The young woman, known only as Geeta, smiled, waved and fought back tears after landing at New Delhi airport clutching bouquets of flowers and escorted by charity workers and officials.
She was hopeful of being reunited with her long-lost family after identifying them earlier this month in photographs delivered by Indian officials in Pakistan.
But in a tragic twist just hours after arriving in Delhi, Geeta told officials she did not know the Mahato family from India’s eastern state of Bihar.
“She recognised one family after we showed her their pictures. But after meeting the Mahato family today, she could not recognise them,” Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said at a press conference alongside Geeta.
Geeta remained upbeat despite the disappointment, with a sign language interpreter saying: “She used to be sad in Pakistan but after coming here she is happy.”
Swaraj said Geeta would be placed in an institution if DNA test results confirmed that the family was not hers and would keep searching for her real one.
At the age of 11 or 12 Geeta crossed the border from India, apparently by accident, and became stuck in Pakistan because she was unable to identify herself or say where she came from. Her plight emerged following a Bollywood film Bajrangi Bhaijaan, which told the story of a Pakistani girl who cannot speak and is trapped in India.
Geeta, now believed to be in her early 20s, remained under the care of Pakistan’s largest welfare organisation, the Edhi Foundation, living in a shelter in the port city of Karachi.
Even the name “Geeta” was given to her by Edhi staff.
– Lost and alone –
Geeta’s story has been closely followed in both countries in recent months at a time of heightened tensions between the arch rivals.
Geeta and members of the Edhi Foundation charity accompanying her from Karachi were received in Delhi by officials from the Pakistani High Commission and India’s foreign ministry. Efforts to find her family began in August after India accepted that she was one of its citizens.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced late Monday a donation of 10 million rupees ($155,000) to the Edhi Foundation shortly after he met Geeta, who smiled and hugged the Indian leader’s arm.
“Welcome Geeta. It is truly wonderful to have you back home. Was truly a delight to spend time with you today,” Modi posted on Twitter.
In an interview with AFP this month, Geeta was confident the family from Bihar was hers and had kept their framed photograph in a steel case ever since seeing it.
“This is my father, and my younger brother,” Geeta told AFP in Karachi, using a combination of sign language and facial expressions as she pointed to the photograph.
Before meeting her on Monday, the family also voiced confidence, saying they were looking forward to reuniting with her.
“It’s been a long wait. We thank both the countries for their efforts to unite Geeta with the family,” Vinod Kumar Mahato, who says he is her brother, told AFP as he waited at Delhi airport garlands in hand, hoping to meet her.
But questions remained, with the Bihar family saying the daughter they lost was married and had a baby when she disappeared. It is believed Geeta was not yet a teenager when she was found in the eastern city of Lahore by Pakistani police.
After repeated false leads in the effort to find her family, Geeta’s story received a publicity boost in August after a Bollywood film with a similar plot became a smash hit.
“Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, featuring Indian superstars Salman Khan and Kareena Kapoor, told the story of a young Pakistani woman trapped in India.
The Indian government vowed to bring Geeta home, and authorities found many families who said she could be their daughter.
Geeta’s homecoming is being seen as a rare example of humanitarian cooperation between the two hostile neighbours. Recent tensions between the two nuclear armed nations have seen cancellations of a series of bilateral meetings, most recently between cricketing officials in Mumbai.
“She’s not really separating from us. We will keep in touch with her,” Faisal Edhi of the charity that cared for her in Pakistan said in a news conference before her departure.
Mr Edhi added that there was confusion regarding Geeta’s family in Bihar, but hoped it would be clarified on the basis of a DNA test.
Geeta was presented with flowers and gifts before she left the country. Authorities have said they will conduct a DNA test before handing her over to any family. If the tests are negative, she will be cared for at a shelter home in India until her family is traced, officials said.
For most of her time in Pakistan, Geeta has lived at an Edhi shelter home in Karachi, reports the BBC’s Shahzeb Jillani. Staff at the charity gave her her name – she is now thought to be about 22.
Although it was long thought that Geeta was Indian, it was only in August that the authorities in Delhi accepted her as a citizen – and said she would be brought back home soon.
Like our page https://www.facebook.com/MalayalamDailyNews/ and get latest news update from USA, India and around the world. Stay updated with latest News in Malayalam, English and Hindi.