Finally, a homecoming: India-Pakistan border, guns are lowered to let #Geetacomehome(Read article summary)
A cooperative effort to reunite a deaf-mute Indian woman with her family after a decade in Pakistan inspires modest hope for the two countries' relations.
Manish Swarup/ AP
The 1,800 mile Indian-Pakistan border is famously well-guarded: it's one of the world's most militarized, and the fault line of a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands since the two countries' partition in 1947.
But Indians and Pakistanis are both celebrating one young woman's border crossing Monday, after months of cooperation to determine the identity of a deaf-mute girl who was found, confused and distraught, in a Lahore train station more than a decade ago.
For years, the Indian government refused to recognize Geeta as its own, despite her best attempts to explain, via maps, where she came from; between age 8 and 11 at the time, she was not carrying a passport when she accidentally crossed into Pakistan, perhaps in chaos following an explosion.
This summer marked a turning point for the young woman who told Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Monday that "her heart was always in India." In an unusual show of cooperation, the Indian High Commission in Islamabad sent family photos to Geeta's home at the Edhi Foundation orphanage in Karachi, where she has lived for most of the past decade, and she identified one couple from Bahar state as her likely parents.
Ever since, #Geetacomeshome has taken both countries by storm — a dramatic story, but also a reminder of all that the two nations have in common, despite a history of deadly skirmishes, Hindu-Muslim violence, and cricket fervor that the Washington Post called "the biggest rivalry of all time."
Geeta and Pakistani representatives arrived in New Delhi Monday morning to great fanfare, including flowers at the airport and a meeting with Minister Swaraj, who marked the occasion with a tweet:
The day ended anti-climactically, hoever, when Geeta did not recognize the father and brother who traveled to meet her in Delhi from the rural village of Kabeera Dhaap, who had told the Indian Express that bringing her home felt like "rebirth." The Indian government has reaffirmed its commitment to finding Geeta's family and confirming through DNA testing before releasing her from the institution where she is now staying.
A more picture-perfect reunion takes place in "Bajrangi Bhaijaan," a 2015 Indian-produced comedy-drama whose plot uncannily matches Geeta's story, though the national roles are reversed: a mute Pakistani girl brought home by the Indian hero.
Although screenwriters claim they had not heard of Geeta, millions more in India do now after film publicity helped popularize her quest to come home.
"This is a movie that holds out hope and which tells us that Pakistan may be more like India than we had imagined," the Indian Express said.
And it's possible that the feel-good glow of her trip back to Delhi may linger: in another unusual gesture announced last week, India has extended a visa to a Pakistani child, five years old, for a liver transplant in Chennai.
The Pakistani government has also tried to capitalize on warm feelings by requesting that India free 459 Pakistani prisoners.
Any hint of reconciliation is welcome in the midst of ongoing border violence. On the same day that Geeta returned, India and Pakistan each reported casualties in skirmishes that violate the cease-fire, although such violations have become near-routine.
Each night, India and Pakistan shut down the main border crossing in a crowd-pleasing spectacle of goose-stepping bravado and fanciful military hats that culminates in a brief but significant handshake. The BBC's Tawny Clark observed "it’s also heart-warming to know that every night, just for a brief moment, both countries are unified through the closing of their border gates.”
On Monday, the world watched as the gates opened, as well.