Amid twists and turns, happy ending eludes Indian girl brought from Pakistan

S. N. M. Abdi
S. N. M. Abdi
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There is a new twist in the sad tale of Geeta, the differently-abled young woman who was flown back from Pakistan in 2015 amid great fanfare with the objective of reuniting her with her family in India.

But even after two long years the 25-year-old hearing and speech challenged woman with large-expressive eyes and a ready smile, is still staying with a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Indore as all attempts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to trace her family have drawn a blank so far.

This week, External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, who was instrumental in Geeta’s return, issued an emotional video appeal to all Indians to assist authorities in locating Geeta’s family. Swaraj even offered a reward of Indian Rs100,000 for anyone who helps find Geeta's parents. Swaraj’s new move elicited an unexpected response from Pakistan which has left many in India speechless.

Soon after Swaraj announced a financial reward, Karachi’s Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s highly respected social welfare organization which was Geeta's home since 2002 when she was found wandering in Lahore near the Indian border until her return to India in October 2015, has offered to take back Geeta, stating emphatically that if she has a traceable home in the whole world, it is the Pakistani NGO which adopted her and where she lived happily for 13 years.

Geeta with Edhi Foundation's Bilquis Edhi (left) and another Pakistani charity official on her return to India in October 2015. (Supplied)
Geeta with Edhi Foundation's Bilquis Edhi (left) and another Pakistani charity official on her return to India in October 2015. (Supplied)

Geeta’s unresolved difficulties have left many wondering whether her hyped up repatriation was a case of over-activism by India’s External Affairs Ministry.“Such initiatives should be thought through to their logical end. This sort of venture has many possible pitfalls”, Nirupama Subramanian, The Hindu’s Islamabad correspondent from 2006 to 2010, told Al Arabiya.

“Although we had photo-ops in the first rush of enthusiasm, it seems nobody had imagined what a challenging exercise it was going to be to find her parents. Such India-Pakistan decisions should be guided by sound judgment rather than a rush of emotions”, added Subramanian who is now the Indian Express Resident Editor in Chandigarh and a neutral foreign policy analyst.

“Both countries seem to go for high-profile photo-ops rather than improve the bilateral relationship substantially and in a rational manner.” Since her return, several couples have claimed Geeta as their lost daughter but DNA tests nailed their lies. Before her return, she had identified Janardhan Mahato from Bihar as her father from one of many photographs sent to her by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. But a DNA test quickly eliminated Mahto.

As the Indian government’s goal of reuniting Geeta with her family remains unfulfilled, Swaraj in her new video appeal urged the woman's parents to come forward and own their daughter, promising that Geeta's expenses, from studies to marriage, will be borne by the government.

“Your daughter is restless to meet you,” she said, addressing the parents. Swaraj specially urged people from Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa to step forward with information about her family as Geeta seems to belong to these provinces in eastern India.

Geeta is flooded with bouquets in October 2015 as New Delhi celebrates the “return of India’s daughter”. (Supplied)
Geeta is flooded with bouquets in October 2015 as New Delhi celebrates the “return of India’s daughter”. (Supplied)

The Karachi connection

Even as the search continues, Karachi’s Edhi Foundation - founded by late philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi and now run by his wife Mrs Bilquis Edhi who accompanied Geeta to India in 2015 – has announced that it would be happy to have her back.

“We have always maintained that Geeta will have a home in Edhi Foundation forever and she can return to us whenever she wishes. Mrs Bilquis Edhi and the rest of us will welcome her if she chooses to return to us any day”, Anwar Kazmi, a senior Edhi Foundation official told an Indian newspaper.

Significantly, Modi was full of praise for Edhi Foundation in 2015 and donated Rupees Ten million to the charity which however declined the offer saying that it had only done its duty towards a child stranded in a foreign country.

Even as India sizes up Edhi Foundation’s new offer, TCA Raghavan, India’s former High Commissioner in Pakistan who facilitated her repatriation, said that Geeta’s problems “are part of her process of adjusting to a new environment in India”.

Raghavan says that finding Geeta’s parents won’t be a quick process. “I and other Indian officials met Geeta several times and it was very clear that she wanted to return to India. We expected that there would be ups and downs in her adapting to a new environment, especially since she had lived for years in Karachi in the protective care of the Edhis”, the ex-envoy was quoted as saying.

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