What happens if Geeta meets Shiv Sena?

Will she be able to tell Uddhav Thackeray her story of unconditional love through sign language?

 |  IST  |  4-minute read |   26-10-2015
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Watching the minute-by-minute coverage of the return home of Geeta, the deaf-mute girl who lived in Pakistan for a decade or more, provokes the thought: What if Geeta and Shiv Sena's goons come face-to-face?

Luckily for Uddhav Thackeray, Geeta cannot speak, so she cannot tell him about the enormous caring and love that Pakistan's Edhi Foundation plied her at home in Lahore and Karachi - and make no mistake, it was home - these past many, many years. They treated this stranger like their daughter, not for a few weeks or months but for an endlessly long decade, without a murmur or complaint.

The Edhis took Geeta in when the Pakistan Rangers brought her to the Foundation in Lahore around 2002. A young girl, aged anywhere between seven-ten years, had been found sitting all alone in the Samjhauta Express, the train that traverses the distance between Amritsar and Lahore - twin cities before 1947 and now divided by rolls of concertina wire - when it reached Lahore station. She was handed over to the police.

Everyone knows the bare outlines of the story. How Geeta couldn't tell them very much about herself, especially because she was deaf-mute, except for the fact that she was Indian. The Pakistan Rangers, Pakistan's equivalent of the BSF, handed her over to the Edhi Foundation in Lahore. She was then moved to Karachi, where the foundation is headquartered.

The problem with Uddhav Thackeray and all those who absolutely love to hate Pakistan is that they have no time to read between the lines. For these people, all Pakistanis are terrorists, one variant or other of Ajmal Kasab, the man who attacked Mumbai and held it to ransom for 62 hours in 2008 along with nine other gunmen.

Just before Geeta flew back home on Monday morning, Faisal Edhi of the Edhi Foundation said, "I would like to thank Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, Pakistan's foreign ministry and Indian and Pakistani media. They helped a lot in finding Geeta's family… She has been with us for almost 13 years. Now it is time for her to return," he added.

The Narendra Modi government has also not been able to come to terms with what and how it wants to handle Pakistan. Should all dialogue come to an end until Pakistan ceases cross-border terrorism?

If the answer to that question is yes, then what happens to girls like Geeta, Indians, who have been given unquestioning love and respect by Pakistanis these last 13 years?

The truth, as always, must lie somewhere in between and intelligent governments must recognise that. Beware the enthusiasm of a patriot who wishes to paint everything in one crazy brushstroke.

For example, the Shiv Sena. This political party has found its "enemy," and decided that the rest of the country must abide by the fatwas that it issues around this "enemy." So Pakistani singers like Ghulam Ali cannot be allowed to perform in Mumbai, Pakistani cricket board officials like Najam Sethi and Shaharyar Khan who have been invited to Mumbai for talks with the BCCI officials like Shashank Manohar - the story why Shashank Manohar opted out of a backbone and forgot the "atithi devo bhavah" principle he should have learnt along with his mother's milk, will be told another time - cannot be allowed to go ahead with their meetings, and Pakistan theatre artists in Gurgaon must be shouted down.

So what happens if Geeta meets Uddhav Thackeray? Will she be able to tell him her story of unconditional love and care in Pakistan through sign language, perhaps a tremulous smile ?

What will he say to her? Will he tell her that he and his Shiv Sena hoods will protest if the Edhis, the family that looked after her in Lahore and Karachi, ever come to India, to Mumbai? Will they blockade the airport, shut the city down and generally behave like badly behaved children intent on throwing a terrible tantrum ?

Certainly, India must remain very vigilant about any and all attempts to destabilise it. But it's also time that Indians begin to look at the people of Pakistan - as people. There are hundreds of shades of grey in that country to India's west, and you only have to read Pakistan's vibrant newspapers to see that. Pakistan's army and intelligence agency, the ISI's determination to undermine India is a very important aspect of that country's fabric, but the fact remains that it is only one story, certainly not the only one.

Those at its helm of the Edhi Foundation who looked after Geeta, like Abdul Sattar Edhi and Bilquis and Faisal Edhi are also Pakistani.

It's time Uddhav Thackeray and the Shiv Sena and the rest of us take the trouble to differentiate between Pakistani and Pakistani. Pointing one general finger of hate at an entire people is sheer laziness.


Jyoti Malhotra Jyoti Malhotra @jomalhotra

Senior Journalist & President, South Asian Women in Media (SAWM), India.

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