To live as an exile, and be back home

via The Morung Express, by Vibi Yhokha, Kohima, 12 December 2014

“I still don’t know how to express the feeling of coming home. I feel like my old self again,”

says Luingam Luithui, sharing on living as an exile and coming back to his ancestral land. Luingam, who is currently in Ukhrul on a tourist visa issued as a result of legal proceedings in the High Court of Delhi, is home after almost 20 years in exile. On November 29, the day he arrived in Ukhrul, around 3000 people gathered at Tangkhul Naga Long Ground to welcome him.

In 1995, the human rights activist’s passport was impounded by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Since then, Luingam and his wife Peingam, have been living in exile in Canada. In 2003, he was allowed to visit his ailing mother for a short period on a special temporary passport issued by the Government of India. The Government of India had accused Luingam of assisting the NSCN (IM). “They know what I do, and what I do cannot be classified as any criminal offence. They are unable to convince each other,” asserts Luingam.

The first human rights violation case that Luingam Luithui clearly remembers was in the 1960s. As a young teenager, he recalls his elder brother leaving for Jessami village as part of a fact finding team to record atrocities committed by the Indian army in the village. He also remembers how his father never expected his older son to ever come home alive. His brother did return but later died in the 1990s due to complications after being tortured by the armed forces.

After completing his Bachelor’s in Economics from St. Anthony’s Shillong, Luingam came home determined to become a farmer. He went to the extent of digging 2000 pits to plant apple trees in his village. At the same time he worked part time as a teacher in Model High School in Ukhrul for almost a year. In the meantime he also served as the President of the Tangkhul Students Union, setting the foundation for him to become a human rights activist. He was locked up in jail four or five times for protesting against the atrocities meted out under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Fearing for his life, Luingam’s mother soon sent him to Delhi. Luingam belonged to the first batch of the School for International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Naga students were ‘very united’ then, he recalls. It was a historic time when strong social movements like Naxalism, and Jayaprakash Narayan’s call for ‘revolution,’ were emerging in India. Many young people his age had died, which he says helped him to think beyond his studies.

Lui, as he is fondly called, was the first person from the North East to become a council member of JNU Students Union (JNUSU) where he served for two terms. He was also a part of Student Federation of India (SFI), involved in providing medical treatment to construction workers who lived under inhuman living conditions in Delhi. He is also one of the founding members of the Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), one of the first few movements in India to challenge the Constitution of India. It focused on violations of human rights, peace and cooperation through enforcement of constitutional rights.

By 1978, NPMHR members started working from morning till night, typing affidavits and documenting human rights violations of the Nagas. In December 1978, the group travelled to Nagaland to seek advice from Naga elders. On December 15, a gathering was held in Kohima despite the imposition of 144 CrPC. Elders from villages close by walked all the way to Kohima to support the movement. It was also the first time since the 1951 Plebiscite that Nagas came together and where victims of AFSPA shared their stories. Soon his room in JNU was raided and his documents taken away.

When the Emergency was declared in India, Lui was arrested at dawn and charged as a Naga national worker. A close associate of Sitaram Yechury of the CPI (M), back in JNU, they would stage protests, write slogans and put up posters at night to defend the rights of the citizens of India.

One of the most satisfying victories for Lui was the imposition of rule nisi (When admitting a writ petition for being heard, a court orders rule nisi which means that the respondents are asked to show cause why the petition should not be allowed, i.e. why the rule issued may not be made absolute) by the Supreme Court of India. In 1982, NPMHR filed a letter petition before the Supreme Court against atrocities under AFSPA, which made the Court to direct the Indian armed forces not to use any religious or educational institutions in their operations. This allowed Nagas to truly celebrate Christmas after a very long time. That year, when he went home for Christmas, he remembered his mother telling him, “Your father would have been so proud of you.”

Luingam is one of the founders of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), one of the leading organizations for indigenous peoples in Asia. He is also a founding member of International Alliance of the Indigenous and Tribal People of the Tropical Forests.

If there is one thing he regrets as an activist, it is anger. “I wished we had been less angry and dealt issues in a more dignified manner,” he reflects.

“You could be burned out and be broken, and people couldn’t understand,” says Luingam, as he recalls the first few years living in exile in Canada where he and his wife survived through his wife’s job as a salesperson. His sister Chon Chon and her husband sent money every alternate month, and his brother was forced to sell their ancestral land. It was only in 2011 that he found the courage to start working again. He joined a catering company where he works 12 hours, cleaning more than 38 rooms per day.

All said and done it will be okay, says an optimistic Luingam, whose contribution to the Nagas and to indigenous groups in India cannot be overlooked. And a nation that strips the identity of its own citizen for defending the rights of the rest needs to question itself.

***

Chai Kadai is thrilled to welcome back Vibi Yhokha and her stories from Nagaland. Please read her article ‘My Nagaland,’ written two years back about multiple incomplete stories of a nation(s), and the ownership of homelands. That article comes with an extensive amount of reading material on Nagalim. Here are a few more articles and books available online-

+ Memoirs of a Student Leader by Dr. P.S. Lorin, Principal, from Degree of Thought, a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express.

+ Forbidden Land: The Quest for Nagalim by Frans Welman – the story of three attempts by Frans Welman and his companions to enter Nagaland, the land of more than forty Naga tribes. Although all three efforts ended in failure, the attempts demonstrate how India and the lesser-known Burma, now known as Myanmar, have been succcessful in keeping foreigners out. Neither country wants outsiders to observe the raging war that started shortly after independence from colonial Britain. The Naga’s, who time and time again have made it known to both former colonizer Britain and newly emerging India that they wanted to be left alone, were invaded by India in 1954. Now 50 years later, the war is still on, although for the second time in its history peace talks are taking place. This war, forgotten by the international community, was the challenge for Welman and his companions. Their goal was to check on the rare yet compelling accounts of the land and people that told of beauty and democracy among the Nagas and their tenacity to not give in to a powerful alien master.

+ The Right to Self-Determination and Development of Indigenous Peoples, AIPP – The world is becoming crowded, and there is a scramble for resources in the name of “sustainable development”. Pressure is being put upon indigenous peoples and on their land and resources that they have inherited from their ancestors and are obliged to pass it on to the next generation for their collective survival. This comic provides a simplified overview of the problems faced by indigenous peoples, their rights and their contributions to sustainable development based on their distinct lifestyles and values.

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