A deaf-mute Indian girl stranded in Pakistan for 13 years after wandering over one of the world’s most militarised borders arrived home on Monday to be reunited with the family she has identified from photographs.
The story of Geeta, a Hindu woman in her early 20s, has captivated people in both countries at a time of heightened tension and border clashes between the nuclear-armed rivals.
“Geeta – welcome home our daughter,” Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said on Twitter.
Geeta was about 11 when she crossed from India into Pakistan.
Exactly how is not clear but Geeta mimes an explosion and shows how she ducked and ran before being caught by armed men.
At first, she was kept at a children’s home in the city of Lahore, where she was given the Muslim name Fatima.
She would point at maps of India, especially to an area in the south of Jharkhand until she was able to finally communicate she was from India, not Pakistan.
Early on Monday, Geeta left the charity bound for the airport in the city of Karachi for a flight to New Delhi.
Wearing a traditional red outfit with her head covered by a loose scarf, she smiled and waved to television cameras after leaving the airport in the Indian capital.
“Geeta stayed with us for 13 years. Now it’s time for her to go home,” said Faisal Edhi, son of the founder of Edhi Foundation, a Pakistani charity that looked after the girl.
She was headed to meet a family from Bihar whom she says she recognised from photos sent by the Indian High Commission in Pakistan.
Edhi said investigations will be done to be certain the family is actually hers.
“If the DNA doesn’t match, the Indian authorities will continue the search for her family.”
Edhi thanked India and Pakistan for their role in Geeta’s repatriation.
Hostilities have kept apart many families since majority-Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan became separate countries in 1947.
Geeta’s arrival came after Indian and Pakistani forces exchanged fire along a 100 km (60 mile) stretch of their frontier overnight, an Indian Border Security Force spokesman said.
Geeta’s story attracted much attention following the release this year of Salman Khan’s “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, in which an Indian man finds a mute Pakistani girl and tries to reunite her with her family.
The scriptwriters were unaware of Geeta’s story but the movie led to a surge in interest in her.