A week ago, among the ‘prospective brides’ lined up at a ‘Parichay Sammelan’ in this city, one diminutive woman in her mid-20s drew the most attention. It was Geeta. Two-and-a-half years after India brought the speech-and-hearing impaired woman back from Pakistan amidst much fanfare, the futile hunt for her parents by the government has evolved into a new search: a groom for Geeta.
On June 7 and 8, an exercise akin to a swayamvar was held at the Indore Deaf Bilingual Academy where Geeta is housed, with prospective grooms lining up. The list had been pruned from 26 applicants to 14 by the academy and another expert who works with speech and hearing impaired, “in consultation with the External Affairs Ministry” — with Sushma Swaraj having made Geeta her pet inter-border exchange.
Eventually only four grooms turned up.
The director of the Indore academy, Monica Punjabi, says of the four, Geeta showed interest in two suitors, one from Gwalior and the other from Jaipur. The External Affairs Ministry again stepped in at this point, and only after its go-ahead did the academy express its wish to meet the parents of the two. But before that could go through, the academy says, Geeta said she wanted to meet more suitors.
Hence, on June 24, Geeta was among the more than 160 speech-and-hearing impaired persons and prospective brides who were brought to the Parichay Sammelan (or Introduction Meeting) organised by the academy at Indore. Geeta introduced herself from the stage and showed interest in two youths, from Raipur and Surat.
As officials keep their fingers crossed, the Joint Director, Social Justice Department of Madhya Pradesh government, B C Jain, who attended the meet, says it would take time for “both sides to make up their minds”.
The Raipur youth, at least, has not reciprocated, says the academy’s Murlidhar Dhamani.
It is now nearly a year since Swaraj said that Geeta would get married soon and that Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan would do the “kanyadaan”. She made the announcement in July 2017 at her official bungalow in Bhopal, where Geeta was also present.
But the efforts to find a groom began in right earnest only in April this year when Indore-based sign language expert Gyanendra Purohit, who runs another facility for speech-and-hearing impaired, and the Indore academy issued Facebook advertisements inviting proposals from potential grooms.
However, Purohit doesn’t expect an easy end to this search — much like the hunt for Geeta’s parents, from whom she is believed to have got separated while very young and strayed into Pakistan.
Purohit says Geeta’s expectations “have risen very high”. “She needs to be mentally stable. She often thinks that actor Salman Khan will come one day and unite her with her parents… Once she said her marriage could happen only after her parents are found,” he says, adding she also keeps expressing the wish to meet film stars and cricketers.
For the Salman Khan part, at least some of the blame may lie on official doors. Geeta is believed to be a huge fan of the actor’s superhit Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and her return from Pakistan was much publicised for its parallels with the plot of that film, that had released around that time and in which the character played by Salman Khan returns a lost Pakistani girl to her family.
Since her return in October 2015, the External Affairs Ministry has kept a close watch on both Geeta and whom she meets. The Indore district administration seeks the ministry’s permission before letting anyone meet her.
In October 2017, two years after her return, again with Geeta by her side, Swaraj had issued a video appeal requesting her parents to “come forward and take her home”. “She often gets restless. She desperately wants to be with you. Whoever provides a clue to her parents will get a reward of Rs 1 lakh,” she had said.
In Pakistan, Geeta spent more than a decade with the well-known Edhi Foundation in Karachi. Speaking to The Sunday Express on India’s efforts to find Geeta a home, one way or the other, Faisal Edhi of the charity hopes she will find a husband soon. “She would often accompany my mother for shopping for other girls who got married. She was happy with us… It seems she is getting frustrated because the search to locate her parents is getting longer and longer.”
While the foundation’s doors “are always open for Geeta”, Edhi adds, “She loves India and may not want to come back.”