The petition, filed in 2014 by Luingam Luithui, will come up for hearing tomorrow.
New Delhi: At a time when successive cases of impounding of passports of human rights activists by the NDA government are being reported in the media, here is a case of a rights activist’s plea for restoration of his Indian citizenship that is slated to come up for a hearing in the Delhi high court tomorrow.
Way back in August 1995, the Narasimha Rao-led Congress government issued a Look Out Circular (LOC) against well-known Naga human rights activist from Manipur, Luingam Luithui, accusing him of “being a member of the (banned) NSCN (I-M) group” which led to the subsequent impounding of his passport.
As per All Naga Students Association, Manipur (ANSAM) president Seth Shatsang, after having “waited for about 10 years as a refugee in Canada and pleading with the India government that he is only a rights activist and not a member of the NSCN (I-M)”, Luithui applied for Canadian citizenship in 2005. His wife Peingamla Luithui applied for it in 2000 “owing to financial difficulties and the need to preserve their self-respect and dignity”. While the wife became a Canadian citizen in 2002, Luithui was granted the nationality in 2006.
However, in February 2011, the India government withdrew the LOC against Luithui stating that “he is not a member of the armed group but only an activist”. On coming across this piece of information through an RTI application filed by Luithui’s family, he and his wife applied for visa to travel to India. It was, however, denied.
In 2012, the couple applied for a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card which was also refused. As per media reports quoting home ministry sources, “India doesn’t grant PIO status to asylum seekers and refugees who fled India.”
In 2014, the couple filed a petition in the Delhi high court seeking the court’s intervention to restore their Indian citizenship. A hearing in the case is coming up tomorrow.
Prior to Luithui’s petition in the Delhi high court, his wife filed a civil writ petition in the same court in May 1995 from Bangkok as the Indian government refused to issue her a duplicate passport after her passport was “picked from her hand bag” at a busy market in the Thai capital in 1994. As per Luithui’s 2014 petition, the government “did not disclose” the impounding order passed against him during its presentation in the hearing of the earlier case, on September 15, 1995, even though Luithui was present at the court.
A week later, on September 22, 1995, Bhaskar Mitra, the then Joint Secretary (Consular and Passport), appeared before the Delhi high court and made a statement that Peingampla “would be given travel documents on emergency basis to travel from Bangkok to New Delhi, and that her application for grant of duplicate passport to her shall be considered as soon as possible,” as per Luithui’s petition.
After the wife’s petition was disposed off by the court, Luithui reportedly travelled back to Bangkok with the impounded passport about which he was “unaware of”. He is stated to have discovered the status of his passport in December 1995 when he submitted it for additional pages to the Indian embassy in The Netherlands where he went to attend a human rights conference.
Thereafter, his wife made a representation to the UNHCR which soon relocated them to Canada. That country has since been their home. Last year, Luithui visited his home town, the Naga dominated Ukhrul in Manipur, after a gap of 20 years “as a Canadian citizen.”
Born in 1951, Luithui is a revered figure among the Nagas. When he started the Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) in 1978, it became the first rights based organisation in the Northeast. That move was triggered by the Emergency.
“Emergency revealed the experience of state repression in many parts of the country for the first time. As a student activist, Luithui worked along with civil rights activists from mainland India for the rights of the ordinary people. For the first time, it also drew the attention of the mainland rights activists to the gross violation of human rights in the Naga areas. He, along with some colleagues, soon formed NPMHR and began taking up the legal recourse against military excesses,” Seth Shatsang told The Wire from Ukhrul.
He stated, “It was Luithui’s NPHMR which challenged the constitutionality of the Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act – AFPSA – in the Supreme Court in 1982. The judgment (NPMHR vs Union of India writ petition no: 550/82) set out strict guidelines for the army to adhere to when carrying out operations. It also directed the Indian army not to use religious and education institutions in their operations.”
In 1984, a habeas corpus case was filed by Luithui’s colleague at NPMHR Sebatian Hongray in the apex court for the release of two individuals – C. Daniel and C. Paul – who went missing after the they were taken away by the 21 Sikh Regiment operating in the Naga areas of Manipur then.
“The SC held the army responsible for the disappearance of the persons and directed the government of India to pay a compensation of Rs. 1 lakh each to the wives of the missing persons for its inability to produce them before the court. It was for the first time in Indian human rights activism compensation was given for excesses committed by the Indian Army,” he stated.
Among other things, Luithui also played an important role “to explore the possibility of political solutions to the Indo-Naga issue instead of viewing the conflict as simply a law and order problem.” The hearing of the case comes at a time when the NDA Government has already declared a “Naga Accord”, the clauses of which are still a secret though.
“Luithui is not opposed to any accord of the Nagas with the Government. Anything good for the Naga people is good for him too,” said ANSAM general secretary Alexander Hutten.
A press note signed by Seth and Hutten, which was released to the local media on May 23, said, “The ANSAM would like to categorically state that it is not too late for the GOI to take a more responsible approach to the case of Mr. Luithui and his wife Peingamla. It is time the GOI demonstrate its duty towards individuals it is responsible for and fully restore their citizenship and their right to freedom of movement.”