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India at 70: Revise guidelines on Tricolour’s fabric and manufacturing process

A flag must fly without crumpling or collapsing in rain, shine, pollution or smoke. Polyester flags that replace handspun khadi symbolise industrialisation inspired by a cottage industry. But once the law is amended, worthy product designers can enter the fray and India will get flags of recycled materials and other design-smart fabric blends

IndependenceDay2017 Updated: Aug 15, 2017 14:23 IST
India at 70,India@70,Indian Flag
The current pattern follows the original created by Pingali Venkayya with three equal sections in kesari (orange), white and green based on the swaraj flag of the Indian National Congress, adopted on July 22, 1947(AFP)

Like a pair of new Lunarcharge Nike trainers that spark your morning run or an organic blend of rice flour delivered at your doorstep, you can order the Tricolour from an e-commerce site.

On Amazon India, The Indian National Outdoor Flag of Size 4ft x 6ft in 100% Knitted Polyester (EndureTex) with a rope/toggle for Rs 1840. The product description by The Flag Shop is pithy and pragmatic: 100% Warp-Knitted Polyester. Fast colours, UV resistant, hand or machine washable. This is besides the routinely spotted miniature tirangas on paper, silk, satin available a dime a dozen on e-shopping sites like India Mart or even eBay.

The Internet, however, is not the only address where the life, times and fortunes of the Tricolour has changed. The cheap to buy, unfurl and easy to dump or wash and keep avatars are more than visible in local bazaars and at traffic signals. “It may well be Chinese silk, what do we know,” said a design expert, adding that the anti-dumping duty of $1.85 per kg on mulberry raw silk from China levied since last year has not deterred the use of Chinese silk for Indian goods.

It is product descriptions such as “fast colours, UV resistant, machine washable, warp-knitted polyester, super-strong nylon stitch on all three sides for maximum durability” that underline how the old story is taking new routes. Especially as these wear and wash values are in stark contrast to the Tricolour specifications defined in Flag Code of India.

Even after the Flag Code established in 1950 was amended in 2002, its design and material guidelines remain enshrined in law. The Tricolour has always been made of Khadi, first woven during Mahatma Gandhi’s Swadeshi movement. In her book, Clothing Gandhi’s Nation, author Lisa Trivedi writes: “Gandhi originally defined the colours of the flag as representative of India’s religious communities—Hindu, Christian and Muslim.”

Much later, the manufacturing process began to be governed by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), whereas the right to producing the flag was with the Khadi Development and Village Industries Commission (KVIC). Since 2009, the Karnataka Khadi Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha, which is based in the Bengeri area of Hubli, has been the only licensed manufacturer of the flag.

The current pattern follows the original created by Pingali Venkayya with three equal sections in kesari (orange), white and green based on the swaraj flag of the Indian National Congress, adopted on July 22, 1947. That’s when the charkha at the centre of the flag was replaced with a deep blue Ashok Chakra with 24 spokes symbolising the wheel of law.

The current BIS specifications cover all variables including sizes, dye colour, chromatic values, brightness, thread count and hemp cordage. While the raw materials for khadi are specified as cotton, silk and wool, by and large only two kinds of khadi is used. The body of the flag is stitched in khadi-bunting while khadi-duck, a sturdy natural-beige coloured cloth holds the flag to the pole. The Ashoka Chakra is screen printed, stencilled or embroidered on each side of the white band. Khadi-duck is an unconventional weave that meshes three threads into a weave, compared to the two weaves used in traditional weaving. Jhanda weavers are first given a training schedule before work, said VK Saxena, the chairperson of Khadi India.

This makes the Indian Tricolour a special woven product, a copyright deserving design. One also presided by a law that makes flying a flag made of any other material punishable with imprisonment up to three years, beside a fine. Even defects in manufacturing can result in fines. All government buildings thus mandatorily hoist khadi flags.

Yet look at the ways in which the deep tones of this law are fading.

With the present government fond of big and loud nationalist symbols, gigantic flags are hoisted at public sites. The 90 x 60 feet flag in the central park of Connaught Place in Delhi put up in 2014 is made of a knitted polyester fabric called ‘deneir polyester’ with the Ashoka Chakra printed by a specialised process. It was manufactured in Mumbai by The Flag Shop incidentally the same shop that is currently peddling the “outdoor Indian Tricolour” on Amazon India.

So if the government must promote flying of huge flags such as the one at Sanjeevaiah Park on the banks of Hussain Sagar lake in Hyderabad, which went up in 2016 and is taller than the one in Delhi, it cannot also impose the Flag Code specifications of material and manufacturing. Oddly then, the law makes assorted flag vendors outside KVIC criminal but does not bar them from commercial dealings or business.

Flying a Tricolour is a ritual of displaying national pride and patriotism. It is primarily an outdoorsy sport and thus a flag must fly without crumpling, creasing, bunching up with weight and collapsing in rain, shine, pollution or smoke. Polyester flags that replace handspun khadi are an irony but also symbolize industrialiszation inspired by a cottage industry.

But once the law is amended, worthy product designers will, in fact, enter the fray and India will get flags of recycled materials and other design-smart fabric blends.

The market is ripe. It is difficult to pin down the exact earnings and sales from polyester-nylon Tricolours made out of other materials but Tiranga manufacturing appears to be profitable. Saxena confirms that Khadi Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha of Hubli made a sale worth Rs 1.54 crore in 2015-2016, which went up to Rs 1.92 crore in 2016-2017.

Back in Delhi, the Khadi India Bhavan at Regal Building in Connaught Place has been selling an average of 400 tirangas in different sizes every day for the last few weeks.

Shefalee Vasudev is a fashion journalist and author

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Aug 15, 2017 12:24 IST