Geeta, who was brought back to India from Pakistan by then-External Affairs Minister Late Sushma Swaraj in September 2015, has finally been reunited with her family in Parbhani, Maharashtra. When Geeta was merely nine years old, she accidentally crossed over to Pakistan. In 2015, Late Sushma Swaraj and the foreign office in Islamabad had a dialogue about her, and soon after, she was brought back to India. The journey, however, did not stop at that time.
The hunt to find Geeta’s family
As per a report in the Times of India, since the then 24-years-old Geeta arrived in India, finding her family was a big challenge as she can only communicate via sign language. Geeta was born deaf and had very vague memories about her childhood. The only thing she could remember about her time in India was a maternity home outside the railway station alongside a sugarcane farm. Since the hunt for her family started in India, several government agencies and NGOs spent hundreds of man-hours to locate the real family.
As she became a headline in both mainstream and local media, many families came forward from UP, Bihar, Telangana, and Rajasthan, claiming they were her blood relatives. However, none of them cleared verifications. In two of the cases, agencies conducted DNA tests as well, but the results were negative.
While the hunt for her family was on, Geeta was getting training in sign languages and other skills. When she arrived in India, Madhya Pradesh’s Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan promised to do everything in his power to find her family. He also promised to do ‘Kanyadan’ in case her family could not be located. Interestingly, Geeta has rejected over 25 marriage proposals since then. The TOI report, citing the social workers who are helping Geeta, says that she is a very independent woman and has rejected all the proposals for marriage.
Indore Deaf Bilingual Academy was the first to get custody of Geeta when she arrived in India. She stayed with them for 58 months. In July 2020, her custody was transferred to Gyanendra Purohit of Anand Service Society in Indore, who tried to find her family. Purohit got some promising clues that helped a lot in locating her family.
Nose piercing was a major clue
One of the most important clues was the nose piercing. While it is common to get a nose piercing on the left side in Maharashtra, her nose piercing was on the right side. Such piercing is common on the southern side of Maharashtra. He zeroed on to Marathwada, a small region that is still carrying forward the tradition of nose piercing on the right side since the time of Nizams of Hyderabad’s rule.
He rented a house in Marathwada and began the hunt with local police, civic administrations, and Marathi journalists. Her memory of a maternity home outside the railway station with sugarcane farms was among the main clues that local teams looked for. Finally, Parbhani was deemed as the final destination where a maternity home is located outside the railway station.
When her story appeared in the local newspapers, one Mina Dinkar Pandhare approached Parbhani district administration and claimed Geeta might be her daughter who went missing in 1999-2000. Mina’s first interview with Prabhakar was fruitful. The age of her daughter matched the age of Geeta. They also noticed a striking resemblance in Mina and Geeta’s looks. When Mina was asked if she remembered any identification marks on Geeta, she told about a burn mark on Geeta’s stomach which turned out to be exactly as she had described.
The burn mark was from an injury Geeta had suffered while she was a child.
No need for a DNA test
A DNA test is mostly done when the custody of a minor is to be decided. As Geeta is 29, she is free to decide about her future. Suchita Tirkey, Joint Director, Madhya Pradesh’s Social Justice Department, said in a statement that she is meeting with her family regularly and getting familiar with the surroundings.
The first meeting and journey since then
Geeta is currently under Aniket Salgaoncar’s supervision, who heads Pahal Foundation in Parbhani. When Geeta first met her mother in a room at Pahal Foundation’s office in Parbhani, she broke down and fell into the lap of her mother sobbing.
While comforting Geeta, her mother said, “Your real name is Radha Waghmare and your father’s name is Sudhakar Waghmare. He passed away some years ago.” The social workers say that Geeta is not keen on moving in with her family as of now. She is also continuing her studies and vocational training with the help of the social workers.
The journey from now is, however, difficult for Geeta. Salgaoncar said that she is not so keen on moving to the village as she lived in a setup where her all needs are being taken care of. Her mother, on the other hand, runs her family by selling clay pots. Geeta’s priority is to clear her Class VIII exam through distance education. “Once she secures some basic qualifications, we will request the Maharashtra government to help her get a job,” Salgaoncar added.
Tirkey said that Geeta is meeting her family regularly, and when she feels comfortable moving with them, she will be handed over to the family. “My sense is Geeta wants to be financially independent before she goes back to being Radha,” said Salgaoncar.
It is unclear how she reached Pakistan
A nine-year-old accidentally crossing the border seems like a story out of a film. There are some theories that can explain how she reached Pakistan. She had a habit of running away from home when she was little. As there were no CCTV cameras at that time, it is unclear what happened. But it is believed that she boarded Sachkhand Express to Amritsar in Punjab that halts for a short time in Parbhani. She might have then boarded Lahore Samjhauta Express, which halts at Amritsar.
When the rangers in Pakistan spotted her, she was already missing for four years. She was handed over to social activist Bilquis Bano Edhi, who runs a foundation in Karachi. Unfortunately, there is no record of when she was handed over to Edhi as many people take shelter in the said foundation. Geeta’s story may have some blind spots, but she has found her family and hopefully will be able to live happily with them.