I do like a good news story. At times when the media is overwhelmed by tales of doom and disaster it is reassuring to find, often tucked away at the foot of an inside page, a story that celebrates the goodness of human nature. So it was today that whilst reading the Guardian newspaper I came upon a headline which would have warmed the coldest of hearts. The headline read:- “Deaf-mute woman returns home to India after 13 years lost in Pakistan.” This article, written by Jon Boone who is based in Islamabad, reports how a young girl who is now known as Geeta had been discovered, lost and confused and without any means of identification in Lahore in 2002. Now in her 20s, Geeta had been rescued by Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife Bilquis who supported her care and education. The means by which Geeta came to be in Pakistan appears to be lost in a fog, but there was no doubt about her Indian nationality, and to quote the article, “the young woman never gave up hope of returning home.”
That ambition has now been realised, Geeta having apparently recognised her real family from photographs sent from Bihar. Again the full story behind how this happened is somewhat vague. Geeta has now returned to India, arriving at Delhi airport with all due ceremony with the intention that she should be reunited with her long lost family. The administration of DNA testing is intended to indicate once and for all if she is truly related to the family in Bihar who claim to have misplaced her all those years ago.
On the surface this should be one of those simple, happily ever after stories positioned to compensate for the latest plague and pestilence filling the pages of a national daily. However, just as fairy tales are seldom as innocent as they may first appear, Geeta’s tale has a number of sinister twists. It now appears that Geeta has rejected the family that seems eager to claim her, and whose stories about her early life appear not to tally with her memory of events. What should have been a happy reunion appears to have become a case of bitter disappointment.
As if this story wasn’t sad enough, it seems that several prominent Indian and Pakistani politicians are now seeking to make capital from this less than desirable situation. It is reported that on arrival at Delhi airport Geeta was “whisked away” by India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to receive the red carpet treatment and to provide a welcome photo-opportunity. Recognising that Geeta is unlikely to be back in the embrace of her family at any time in the immediate future, and that she is now in a situation of some confusion and anxiety, Foreign Minister Swaraj stated that:-
“It does not matter if we find her parents or not, she is a daughter of India and we will take care of her.”
I suspect that when the Foreign Minister says “we”, she does not actually anticipate inviting Geeta into her own home. However, it might be hoped that someone in a position of power and influence will at some point consult Geeta about her desires and do their best to accommodate these.
Not to be upstaged by their Indian counterparts, the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi, had planned a lavish reception for Geeta, a means of demonstrating Pakistan/India co-operation and to gain much needed positive publicity to counteract the negativity that often appears to characterize the relationship between these two nations. Sadly, because of the tragic earthquake that has just claimed many lives in Pakistan, this event, quite rightly, has had to be cancelled.
However, all is not lost. I am reliably informed that Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India* has 15.7 million followers on Twitter, that wonderful tabloid hack rag of cyber space. He reassured them all that:-
“it was truly wonderful to have you (Geeta) back home”
Isn’t it impressive how much sincerity can be encompassed within so few characters? I have no doubt that the guaranteed support of so high profile a leader must be reassuring and that her fears will have been immediately displaced.
This is clearly a wonderful media opportunity for so many politicians, for no sooner had Mrs Swaraj and Mr Modi departed the scene than Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had Geeta delivered to his official door, accompanied, of course, by the gathered masses of the press, to pledge his support for the, by now somewhat bemused, returnee. The Hindu newspaper reports that he has pledged to afford Geeta all possible support until she finally feels settled back in her home country.
It is, of course, reassuring to see some excellent collaboration between politicians from India and their brothers and sisters in Pakistan. We should certainly not doubt the good intentions of these civil leaders to ensure that Geeta’s situation improves, and that eventually she knows more of her personal history, and is settled wherever she may choose. Whether such actions need to be completed in a blaze of publicity, I am not so sure. But let’s hope that those few lingering cynical doubts in my mind are proven to be totally unjustified.
On the other hand – where were you today Rahul Gandhi? Looks like you’ve missed a trick again!
*To err is human – apologies for a slip of the brain which led me to earlier suggest that Narendra Modi was Prime Minister of Pakistan – I do hope that this did not alarm my friends in Pakistan or over excite those in India – please forgive!!