The flag making unit in Hubballi had anticipated orders worth nearly eight times more than what the unit currently has. This is because of a recent decision by the Union government.

A man spinning khadi during the protest
news Protest Thursday, July 28, 2022 - 14:16

Anticipating the ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ campaign to commemorate 75 years of independent India, the Karnataka Khadi Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha (KKGSS) at Bengeri in Hubballi began weaving the national flag with full throttle. Much to their dismay, the Central government amended the 2002 Flag Code of India, which now allows for the manufacturing of polyester flags. Earlier, the code allowed for only handwoven wool/cotton/silk khadi flags. But the new amendment allows not only machine made cloth for the flag, but also polyester material. Usually, around this time, the KKGSS is busy shipping out the tricolour for independence day. This July however, it has been busy protesting, as it has seen its orders dwindling.

KKGSS along with the Congress began an indefinite protest in Hubballi from July 27. They're protesting against the amendment to the flag code which allows the use of polyester cloth along with khadi. Since the polyester material is fairly cheaper in comparison to khadi, KKGSS fears a shortage of orders and major loss in income. Following the ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ (Tricolour in every home), the unit rightly expected a surge of orders. However, the unit hasn’t even received half the amount of orders that they otherwise receive.

KKGSS is the only flag manufacturing unit recognised by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) in the country. Their demand is simple, that the flag amendment dated December 30, 2021, be revoked. The amendment says, “The Flag Code of India, 2002 was amended vide Order dated 30, December, 2021 and National Flag made of polyester or machine made Flag have been allowed. Now, the National Flag shall be made of hand spun and hand woven or machine made, cotton/polyester/wool/silk khadi bunting.” The words 'machine made' and 'polyester' were not included in the 2002 code. Despite the amendment being passed in December, the amendment came to the notice of KKGSS only in March 2022.

The Indian Bureau of Standards strictly regulates the handwoven and hand-stitched flag’s making. From its dimensions, weaving, folding and stitching, everything has been clearly specified and KKGSS abides by religiously since its BIS certification in 2004. The amendment will also mean that there will be no insistence on manufacturing them at a BIS certified unit.

Former minister umashree visits the flag making unit

“The unit had anticipated at least Rs 8-10 crore worth of flags because of the independence day campaign. However, we have already observed a drop in orders and have only received orders worth Rs 1.2 crore. Earlier we received orders worth at least Rs 2.5 crore. We have written letters to the Chief Minister, Home Minister, Union Minister Pralhad Joshi, and others after we learned of this amendment, but we have not received any response,” the Secretary of KKGSS, Shivanand Mathapati told TNM. “If the government wanted cheaper flags, they could have asked us to make flags out of single thread khadi cloth. Why was there a need to pass an amendment allowing polyester flags, we don’t understand,” he further added.

KKGSS has units in different parts of the country. Around 600 workers are employed at the Bengeri unit in Hubballi. Combined with the Bagalkot unit, the KKGSS employs roughly 1,300 employees, all of whose livelihoods will now be impacted by the amendment. Most of the employees at KKGSS are women and while some employees such as the managers earn an average of Rs 10,000 a month, the weavers, spinners, and tailors earn daily wages and receive an average of Rs 4,000 a month.

The ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ and ‘Har Ghar Tiranga’ campaign had revived hope in the workers. Like every other business, the pandemic hit KKGSS hard as well. The unit suffered huge losses due to a lack of orders, resulting in earnings of the workers being reduced.

“The whole country knows the significance of khadi in this country, unlike the ordinary polyester. We have a history associated with it and a certain amount of respect comes with it. We do not know any other work, but we’re very proud of what we do because even if we earn less, we like working here. The government takes money from us in the form of several taxes such as GST and keeps raising the prices of essentials, all the while decreasing our salaries. We were very happy thinking the surge in orders will solve our financial burdens, but they’ve put an axe on our feet by making this move,” said Rehana Ballary, who has been working as a tailor with the KKGSS for 18 years.

Annapurna Doddamani has also been employed with KKGSS for 18 years and works as a manager. Speaking to TNM, she said, “Since polyester is cheaper, no one will buy our flags and we will all lose our livelihoods. Without work, many of us will also become homeless. The polyester flags will simply be thrown out after using it for one day, there is no respect associated with it. Despite the low wages, we work here because we feel that we are contributing to the country.”

According to Mathapathi, close to 500 people showed up for the protest. Former minister and actress, Umashree also attended the protest in solidarity. She spoke about how the demand for polyester flags is way too high to be fulfilled by Indian mills alone and the flags will have to be imported. “The RSS supports this because their ideals about India are completely different, so why would they be concerned about the Indian flag? This was not what Gandhiji had envisioned for India. Our flag reflects India, and tampering with it hurts the sentiments of any real patriot,” she told the media.

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