India's Flag Code has always been viewed as overly imposing on its citizens

Is it time we stop being so uptight about the National FlagImage: Wikipedia Commons/Yann Forget
news Saturday, September 26, 2015 - 14:29

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is currently in New York, stirred up a controversy back home, after he put his signature on what appeared to be an Indian flag.

However, the government has since clarified that it was only a memento. The artwork has been taken for review.

The controversy erupted after super chef Vikas Khanna, who had dished up the fare for the prime minister's dinner with Fortune 500 CEOson Thursday, approached Modi with the flag crafted by children of Smile India.

When Khanna told him that he wanted to present it to Barack Obama, Modi autographed it.

The entire fiasco, perhaps brings a big question to the fore - Is it time we stop being so uptight about the National Flag?

While not questioning the fundamental directives of the code, India's Flag Code has always been viewed as overly imposing on its citizens.

Moreover, citizens were not allowed to hoist the flag until industrialist Naveen Jindal won a court battle in the 1990s for flying the Tricolour as a fundamental right for every citizen.


The national flag was officially adopted in its present form during a meeting of the Constituent Assembly held on 22 July 1947.

After a prolonged struggle for four long years, in 2004, the Karnataka Khadi Gramodyog Samyukta Sangha in Hubballi bagged the prestigious assignment for the production of national flags.

This means that they are the only unit entitled to make the national flag for the country, right from the President, to the embassies, to government offices, and the common man.

According to the flag code, only hand-spun and handwoven cloth can be used for a national flag. The only materials allowed are cotton, silk, wool or khadi.

The director of the flag making unit states:

"Flying a plastic or paper flag can attract imprisonment of up to three years with a fine. Even for disposing of a damaged or discoloured national flag (the Flag Code says these are not to be used), you have to gather a/few local leader(s), and in their presence, burn it and then bury it. Also, private citizens can only hoist it in their homes, not cars."

Compare that to Prince William sporting the Union Jack on his waistcoat or Pamela Anderson getting clicked wearing nothing but the Stars-n-Stripes and the contrast is clear.

A more tolerant code?

In countries like America, the law even permits burning of the flag under freedom of expression.

However, in India, an under secretary in the Department of Home Affairs cited the Flag Code of India, and the country's top athletes were told they were not permitted to wear it on their sleeves, or their helmets - as in the case of Sachin Tendulkar's famous practice.

Many people had come out against this move, including Olympians questioning the illegality in showing ones' patriotism by donning the national colours.

However, it is now allowed for a person to use the Indian flag as "a portion of costume, uniform or accessory of any description" as long as it is worn above the waist.

However, in a lot of cases, governments and other ruling authorities may also not be at fault.

T Gopinath, is an MBA graduate and a self-styled watchdog in Bengaluru who claims to be a nationalist, and keeps an eye on people violating the Flag Code.

Gopinath has a long history of keeping vigilance and has registered many cases against those who 'disrespected' national flag. One of his major cases was with the Varthur police against a US national who had put the tattoo of the flag on his left leg calf muscle. The foreigner was made to remove the tattoo through laser treatment.

Another example is when Vice-president Hamid Ansari's office had to issue a statement that he was following protocol, after he was viciously attacked on social media for not saluting the Tricolor while the national anthem was being played during the Republic Day celebrations this year.

Veteran actor Dev Anand had summed it up perfectly.

The flag is not the property of the government or the parliament, but belongs to the nation. If people want to put up the flag at their homes or wear it on their clothes to express pride in their nation, it should be welcome so long as they're not cheapening or denigrating it.