Geeta, a deaf-mute Indian woman who accidentally crossed over to Pakistan more than a decade ago, in Delhi, Oct. 27. (Shirish Shete | PTI)
Over a decade after inadvertently crossing into Pakistan, Geeta, a deaf and mute girl, today returned here to an emotional welcome but failed to recognize a family which she had initially identified from photographs even as India “whole-heartedly” thanked Pakistani government for allowing her homecoming. A similar story about a girl from Pakistan coming to India and then being returned to her family in Pakistan was highlighted in a Bollywood movie, “Bajrangi Bhaijaan.”
Geeta, who was received by senior officials from External Affairs Ministry and Pakistan High Commission in Delhi on her arrival from Karachi, met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj, who played a key role in bringing her back.
“Welcome back home, Geeta. It is truly wonderful to have you back home… All of India will take care of you,” Modi said and assured that every effort would be made to trace her family.
Touched by the rousing welcome, an emotional Geeta, through an interpreter, said, “I am very happy to be in India. My heart is filled with happiness. I am touched the way I am being welcomed. In Pakistan, I used to often feel sad.”
Modi thanked the Edhi family for taking care of Geeta for over a decade and announced Rs. 1 crore assistance for their foundation. He described the family as “apostles of kindness and compassion.”
Earlier, addressing a press conference with Geeta, Swaraj called it a “happy day” as the “innocent daughter came back home.” She said Geeta refused to recognize the Mahato couple from Bihar which she had identified from photographs and added that she will be kept in an institution in Indore till her “real family” was found.
Dressed in a red and white salwar kameez, Geeta, who had accidentally strayed into Pakistan nearly 15 years ago, said her priority is to stand on her feet.
Though Mahato family claimed she was married and has a child, Geeta vehemently denied it.
Swaraj said Geeta’s DNA sample is being examined and if it does not match with the samples of the Mahato couple, then government will start afresh the process to find her parents.
“If the DNA samples match, then it will be a complex situation. We will ask Geeta to recollect things and go down the memory lane. We will make her sit again with them (Mahatos) so that she recollects her memory,” the minister said, adding Geeta did not show any excitement when she saw the Mahato couple.
“No matter if we find her (Geeta’s) parents or not, she is a daughter of India and we will take care of her,” Swaraj said, adding Geeta has said the Mahato family is not hers.
The minister also thanked the Pakistan government, saying, “I on behalf of people of India and government thank Pakistan government and its Prime Minister for facilitating Geeta’s return.”
Swaraj, however, refused to answer questions on whether Geeta’s homecoming will help improve relations between India and Pakistan.
Geeta was adopted by the Edhi Foundation’s Bilquis Edhi and lived with her in Karachi. Bilquis and her grandchildren, Saba and Saad Edhi, accompanied Geeta to Delhi.
Geeta’s story came to light after the release of Salman Khan starrer “Bajrangi Bhaijaan” in which the hero unites a girl separated from her Pakistani mother who was visiting India.
Mahato claimed Geeta is his first child and her name was Heera who was lost in a fair in 2004.
Heaping praise on Bilquis, Swaraj said all the members of the organization who accompanied Geeta have been accorded state guest status. The Edhi delegation is likely to visit Taj Mahal, Ajmer Sharif dargah as well as various historical places in Delhi.
Giving a detail account of her stay in Edhi Foundation, Bilquis on her part said, “I am extremely happy. Today is like Eid for me. I am happy for Geeta.” She said Geeta initially was restless and wanted to flee from Pakistan.
Bilquis said Geeta watched “Bajrangi Bhaijan” several times.
“She had said the movie has been made taking my story but I have not been taken back,” said Bilquis quoting Geeta.
In her meeting with Bilquis, Swaraj told her that she will be invited to Geeta’s wedding.
Swaraj said government’s priority is to bring back the Indians who are languishing in Pakistani jails for years and have developed mental illness.
Asked Pakistan High Commission’s comment that it hoped India would release 459 Pakistani prisoners with same “love and affection” that Pakistan showed for Geeta, Swaraj refused to comment.
She, however, said Geeta’s return has reflected importance of people-to-people contact in relationship between the two countries.
Swaraj said there cases somewhat similar to Geeta’s and government will extend help to those families to bring back their relatives.
Before boarding the PIA flight in Karachi, a beaming Geeta thanked the Pakistani people for taking care of her.
Faisal Edhi of the Edhi foundation told reporters in Karachi that they would continue to stay in touch with Geeta through social media and even visit her.
“She is not really separating from us,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pakistan High Commission said it cancelled a reception for Geeta in view of the massive earthquake in Pakistan.
“In view of the massive earthquake in Pak and loss of lives, the reception for Ms. Geeta at High Commission this evening has been cancelled,” it tweeted.