Mumbai: The dream of the late Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj to help a deaf-mute girl — who had strayed into Pakistan some 20 years ago — reunite with her family, was finally fulfilled here last week.
The girl, named as ‘Geeta’, 29, returned to her home in Parbhani, after a frantic search of over five years since Sushma Swaraj ensured her repatriation to India in 2015, and reunited with family, feeling safe, sound and smiling with joy.
This is the second such reunion witnessed in two different districts of Maharashtra in the past two months which moved the people of the state.
On January 26, Hasina Begum, who was wrongly dumped in a Pakistani jail for 18 years, was finally sent back to her home in Rashidpura, Aurangabad.
Unfortunately, barely savouring freedom for two weeks and struggling to salvage her life-strings snapped in the past 18 years, Hasina Begum, 65, died of a sudden heart attack on February 9, stunning the people of the city.
The second girl, Geeta, was luckier as she was not in jail, but found succour in the magnanimity of the Edhi Foundation, Karachi in Pakistan, which looked after her for years till she was sent back to India with Sushma Swaraj’s efforts in 2015.
After she landed in India over six years ago, a massive nationwide search was launched by the government, semi-government agencies, NGOs like the Anand Service Society (ASS) of Indore, which was handed Geeta’s custody in July 2020.
After a series of all-India travails to track her family, an NGO, Pahal Foundation (Parbhani) founder-directors Aniket Selgaonkar and Pradeep More helped the ASS find Geeta’s kin in a village, Naigaon and handed her over to her mother on March 2 — over 20 years after she was ‘lost’.
Soon after Geeta arrived in India, the late Sushma Swaraj, (who passed away in August 2019) had given her custody to the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who had promised to not only locate her family but like a father figure, even promised to perform her ‘kanyadaan’ if the pursuit failed.
The Madhya Pradesh government entrusted the Indore Deaf Bilingual Academy which tried for nearly five years to locate her family before handing her over to the Anand Service Society (ASS).
Though reported missing from Jintur when she was 9 years old, hopped onto several trains before landing in Pakistan in 2000, the Edhi Foundation’s records start from 2003.
ASS’s Gyanendra Purohit’s chanced upon a tiny clue — Geeta’s nose was pierced on the right side, common in the Marathwada region, instead of the usual left practiced all over — and launched the search which ended in Parbhani.
“Other clues also clinched — a maternity hospital outside the railway station surrounded by sugarcane fields, a childhood burn-mark on her tummy. Now, only the final DNA test remains,” More told IANS.
Her overjoyed mother, Meena Waghmare, now Meena Pandhare, revealed that Geeta was actually ‘Radha Waghmare’ and has siblings — a sister Pooja Bansode, and a brother, suffering from a mental illness.
Selgaonkar said that Geeta loves Marathi cuisine which she missed during her long years in Pakistan and then in Madhya Pradesh, but is still reluctant to move in with her new-found family, now living in Naigaon.
“She is taking basic lessons in English, Hindi, Marathi and computers at the Pahal Foundation, and mostly clad in ‘salwar-kameez’ all these years, learning to drape the ‘sari’, too,” he added.
More and Selgaonkar say Geeta is independent-minded and wants to stand on her own feet, earn a living before joining her mother.