By Sapan Kapoor
The Indian deaf-mute girl Geeta, stuck in Pakistan for 13 long years, finally returned to India on Monday accompanied by members of the social welfare organization Edhi Foundation, who had been generously looking after her since 2003, so that she could be reunited with her loved ones.
Geeta – whose heart-rending story bears an uncanny resemblance to that of a character named ‘Munni’ in the Bollywood blockbuster Bajrangi Bhaijaan – was unable to return home, for she could not remember or explain where she was actually from.
The Indian government said that members of Edhi Foundation would be treated as guests and were welcome to stay in the country as long as Geeta’s family was identified. In fact, as soon as the plane carrying her landed at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport, she was at once mobbed by an army of reporters and rubberneckers with news channels covering her every movement live.
As I write this piece, a meeting between Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Geeta is underway. She is expected to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi later today besides being hosted by Pakistani High Commission in the national capital. Needless to say, the girl must be overwhelmed with all the attention she is receiving from one and all.
While leaving for India from Karachi, in a bid to express her gratitude to the people of Pakistan, Geeta used the sign language to say she felt blessed to be in that country, as translated by her instructor Ishrat Shaheen.
“She will never forget how much love and respect Pakistan has given her.”
That’s the challenge. After the Indian foreign ministry under the leadership of Sushma Swaraj pulled out all the stops to facilitate her homecoming, we must now ensure that she is meted out with a far better treatment than she got in the Islamic Republic.
Geeta’s anxiety to return to her country as soon as possible was understandable considering the prevailing atmosphere of intolerance and violence in Pakistan, even though the Edhis treated her just like their sister and daughter.
However, in India once all the hype around her around is over and media shifts its attention to some other pressing issue, Geeta would find ample time to observe the current state of affairs in the country.
She would discover an India that is somewhat different from what she must have expected it to be. An India where a 50-year-old man is lynched for merely eating beef, where two Dalit children are burnt alive by members of an upper caste community, where rationalists are killed for their ideas, where people are murdered over beef rumours, where people are attacked with black paint for helping in the launch of a book and where freedom of speech and expression is apparently under threat.
Geeta would soon learn that her country is walking on the same path trodden by Pakistan where she spent years under the guardianship of Edhi family. She would realize that if Shahzad Masih (26) and his five-month-pregnant wife Shama Bibi (24), a Christian couple, are burnt alive following an announcement from a Mosque loud-speaker accusing them of committing blasphemy in Pakistan’s Kot Radha Kishan, Mohammed Akhlaq is beaten to death after an announcement from a temple loudspeaker accusing him of slaughtering a cow in India’s Dadri.
Besides, there are thousands of Geetas and Mehrunissas in both the countries longing to be reunited with their loved ones, reaping what their ancestors sow in 1947 when people who had been living together for centuries were divided along the lines of religion, blighting their future. Every year hundreds of fishermen are arrested by both the countries for no fault of their own.
Therefore, in the wake of Geeta’s return, I hope the governments on both sides will show similar zeal to such humanitarian issues, instead of using wretched people as a bargaining tool. Being humans, this is the least we can do.
In Mahatma Gandhi’s words,
“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is like an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”