It Took ‘Bajrangi Bhaijan’ to get Geeta Back Home From Pakistan


IN the real life version of Bajrangi Bhaijan, Geeta, an Indian girl stranded in Pakistan for 13 years, will return home. Back in 2002, soldiers of the Pakistan Rangers found an 11-year-old girl wandering near the border at Lahore. She could not speak or hear. They handed her over to the Edhi Foundation in Karachi, where she found a surrogate family who named her Geeta, encouraged her to practise her own faith and hoped she would “settle down” with a Hindu man in Pakistan. But Geeta kept memories of home alive and scribbled pages in the Devanagari script, illegible to those around her.

Geeta first shot to fame in 2012, when her story was published in the Pakistan pages of Aman Ki Asha. In the initial media frenzy that followed, Indian officials visited her in Karachi. But nothing happened. This year, as the Bollywood blockbuster Bajrangi Bhaijan told the story of an Indian man braving the frontier to take a mute Pakistani girl back home, Geeta was back in the spotlight. This time, the Indian government has stirred itself to bring her back home, identify her parents and hand her back after a DNA test. Geeta’s story is the only bright spot in India-Pakistan ties, which have hit a new low at the moment. And there is, no doubt, much to say about people to people contact triumphing over political tactics, about the transformative power of the movies.

But it should not have taken a movie to pierce long years of institutional indifference. Hundreds of families, especially in Kashmir, are divided by one of the most heavily militarised frontiers in the world. Back in 2003, people separated by decades of Partition and conflict decided to open up a “peace village” on the Line of Control, where divided families could meet. But such valiant efforts cannot succeed with a restrictive, regulatory state prone to denying visas and permits, demanding reams of documentation from displaced people.  Both countries need to consider a mechanism to make such journeys routine. —


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