Luingam Luithui. Picture by Peingamla
New Delhi, March 14: A human rights activist from Manipur and his wife who left India in the mid-1990s and are now Canadian citizens have approached Delhi High Court seeking they be granted Indian citizenship again.
Luingam Luithui, once accused of Naga militant links, and wife Peingamla had earlier been refused Indian visas even after the Union home ministry withdrew its lookout notice in 2011, acknowledging he was “only an activist”.
Their court petition will be a test for a government that purports to welcome even former militants into “the mainstream”, and that is involved in lengthy peace talks with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah).
On March 10, the court issued notices to the home and foreign ministries and the Indian high commission in Ottawa in connection with the writ petition moved from Canada by the couple, who are in their late 50s. The government has to reply by April 7.
Luithui had in 2012 applied for a Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card but was told that “no services are rendered to refugees and asylum seekers” who have fled India.
“There is no case against him; nor are we considering him a criminal,” a Union home ministry source told The Telegraph.
Luithui is a founding member of the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights, known for its fight for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, and was the first secretary-general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact.
His relatives in Manipur’s Ukhrul district told this newspaper that around 1992, the couple had moved to Bangkok in connection with Luithui’s work.
There, the wife lost her passport in 1994. When New Delhi failed to issue her a new one, the husband came to India to move court. In September 1995, a high court ruled that Peingamla could be given travel documents “on emergency basis” to fly to New Delhi.
It didn’t happen. After the couple arrived in Canada sometime in 1996 — Peingamla travelling on “UNHCR protection”, according to relatives — Luithui found out from the Indian high commission in Ottawa that his passport had been “impounded”.
According to the couple’s petition, they lived “stateless” for 10 years during which they made several unsuccessful attempts to return home. Only after this did they seek and were granted Canadian citizenship.
Besides, in a post-9/11 world, questions were being asked in Canada why they were not seeking citizenship despite having lived there so many years.
A Union home ministry source alleged that Luithui had fled to Thailand to join Naga militant leader Thuingaleng Muivah, a charge the petitioners deny.
Luithui’s relatives said that in 2011, it was then home minister P. Chidambaram who withdrew the lookout circular issued in 1996. An RTI application has revealed that then home secretary G.K. Pillai had noted that Luithui was “not a member of any group but only an activist”.
The Centre was then in talks with Muivah’s Naga rebels and had adopted a policy of being liberal with rights activists. Muivah and Isak Chishi Swu continue to camp in New Delhi in the hope of a settlement.
In the court, the Centre may be asked why it had not granted visas to the couple even after the lookout circular was withdrawn.
Asked what stand the home ministry might take in court, a source said: “We may tell the court that we can ask him to apply for citizenship and let him observe the mandatory wait of seven years.”
The official did not clarify whether the couple would be allowed to serve out this waiting period on Indian soil. Even after a seven-year wait, however, the Centre is not obliged to grant citizenship.