India

Geeta: Indian village awaits return of 'mystery girl'

Geeta
Image caption Geeta is hearing and speech impaired, but tries to communicate through hand gestures and writing

An Indian woman found on the Pakistani side of the border more than a decade ago has returned home after recently identifying her family in photos sent from across the border.

BBC Hindi's Salman Ravi travels to the village in the eastern state of Bihar to meet the excited family that the woman, named Geeta, has identified as her own.

Geeta, who has speech and hearing impairments, was about 11 when she is believed to have strayed into Pakistan.

As the time nears for Geeta to be re-united with her family, excitement looms large in the Kabeera Dhaap village in Saharsa district.

Villager Janardhan Mahato has claimed that Geeta is his daughter, Heera, who was lost in a fair in Ludhiana city in the western Indian state of Punjab which shares a border with Pakistan.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionFaisal Edhi tells Geeta's story

Mr Mahato has been taken to India capital, Delhi, to meet Geeta when she returns from Pakistan on Monday.

The village, meanwhile, is anxiously waiting for her return.

Situated on an island on the Kosi river, Kabeera Dhaap lacks in even basic amenities like electricity and the only way to reach it is by boat followed by a 2km (1.24 miles) walk.

And the villagers say they have long been neglected by the authorities.

Image caption The only way to reach the village is by boat

"Nobody ever comes to our village. It is difficult to reach and neither politicians nor officials ever visit us. Now Geeta has shot into fame and we hope her return will bring the attention of officials to our village," says Raj Dev, Mr Mahato's brother.

Since Geeta, now believed to be about 22, identified her parents and siblings in the photograph, at least two other families have claimed that Geeta as their own.

Authorities have said they will conduct a DNA test before handing her over to any family.

But the residents of Kabeera Dhaap village say they are absolutely sure of her identity and that they last saw Geeta when she was married and moved to Punjab with her husband.

"We are absolutely sure that Geeta is our Heera. We have seen her grow up in the village. We saw her get married and then she left with her husband for Ludhiana. We know the DNA test will establish our claim," said villager Edison Mahato.

Janardhan Mahato, who works as a farm labourer, searched for his daughter for five years in Ludhiana, the villagers say.

Image caption "I am her elder brother. We have recognised her. Back in Pakistan, she has also recognised the photographs of our father and the family," says Balram Mahato

"When there was no clue, he returned home disheartened."

Efforts to find her family began in August after India accepted for the first time that Geeta was one of its citizens.

The family and the villagers recognised her after Indian television channels started airing her photographs.

"I am her elder brother. We have recognised her. Back in Pakistan, she has also recognised the photographs of our father and the family. Had it not been so, the government officials wouldn't have approached us," said Balram Mahato, Jagannath Mahato's eldest son.

In the village, recordings of Pakistani news channels, narrating Geeta's story, are played out on loudspeakers at the river bank and at the local temple.

Villager KP Sharma, 70, says many residents leave the village to work in other parts of the country because they have no opportunities at home.

Image caption "We hope Geeta brings us luck. Maybe we can get a bridge over the river to connect us to the rest of Bihar," say the villagers

"We have nothing here as you can see - no power, no clean drinking water, no roads, no medical care. The village has seen mass migration. This is the reason that Geeta and her husband migrated to Punjab. Most villagers work as farm labourers in different parts of the country."

"We hope Geeta brings us luck. Maybe we can get a bridge over the river to connect us to the rest of Bihar. Maybe we'll get electricity since so many journalists are visiting us now," another villager said.

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