Hamida Banu: Missing India woman found in Pakistan 'can't wait to go home'

·4 min read
Hamida Banu
Waliullah Maroof (right) helped reunite Hamida Banu with her family

An Indian woman who was missing for 20 years has been found in Pakistan with the help of a video on social media.

Hamida Banu left India in 2002 after a recruitment agent promised to get her the job of a cook in Dubai. Instead, she says, she was tricked and trafficked to Pakistan.

Ms Banu's family in India's Mumbai told BBC Marathi that they spent two decades trying to find her - and they finally managed to do so because of two men, one in India and the other in Pakistan.

The neighbouring countries share a tense relationship, which often makes it difficult for Indians and Pakistanis to travel across the border. In Ms Banu's case, she was also hobbled by a lack of financial resources and know-how.

But through the years, she never stopped yearning to meet her children. Finally, in July this year, Waliullah Maroof, a social media activist, interviewed Ms Banu and uploaded the video online.

Hamida Banu
Ms Banu lives with her stepson in Karachi

An Indian journalist named Khalfan Shaikh - who lives in Mumbai - shared the video with his followers, which led to Ms Banu's family finding her.

The two men then helped set up a video call between Ms Banu and her daughter Yasmin Shaikh.

"How are you? Did you recognise me? Where were you all these years?" Yasmin is seen asking in the emotional video.

"Don't ask me where I was, and how I have been. I missed you all so much. I didn't stay here willingly, I had no other choice," Ms Banu replies.

Ms Banu's journey

In the interview with Mr Maroof, Ms Banu says that she had been financially supporting her four children in India after her husband's death. She had worked as a cook in Doha, Qatar, Dubai and Saudi Arabia in the past without any problems.

In 2002, she approached a recruitment agent to help arrange a job in Dubai. The woman asked her to pay 20,000 rupees ($250; £200).

Ms Banu says in the video that instead of Dubai, she was brought to Hyderabad city in Pakistan - there, she says she was detained in a house for three months.

Sometime over the years, she married a man who lived in Karachi city - but he died during the Covid-19 pandemic. Ms Banu now lives with her stepson.

Yasmin says that in her mother's previous stints abroad, she would call them regularly. But after she left in 2002, they waited months for a phone call. Finally, they approached the agent who had organised the trip.

"She told us that our mother was well and didn't want to speak with us. We kept returning to ask questions about our mother, and then she [the agent] suddenly vanished," Yasmin adds.

Finding Ms Banu

Mr Maroof, an imam at a local mosque in Karachi, says he first met her around 15 years ago when she moved to his neighbourhood and opened a small shop.

"I have been seeing her since my childhood. She always looked distressed," he says.

For years, Mr Maroof had used his social media accounts to help women from Bangladesh - who had been trafficked to Pakistan - find their families.

After Ms Banu's second husband died, she often asked Mr Marroof's mother to persuade him to help her as well.

Mr Maroof says he sympathised with her, but was hesitant because of the frosty relations between the countries.

"My friends advised me to stay away from India, suggesting that it might land me in trouble. However, I felt so bad for her that I couldn't resist it anymore," he said, saying that he doesn't take any money for his efforts.

In the interview, Ms Banu had mentioned her Mumbai address and the names of her children.

Hamida Banu
Yasmin (holding the baby) was 27 years old when her mother left

When Mr Shaikh shared the video, it was spotted by Yasmin's son, Aman.

The 18-year-old had never met his grandmother, as he was born after she left, but Yasmin recognised her immediately.

Mr Maroof says that officials at the Indian High Commission in Pakistan have contacted him and asked Ms Banu to submit an application with details of the case so they can begin the process of repatriation. But he isn't sure how much time it will take.

In the meantime, Ms Banu is counting the days until she can return home. She says she had almost lost hope of ever meeting her children again.

Across the border, the emotions are similar, Yasmin says.

"We waited for her for 20 years. I am so happy now. I can't stop smiling ever since I saw that video. It's a strange feeling."