As the controversial sedition law was paused today and the government was asked by the Supreme Court to avoid filing fresh cases while it reviews the colonial-era rule, one of the petitioners, Major General Sudhir Vombatkere (retired), said he turned to the court when the Constitution that he swore to protect was being challenged.
“Every soldier takes an oath to defend the Constitution, they defend the Constitution even at the risk of their lives. And the country’s borders are defended by the Armed Forces in order that the people within the country can sleep safely and enjoy the freedoms and rights that the Constitution gives. That is the reason for my taking up this case,” said the General credited with stalling a 162-year-old colonial relic.
The Supreme Court said no new FIRs should be filed for sedition and all pending cases will be on hold while the government reconsiders the law. If any fresh cases are filed, those charged can approach the court. The government can pass directives to states to prevent misuse of the law, the judges said.
“It means immediate relief for hundreds charged with sedition as they can apply for bail and investigations will be stayed,” said General Vombatkere on the impact of the historic order.
“It is an interim order, not final. The interim order was given as the government made a u-turn and said they would review the sedition law. But the judicial examination of the sedition law will continue,” he said.
The General explained that he took on the case because he believed injustices were being done and these had to be opposed.
“I had noticed that a lot of things go wrong. I believe if there is injustice in one place, there is injustice everywhere. Injustices have to be opposed, they have to be resisted. I took to activism as I believe there have been injustices by all governments, state and central, regardless of their political colour,” said General Vombatkere.
According to him, the entire law has to go as it is inimical to Articles 19 1 (A), 14 and 21 of the Constitution dealing with the Right to Equality, Freedom of Speech and Expression and Protection of Life and Personal Liberty.
The sedition law, he said, has been invoked for many years, but more had been charged in the past few years than before.
“There are 800 cases and 13,000 are in jail, all citizens of India, my brothers and sisters. Only in the last eight years, nearly 400 of those 800 cases were registered. It has always been used as a political tool, just that it is more in recent years,” said the General.
“The issues are same – people don’t have real (freedom of expression). The sedition law tends to crush that freedom (speech and freedom). That it has been used more in recent years is not the issue. It is that the freedom has been denied.”
He described the Constitution as the “one strategic document for our country” from where all laws and regulations flowed out.
“It is important to protect that document. Also, outside my door I am an Indian. Inside my home I could be Hindu, Muslim, anything…”