Flag Code: For A Country That Doesn’t Value Gandhi, Why Should Khadi’s Role In Freedom Struggle Matter?
I can’t understand why some of us privileged Indians are so upset by the amended Flag Code that allows the national flag to be produced in fabrics other than khadi. Indians who wore only khadi are largely a memory of the freedom-movement era, a fading memory. Even veteran Gandhian activists who continue to uphold the symbolism of khadi and their ideas have been under seige for a while now.
Mahatma Gandhi once said khadi was a symbol of freedom, one that Indians should all wear proudly in a new, independent country. Khadi may have been the original make-in-India product, but its idea and ideals have been outpaced by new India’s wider reality: factories of homegrown hate that conjure up inventive and electorally lucrative products, such as thook jihad.
It will take more than Gandhi’s ‘divine weapon’, the iconic charkha that he used and popularised, to spin a fabric that can hold together India’s divided society.
Gandhi himself has born the brunt of this wave of hatred, even, and especially from, our elected representatives. Karnataka Member of Parliament Anantkumar Hegde once called Gandhi’s freedom struggle a ‘drama’. Madhya Pradesh MP Pragya Thakur called Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse a ‘patriot’ (she was later forced to apologise). This year the Hindu Mahasabha ‘celebrated’ Gandhi's death anniversary as 'Godse-Apte Smriti diwas’. The Gandhi Memorial Museum recently produced a special issue of its monthly magazine dedicated to Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a co-conspirator—later acquitted—in the plot to assassinate Gandhi. In his book, Gandhi’s Assassin: The Making of Nathuram Godse and His Idea of India, Dhirendra Jha uses primary sources to underline that Savarkar was indeed Godse’s mentor.
In a country where there’s no value for Gandhi, why should there be any special meaning or privilege accorded to the fabric with which he fought for independence?
It’s not like khadi is dying. It’s just been depoliticised and defanged by slowly erasing its role in the freedom struggle.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently pointed out that khadi sales were higher than they have ever been. Modi has certainly done his bit to popularise khadi, but not in the way Gandhi imagined. Once it was ‘khadi for nation, now how about khadi for fashion”, Modi said as early as 2015. In the recent talk to Indians in Germany that I linked to above, he said that after independence “the same fate befell khadi that befell the dreamers of freedom,” adding that he had done his bit to revive khadi. In the video, the prime minister joked about khadi’s association with politicians and promoted it as a fashion garment worth including in an Indian closet.
Why outrage about symbols when the constitution itself has been violated on key issues, such as Indian citizenship, the right to practice one’s religion, the right to conduct business or stay in one’s home without the threat of demolition, to name a few?
Independent India has always loved polyester more than khadi anyway. We are all acquainted with one of the world’s largest polyester manufacturers, Reliance Industries, the first to import polyester fibre in the 1960s. Dhirubhai Ambani changed the way Indians did business, and taught us many lessons as he singlehandedly drove Indian equity markets and cozied up to politicians in power. I’m surprised he was not able to persuade our leaders to allow flags made of polyester fabric way back in the 1970s.
The Indian flag has much more symbolism associated with it than just its fabric. On July 22, 1947, the Constituent Assembly adopted the tri-colour, and 75 years later Ambedkarite artist and visual designer Siddhesh Gautam reminded people of the importance of the national flag’s Ashoka Chakra, a depiction of Buddha’s Dhamma Chakra that represents 24 attributes such as hope, love, courage, kindness, mercy, altruism and wisdom. “I believe we need to understand the importance of these characteristics even more in the times we live in,” he wrote on his Instagram page. "The Chakra pops up in my work again and again as a reminder of those qualities that we still need to work on.”
That same day in 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru told the Constituent Assembly: “I remember and many in this House will remember how we looked up to this Flag not only with pride and enthusiasm but with a tingling in our veins; also how when we were sometimes down and out, then again the sight of this Flag gave us courage to go on. Then, many who are not present here today, many of our comrades who have passed, held on to this Flag, some amongst them even unto death, and handed it over as they sank to others to hold it afloat.”
Decades later, another Indian spoke about feelings the flag evoked. “It was a very sad moment for all of us to see that one of those who took part in killing my father was being treated as a martyr. All the more sad was that his coffin was draped in the national flag…It’s especially said for us because we have a family member, my elder brother, who works in the Indian Air Force.” Danish, the younger son of Mohammad Akhlaq, was commenting on the Indian flag being draped on the coffin of one of the men accused of murdering his father.
Russia’s anti-war protestors had a unique response when their country attacked Ukraine. They reinvented their flag, replacing the red stripe at the bottom with a white one, to show their solidarity for Ukrainians. “Unfortunately, the Russian tricolour has been completely appropriated by the state propaganda and the military. We needed a flag that had no connection to violence and war,” Kai Katonina, a 31-year-old designer told The Guardian.
“It is as if someone threw white paint over the red, over the bloodshed that is going on,” she added.
Instead of worrying about how our national symbols are changing, we should worry about how the nation is changing.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com, and the former Editor of Mint Lounge... more