From Geeta to Uzma Ahmed, Sushma Swaraj was saviour for Indians in distress abroad

New Delhi, PTI | Updated : 07 August 2019, 10:52 PM
Sushma Swaraj ensured return of Geeta, a hearing and speech-impaired woman in 2015. (File)
Sushma Swaraj ensured return of Geeta, a hearing and speech-impaired woman in 2015. (File)

Sushma Swaraj's untiring efforts to ensure rescue of Indians stuck in a foreign land, often in distressed situations with little hope of returning to their homeland such as Uzma Ahmed and Catholic priest from Kerala father Tom Uzhunnalil, defined her tenure as the External Affairs Minister.

Fulfilling her responsibility as an external affairs minister with compassion, Swaraj also ensured return of Geeta, the hearing and speech-impaired woman returned from Pakistan in 2015 after spending 15 years there.

Geeta's story made national headlines after the release of Salman Khan-starrer "Bajrangi Bhaijaan", in which the main character essayed by Khan reunites a Pakistani girl with her mother.

Swaraj worked on a mission-mode to get her back and made all out efforts to search for her family in India. Following her return, more than 10 families from across India claimed that Geeta was their missing daughter. However, none of the claims could be verified in the government's investigations and a search for her family is still on.

Grieving Swaraj's demise, Geeta, staying at an Indore hostel for the deaf and mute, said she has lost a "guardian" and "motherly figure".

Swaraj also ensured the release of 40-year-old Judith D'Souza, an Indian woman working for an international NGO and was kidnapped in Kabul by suspected terrorists.

D'Souza, who was working for the Aga Khan Foundation as a senior technical adviser, was kidnapped outside her office in the heart of Kabul. She was rescued in 2016 after Swaraj pursued her case with Afghan authorities.

Another major diplomatic achievement of Swaraj was securing the release of father Tom Uzhunnalil from Yemen, 18 months after he was abducted in March 2016 by Islamic State terrorists during a deadly attack on a care home run by Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in the port city of Aden.

A video of Uzhunnalil surfaced in which he appealed to the government to free him, following which Swaraj took up the issue with the Deputy Prime Minister of Yemen and requested him to help in securing the release of the priest.

"After my prayers in the morning, I heard this sad news of Sushma Ji's demise. Certainly my mind went back to the first time I spoke to her over phone the day after my release and she spoke to me like an elder sister, reassuring me all the help and assistance that was needed," Uzhunnalil told a TV channel on Wednesday.

Swaraj's relentless efforts to help Indians in distress was also manifested when she took up the case of Indian national Uzma Ahmed with Pakistan at the height of Indo-Pak tension.

Uzma had met a Pakistani citizen, identified as Tahir Ali, in Malaysia and had gone with him to his home, only to find that Ali had four children from a previous marriage. She was then forced to marry him and suffered sexual assaults.

She, somehow, managed to escape and took refuge in the Indian high commission in Islamabad.

Acting on Swaraj's instruction, the mission officials helped Uzma to take legal recourse following which the Islamabad High Court ordered her return.

Amid continued tension in Indo-Pak ties, Swaraj had thanked the Pakistani establishment and judiciary for facilitating the return of Uzma, whom she described as a "daughter of India".

In yet another example of compassion and her drive to help people, Swaraj also facilitated the return of software engineer Hamid Nihal Ansari, six years after he was arrested in Pakistan in 2012 for allegedly entering that country from Afghanistan reportedly to meet a woman he had befriended online. Pakistan had slapped espionage charges against him.

After extensive diplomatic efforts, Ansari was repatriated and handed over to India at the Wagah-Attari border in December last year.

Ansari and his family had thanked Swaraj and the external affairs ministry for persisting with the case and taking it up with Islamabad.

First Published: Wednesday, August 07, 2019 10:52 PM
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