The Rajiv Gandhi International Airport (RGIA) in Hyderabad witnessed emotional scenes on Wednesday night as Mohammadia Begum, a 45-year-old woman who was trapped in Pakistan, returned to her home city.
Begum, who was received by her father Mohammed Akbar, and her mother, Hajra Begum, broke down at the airport upon seeing her parents. Her parents had been trying to rescue her for over a year.
"We are very grateful that she is finally back home. The last year has been very tough, but our daughter is finally in our arms again," Akbar said with teary eyes, as Begum clung on to her father, wailing.
Begum arrived at the Delhi airport from Lahore at around 2pm on Wednesday, following which she reached Hyderabad at around 9pm.
Even before her arrival, Akbar spent tense moments waiting for his daughter.
"I haven't seen her in years. I'm so overwhelmed by my feelings right now. The way she was treated over there makes me so angry," Akbar told TNM.
Mohammadia Begum, a resident of Hyderabad, was married off to Mohammed Younis, a mechanic in Muscat in 1996, when she was 23 years old. She was Akbar's third daughter, among his 10 children.
"I ran a puncture repair shop and I knew this local man who approached me with a proposal and said that he knew an Omani national in Muscat, who hailed from a good family. I made the mistake of believing him," Akbar said.
The 'nikah' was performed over telephone through an agent and Begum joined Younis in Muscat. After more than 14 years of marriage, Begum got a shock when Younis, who had lost his job, disclosed that he was a Pakistani.
By then, they already had four kids – two sons and two daughters. Following this, the parents alleged that Begum was taken to Sialkot in Pakistan, where she had another child, and was being tortured since.
"They used to beat her, abuse her and not feed her on time. They would not let her call us, and she used to somehow contact us, and just cry over the phone. Our hearts would pain, to see our daughter in such a state. I have worked hard to raise her, and this made my blood boil," Akbar said.
"Once she was taken to Pakistan in 2011 or 2012, she was treated like a maid. The woman's husband also re-married and kept going back and forth to Oman, leaving her all alone with her children in Pakistan," Majlis Bachao Tehreek (MBT) leader Amjed Ullah Khan told TNM.
Amjed had taken up the woman’s case on a request from her parents in December 2016.
Since January 2017, he had repeatedly taken up the case with the High Commission in Pakistan and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to help Mohammadia Begum.
"Initially, we did not even have her address. Through a media contact, we came in touch with a social activist over there, who offered to help. Begum used a relative's phone and managed to send us a photo of an ID card given by the Pakistani government. That's how we tracked her," Amjed said.
However, their troubles were far from over. Begum's Indian passport had expired in April 2016, but she had not been allowed to renew it.
After the Indian High Commissioner in Pakistan met with Begum, the External Affairs Ministry managed to secure a new passport for her, while the Pakistan government issued a visa.
However, even after she was provided a visa, the woman faced an issue as she did not have money for a ticket, and neither did her parents. The parents say that her husband and in-laws refused to send her back, and held her captive.
In December 2017, after another representation to Sushma Swaraj, she tweeted, “She is India’s daughter. If ticket is a problem, we will provide the ticket to Mohammadi Begum for her return from Pakistan,”
While the Indian government provided for her ticket to New Delhi, Amjed Ullah Khan provided the air ticket to Hyderabad.
"I must also mention Akbar's perseverance. He was always ahead of time for every meeting of ours, and he really worked hard to get his daughter back," Amjed added.
Akbar repeatedly thanked Amjed and Sushma Swaraj for their efforts, in rescuing his daughter.
Begum wants to return
However, even as Begum reached home with her parents and was welcomed by the larger family, she tried hard to fight back tears.
"Of course. I am happy to be reunited with my parents, but I also can't stop crying because I've left my children over there. No mother can part with her children in this way," Begum told TNM, as she sat down after meeting her relatives.
Begum had come to Hyderabad once, around six years ago, just after she was taken to Pakistan. She caught a flight to Oman, and arrived in Hyderabad via Muscat.
"At the time, I didn't tell my parents anything because I knew that they would not let me go back. I had a small boy back in Pakistan, and I couldn't muster the strength to leave him to fend for himself," she said.
Begum has lost a lot of weight due to her ill-treatment, and also speaks with a slight Punjabi accent which she picked up in Pakistan.
Another twist to the case, is that her husband has bought her a return ticket to Lahore, in exactly one month.
While her parents insist that they will not let her go, Begum remains steadfast in her demand that she will return for her children and try to get them back to Hyderabad.
Mohammadia Begum's mother shows the return ticket
"She is in an emotional state right now, as she just returned. We will talk to her and explain to her that she can't return. If her children want to see their mother, they can come here," Akbar said.
"I can't let her go again after all that we did to get her back," he added, his eyes moist.
However, Begum’s wish to meet her children is unwavering.
“Just like my parents are thinking about their child (Begum), I’m thinking about my children. That is all there is to it,” Begum concluded.