never explain what happened.
Some reports say she was found in 2003 by Pakistani security at Lahore station on a train that runs between the two countries.
Life imitating art
Her journey back to India years after she was lost is a classic case of life imitating art.
Geeta’s story catapulted into limelight after a Bollywood film, Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
With a similar, but reverse story of a mute Pakistani girl being separated from her mother in India and then being reunited, the movie became a blockbuster hit three months ago. Soon after, the Indian government pledged to bring her home and stepped up the hunt for her family.
But the ending of the real life story hangs in the balance.
Geeta had identified her family through a single photograph that was among others sent by Indian authorities, but after meeting them in Delhi, she failed to recognize the man whom she had said was her father or his three sons.
A DNA test is being done to confirm whether she is this family’s daughter.
Addressing a news conference along with Geeta, India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, said all efforts will be made to locate her family, but even if that cannot be done she is a daughter of India and will be looked after.
The filmmaker, whose movie sparked the hunt for Geeta’s family, Kabir Khan, told Indian media that he was touched to see the way she had been cared for in Pakistan.
The charity identified her as a Hindu and took her to pray in temples. They gave her the Hindu name, Geeta.
“The way they were looking after her, the way they brought her up, was really heartwarming, it was nice to see that,” Khan said.
Minister Swaraj also heaped praise on the Edhi Foundation, and pointed out that they had given Geeta full religious freedom.
“They gave her idols, and they allowed her to pray according to her religion, they allowed her to perform rituals, that should be appreciated,” Swaraj said.
Feel good story
In both India and Pakistan, where most news focuses on diplomatic disputes and border skirmishes, Geeta’s feel-good, humanitarian story got much attention. It comes at a time when relations between the neighbors have been tense.
It also highlighted the plight of other families kept apart due to the decades-long hostilities between the two countries.
As Geeta landed in Delhi, Manzoor Memon of the Pakistani High Commission in New Delhi called for India to release 459 prisoners in Indian jails, saying, “we hope that the Pakistani prisoners will be sent home speedily so that they can spend the rest of their lives with their families.”
Foreign Minister Swaraj said the two countries are working on the issue of releasing those prisoners who had become mentally challenged.