Who is a martyr and can the National Flag be used for a private funeral?
At a time of hyper-nationalism and increased chest thumping it would be misleading to loosely look at both the questions. And that is what is happening in Bisada.
Bisada, in Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh, is back in the news, a year after it shot to infamy after 55-year-old Mohammad Ikhlaq was lynched by a mob on the suspicion of storing beef for consumption. Communal tensions are again on the rise in the village after 22-year-old Ravin—one of the 18 accused in Ikhlaq’s killing— died while in judicial custody. While authorities say that Ravin died because of respiratory and renal complications, the family suspects that he was attacked while in jail.
However, the disconcerting aspect is the reaction of the villagers to Ravin’s death. Not only have they refused to cremate the body — they are demanding a ₹1 crore compensation from the State and a CBI investigation into Ravin’s death — but the murder accused has also been hailed a “martyr” and his coffin was draped with the National Flag.
This is wrong in so many ways.
The tricolour is usually draped over the bodies of people of national importance — political leaders who have held high office, people who have contributed to their respective fields and held India proud nationally and internationally — when it is a State funeral. Most importantly it is draped around the coffins of armed forces personnel who die in the line of action. As stated in the Flag Code of India, 2002, it is used to honour members of armed forces who “have ungrudgingly laid down their lives to keep the tricolour flying in its full glory”.
Also, the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, leaves little room for ambiguity. In Section 2 (iv) of the Act it states that the disrespect to the National Flag includes “using the Indian National Flag as a drapery in any form whatsoever except in State funerals or armed forces or other para-military forces funerals”. This seems to be the case in Bisada.
The National Flag is a symbol of national pride — using it to honour a person accused of being part of a mob that brutally killed an unarmed innocent man is disrespect to the tricolour.
Ravin is not a martyr. The family suspects the authorities’ version that he succumbed to respiratory and renal failure and has demanded a CBI probe. It is definitely a personal tragedy for the family, but for the villagers to hail him as a “martyr” is logically and morally wrong. Ravin was accused of killing a fellow villager — to honour him as a hero sends the wrong message.
At a time when the narrative in the media is that India has “avenged” the martyrdom of the soldiers in the Uri attack by conducting “surgical strikes” along the LoC, and, at a time when politicians are being accused of demeaning the Army for “demanding proof” of the strikes, the misuse of the tricolour in Bisada is the disrespect that should be condemned.
What should also be condemned are the efforts by some Right-wing leaders to communalise Ravin’s death. Reports suggest that what was essentially a protest against police negligence, has taken a communal tone after Sadhvi Prachi, a pro-Hindutva leader, visited the village and called on Hindus to rally against the state government.
The events in Bisada show that misguided nationalism when mixed with communal politics has the potential to become a highly-inflammable cocktail.