On March 29, just like any other day, seven-year-old Pooja Meghwal and her elder brother took the cattle for grazing. But instead of waiting for her brother, Pooja decided to return home alone, after collecting some firewood. However, she only made it home after three days, having strayed across the border, where some Pakistani Rangers looked after her, gave her a new salwar suit, slippers and a hamper of sweets, chocolates and chips.
"The weight of the firewood on my head made me lose direction. I kept walking till I reached a BSF checkpost. I asked the people there for some water. I then set out for home again, though the route did not look familiar," says Pooja at her home in 43 KYD village in Khajuwala, 150 kms from Bikaner.
"I somehow managed to squeeze through the barbed wire on the border. Each time, I first removed my slippers and slipped these through first. I have lost my slippers several times and my mother had warned me that if I lose these, I will not get a new pair," she recalls.
Lost and alone, she fell asleep crying on the first night. When she woke up the next morning, she found three Pakistani security personnel staring at her. "They took me to a room, and an aunty came and stayed with me. At first, I was really scared and cried. She hit me on the head and told me I would be kept there forever if I did not stop crying," says Pooja.
"So I stopped crying, and was very happy when they gave me a new salwar suit and slippers. They also gave me roti and subzi, and some toffees, biscuits, chips and sweets. I had a lot to eat," she adds.
Meanwhile, her family members approached the BSF for help. "Several flag meetings were held between BSF and the Pakistani Rangers. For three days, there was no clear word on whether they had the girl or not. All they said was that if they found her, they would treat her as their daughter. And of course, they did treat her very well," said Ravinder Kaswan, sarpanch of this border village.
Late on April 1, the villagers came to know that the Pakistani Rangers had handed over Pooja to the BSF.
Since her return, the Pakistani Rangers have reportedly been asking the BSF personnel to get Pooja to the border so they could meet her again. While her family members are grateful to the Pakistani forces, the BSF personnel have warned them to be on guard.
The BSF personnel don't want Pooja to wear the salwar suit gifted by the Pakistani side. They have summoned her father at least thrice, asking him if she gets nightmares of being "tortured".
But Pooja, like any seven-year-old, is happy with her new salwar suit and slippers, munching on the sweets and chips that she got from across the border.