IMPHAL, Nov 29: After spending nearly two decades in exile at Ottawa, Canada, disowned by the Indian government since 1995, rights activist Luingam Luithui and his wife Peingamla, from Ukhrul, Manipur finally has returned to his birthplace but as a tourist.
The couple landed at the Imphal`™s Tulihal Airport today amidst the convergence of hundreds of people including friends, family, well wishers and several Naga Civil bodies, to welcome the couple.
The couple who were also accompanied by fellow right activities and journalist from abroad, left for Ukhrul after a short and informal interaction with the gathering.
During the interaction, Luingam expressed his gratitude to those who have gathered for extending their moral support.
It is learnt that the couple have been granted tourist visas and will be staying in Manipur till February 1, 2015.
Luithui is the founding member of the Naga People`™s Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), known for its fight for the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, was also the first secretary-general of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact.
According to reports, the couple left India in 1992 and moved to Bangkok in connection with Luithui`™s work. Peingamla lost her passport in Bangkok in 1994 owing to which she applied for new one only to be disapproved by the Indian Government.
Subsequently, Luithui came to India and moved a petition with the Delhi High Court in 1995 yet the high court ruled that Peingamla could be given travel documents `on emergency basis` to fly to New Delhi.
In 1996, Luithui`™s passport was also reportedly impounded by the Indian Authorities. He was charged that he fled to Bangkok to joint Naga Militant leader Muivah. Later in 2011, the charges against him was cleared.
The couple claimed that they lived stateless for around 10 years and were left with no option but to seek and granted citizenship of Canada only after several fail attempts to regain their Indian citizenship.
R Lester Makang adds from Ukhrul: Being exiled and rendered stateless by the Government of India since 1995, rights activist Luingam Luithui and wife Peingam Luithui set their foot for the first time in his home town Ukhrul after almost two decades which was warmly welcomed by a mammoth crowd during a homecoming reception held in their honour at TNL Ground here on Saturday.
Accompanied by a few international indigenous rights activists, Luithui and his wife were received at Imphal Airport and escorted by a delegation comprised of leaders from UNC, NSF, NPMHR, ANSAM and NWU till TNL Ground, Ukhrul where thousands of enthusiastic public in Tangkhul traditional attires assembled to get a glimpse of their long-banished rights champion.
Addressing the mammoth gathering, Luithui briefly recalled how the rights of the indigenous people were trampled by the Indian State. Further recalling that he was forced into exile in reprisal for defending indigenous rights of the Nagas and took refuge in Canada for almost 20 years, he expressed his gratitude to the Canadian government for giving him and wife refuge and also for providing them visa thereby enabling them to start a legal battle with the Indian government toward restoring their citizenship in the country.
Lauding the initiative of Luithui, indigenous rights activist from Canada, Craig Benjamin said that the indigenous rights protection movement initiated by Luithui in India was respected across the world. He lamented that Indian State has gravely suppressed the indigenous rights of its own peoples, while adding : `Let this day open the door to attainment of rights for the people. `
It is worthwhile to note that Luithui and his wife are currently on a visit to home town as tourists on Canadian visa while awaiting a court hearing on 10 February 2015 in his battle to restore citizenship. Since 2011 four court hearings have already been held and the latest one held on 27 November 2014 last.
Among the other international activists accompanying them include Collin Nichols from Malaysia, Barbara from Russia, Melanie from Denmark and Luithui`™s sister Luithuichon.