Some 15 years after she strayed across the border with Pakistan as a child, speech and hearing impaired Geeta made an emotional return to India on Monday to be reunited with the family she has identified from a photograph.
Geeta flew into the international airport in Delhi on a Pakistan International Airlines flight from Karachi at 10.20am, accompanied by five representatives of the Edhi Foundation, including Bilqis Edhi, the Pakistani woman who cared for her and led a campaign for her return to India.
External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj greeted the hearing and speech impaired woman with a tweet: “Geeta – welcome home our daughter.” As she emerged from the airport, Geeta shyly waved to TV camera crews and smiled before being driven away.
गीता - भारत की बेटी का भारत में स्वागत. Geeta - Welcome home our daughter.— Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) October 26, 2015
Swaraj later met Geeta, clad in a red and white salwar-kameez, and the team from Edhi Foundation. Photos tweeted by the external affairs ministry spokesperson showed Swaraj embracing Geeta, whose story captivated people on both sides of the border after the recent success of Bajrangi Bhaijaan, a film with a similar storyline.
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.”
Though Geeta, believed to be 23, has identified a family in Bihar from a photograph provided by the Indian high commission in Islamabad, she will be reunited with them only after DNA tests. If the tests turn out negative, she will be placed in a home either in Delhi or Indore.
A daughter returns home. Geeta arrives in New Delhi accompanied by members of Edhi Foundation pic.twitter.com/v0CIu7RWmc— Vikas Swarup (@MEAIndia) October 26, 2015
A team from the All Indian Institute of Medical Sciences met Geeta at the hotel where she is staying to collect samples for the DNA tests. Indian authorities are proceeding cautiously, according to sources in the external affairs ministry, because at least four families had come forward to claim her.
Before boarding the flight in Karachi, a beaming Geeta used sign language to thank the Pakistani people for hosting her and caring for her.
Faisal Edhi of the Edhi Foundation, Pakistan’s largest charity, told reporters they would stay in touch with Geeta through social media and even visit her. “She is not really separating from us,” he said.
Watch | Geeta arrives home after 15 years in Pakistan
Geeta was received at the airport in Delhi by officials from the external affairs ministry and senior Pakistani diplomats. In a rare gesture, the Indian government will treat \representatives of the Karachi-based charity accompanying her as state guests.
In the evening, Pakistan high commissioner Abdul Basit and his wife were to host a reception for Geeta and those accompanying her. But it was later cancelled in the wake of the massive earthquake that jolted south Asia.
“In view of the massive earthquake in Pakistan and loss of lives, the reception for Geeta at high commission this evening has been cancelled,” Manzoor Ali Memon, media head of the Pakistan High Commission, said.
Geeta apparently entered the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on a train from India almost 15 years ago. She was found by police and sent to a state-run shelter.
She was then moved from one shelter to another – because she often tried to escape and quarrelled with staff – before she arrived at the Edhi Foundation. It was Bilqis Edhi who named her Geeta.
Geeta’s story evoked considerable media interest in India and Pakistan, especially after the film Bajrangi Bhaijan – which features Salman Khan as an Indian overcoming all odds to reunite a speech and hearing-impaired girl with her family in Pakistan – became a hit in August.
“We are happy that finally she is going home,” said Faisal Edhi, the son of Edhi Foundation chief Abdul Sattar Edhi. The foundation said it had got an assurance from Indian authorities that its representatives could remain in New Delhi till DNA tests to confirm Geeta’s parentage are completed.
“This is my father, and my younger brother,” Geeta told the media in Karachi through a combination of sign language and facial expressions as she pointed to the photograph. She also showed off the clothes she plans to wear for Diwali next month – a scarlet blouse and a turquoise and heavily embroidered ghagra.