KARACHI: A young deaf and mute Indian woman who strayed into Pakistan more than 10 years ago flew to New Delhi on Monday to be reunited with the people she believes are her family.
Geeta flew into Delhi on a Pakistan International Airlines flight from Karachi, accompanied by five representatives of the Edhi Foundation, including Bilqees Edhi.
Before boarding the flight in Karachi, Geeta, clad in a red and white salwar kameez, used sign language to thank Pakistanis for hosting her and caring for her.
Known only as Geeta, she was unable to identify herself or say where she came from when she wandered over one of the world's most militarised borders from neighbouring India.
Geeta’s Indian ‘family’ not hers
Now believed to be aged in her early 20s, she has remained in Pakistan under the care of the country's largest welfare organisation, the Edhi Foundation, living in a shelter in the port city of Karachi.
"We are happy that finally she is going home," Faisal Edhi, son of the foundation's founder Abdul Sattar Edhi, told media outside the charity's office in downtown Karachi.
After repeated false leads in the effort to find her family, Geeta's story received a publicity boost in August when a Bollywood film with a similar story became a smash hit.
The Indian government vowed to bring her home, and Geeta eventually identified an unnamed family from Bihar state as being her relatives.
On Sunday, Geeta packed her belongings in a teal-coloured suitcase and a blue steel trunk. As she dusted her black purse with her sky-blue dupatta, she wore a bright smile that made her eyes twinkle with anticipation. She could hardly wait for the PIA flight PK-272 to take her to her motherland. She could not contain her excitement, and hoped to return to her parents and siblings as soon as possible.
Silencing doubts, Geeta prepares to go home
“She is taking with her the clothes and gifts she wants to give her family,” said Saba Edhi, who helped Geeta pack her luggage. Five members of the Edhi family, including Saba and Bilquis Edhi, are accompanying Geeta to India. “We are going to New Delhi, where we shall hand her over to the Indian government and return on November 2.”
Geeta chose a blue and silver sari for her mother and clothes for every one of her seven brothers and four sisters. She posed for photographs with the gifts she received before her departure from Pakistan, which has showered her with love and care for over 13 years.
She is taking with her all the gifts she received in the past few years – including a gold-jewellery set from Bilquis Edhi, a silver-jewellery set from Faisal Edhi on Raksha Bandhan and a gold chain with a pendant that bears her name.
“We have also packed some dresses for her to wear on Diwali next month,” said Saba, as Geeta folded all her clothes and placed them in her suitcase along with bangles, watches and dry fruits.
'Geeta will be placed in 'suitable institution' if DNA does not match family's'
Geeta used the sign language to say she felt blessed to be in Pakistan, as translated by her instructor Ishrat Shaheen. “She will never forget how much love and respect Pakistan has given her.” Geeta said she would keep in touch with her instructor and friends via internet video chat.
Praying for the last time in the small room where she lived for the past several years, Geeta hoped India would also welcome her with open arms and take care of her the same way the Edhi family did in Pakistan.
Razia Saher, Geeta’s only best friend for the last five years at the Edhi Home, was happy for her friend but she was also sad to lose her. “She is the only friend I have here,” said Razia.
She will undergo DNA testing in India before being handed over to the family, Bilqees Edhi, wife of the organisation's founder said.