Mute Indian woman returns from Pakistan to find long-lost family
October 26 2015 08:53 AM
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Geeta waves as she comes out from Delhi airport after her arrival on Monday.

AFP/New Delhi

A mute and deaf Indian woman who strayed into Pakistan more than a decade ago finally returned to her home country on Monday to be reunited with the people she believes are her long-lost family.

The young woman, known only as Geeta, smiled, waved and fought back tears after landing at New Delhi airport clutching bouquets and escorted by charity workers and officials.

"We are elated to meet her. It's been a long wait. We thank both the countries for their efforts to unite Geeta with the family," Vinod Kumar Mahato, who says he is her brother, told AFP as he waited at the airport garlands in hand, hoping to meet her.

Geeta was 11 or 12 when she crossed one of the world's most militarised borders from neighbouring India. She became stuck in Pakistan because she was unable to identify herself or say where she came from.

Now believed to be in her early 20s, Geeta remained under the care of Pakistan's largest welfare organisation, the Edhi Foundation, living in a shelter in the port city of Karachi.

Even the name "Geeta" was given to her by Edhi staff.

Her return comes after Geeta indicated earlier this month that she recognised a photograph of a family from the eastern state of Bihar sent to her by Indian authorities.

Geeta will undergo DNA testing before being handed over to the family, the Indian foreign ministry said last week.

Mahato and other family members did not get to meet her Monday, before she was whisked away from the airport.

Geeta's story has been closely followed in recent months in both countries at a time of heightened tensions between the arch rivals.

Foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup said on Twitter "a daughter returns home. Geeta arrives in New Delhi accompanied by members of Edhi Foundation."

Questions remain  

Geeta is confident that the family from Bihar is hers and has kept their framed photograph in a steel case ever since seeing it.

"This is my father, and my younger brother," Geeta told AFP during an interview in Karachi this month, using a combination of sign language and facial expressions as she pointed to the photograph.

But questions remain, with the Bihar family saying the daughter they lost was married and had a baby when she disappeared. It is believed Geeta was not yet a teenager when she was found in the eastern city of Lahore by Pakistani police.

Indian authorities have said that if the DNA testing proves Geeta is not related to that family, they will place her in a "suitable institution".

After repeated false leads in the effort to find her family, Geeta's story received a publicity boost in August after a Bollywood film with a similar plot became a smash hit.

Bajrangi Bhaijaan, featuring Indian superstars Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor, told the story of a young Pakistani woman trapped in India.

The Indian government vowed to bring Geeta home, and authorities found many families who said she could be their daughter.

Geeta was found alone and disorientated with no identity papers, on a train that had crossed the border from India to Lahore.

She was believed to have strayed into Pakistani territory by mistake, but could not remember or explain exactly where she was from. Pakistani police handed her over to the Edhi Foundation.

"We are happy that finally she is going home," Faisal Edhi, son of the foundation's founder, told media in Karachi.

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