NEW DELHI (TIP): Far from having a fairytale ending, the story of Geeta turned into a reality television show as she returned to India after a decade in Pakistan.
Since the time she was separated from her family and appeared in Lahore, she has had an extraordinary life, learning to live with her disabilities, at the Edhi Foundation in Karachi, before diplomats negotiated the labyrinth of strained India-Pakistan ties to ensure her comeback. But the kind of homecoming that Geeta would have been praying for is hardly what she faces today; she will be handed over by the family that she knows and that took care of her well in Pakistan, to a welfare home in Indore.
There she must now live until her real family is identified. The most difficult of it all is that her real-life agonies and the quest for her family are playing out in the glare of the arc-lights. Ever since the government decided to take up her case and have Geeta repatriated — she had made formal representations to come to India for at least five years — it has made a spectacle of its efforts.
While External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, to her credit, took a humane and personal interest in her welfare, the question is whether the intense publicity this young, frail girl has faced was required at all. Would it not have been easier if, once the Indian High Commissioner had formally identified Geeta as an Indian citizen (the High Commission had been in touch with her for years), she could have been brought to India along with the Edhi family on a private trip, or if necessary, several trips, to try and get a positive identification of her family before every move of hers was publicised?
That way, when Geeta was transferred back, it would not be to a set of strangers at a halfway house that she would be handed over to, but to her own family.
Instead of treating Geeta as a victim of the most tragic circumstances, not to mention her speech and hearing impairment, the government has made her a poster-girl for its commitment to Indians in need everywhere. She was paraded at a stiff media conference addressed by the Minister and the Foreign Secretary, while the media subjected her to some atrocious questions including on her age, what she ate, and whether she was converted while she lived in Pakistan.
The hope is that from this point on the government will take its trusteeship of Geeta to a more private space, and ensure that she is reunited with her family at the earliest opportunity, be given an education, and made the master of her own future. Rather than being a time for flag-waving, this is a time for privacy, and sensitive and caring handling, away from the attentions of politicians and the media, for the young child who lost her way over the international border years ago, and has returned as Bharat ki beti.