Disrespect to the flag can earn a prison sentence up to three years, a fine or both

Draped on vehicles, incessantly waved by the sloganeering crowds, wrapped around as a cloak and even worn as a mark of protest — that is how the national flag is seen around the city for the past few days.

From the time Anna Hazare's hunger strike on the Ramlila grounds began, the demand for the tricolour has spiralled. From the corner shop to the peddlers at the traffic signals, from cheap plastic paper versions to huge pole mounted ones, the national flag is up for sale.

And it is this easy availability and the subsequent “dishonour” of the tricolour that is now being questioned and regretted.

“It is not patriotic what they are doing to the flag. Forget the protocol that should be followed for hoisting the flag, the crowds are not even showing the respect it deserves. How does draping a flag over vehicle that is not being driven properly and violates traffic rules signify love for one's country? A common sight these days is bikers without helmets speeding across the roads, waving the national flag. Will that end corruption or [is] it not an aspect of corruption too?” questioned Supreme Court lawyer Rajiv Singh.

While the Delhi Police are yet to receive a formal complaint on the issue, legal experts say deviation from the protocol and disrespect to the national flag is punishable under the law. “There can be a formal complaint against the offenders and they can be booked for dishonouring the national flag,” said Mr. Singh.

A volunteer on the Ramlila grounds, who is part of the ‘India Against Corruption movement,' said periodic announcements were being made to show respect to the tricolour, and volunteers pick up the flags that are left behind. “The small plastic versions that are selling by the roadside are usually left behind and we make sure that they are not trampled upon or disrespected,” he said.

However, for a bunch of college students on the grounds who were carrying the flag on their backs, the gesture denotes “spirit.” “We know there is a procedure for hoisting the Tricolour, but we don't think we are insulting it. We are using the flag to rev up our enthusiasm and patriotic spirit. Also, during cricket matches or other national and international sporting events, the players and athletes also wear the flag and wave it, how is that not disrespectful?” said Namita Makhija, a Delhi University student.

As per the law, disrespect to the flag can earn a prison sentence up to three years, a fine or both.

According to the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, disrespect to the Indian national flag includes dipping the flag in salute to any person or thing; flying the flag at half-mast except on occasions on which the flag is flown at half-mast on public buildings in accordance with the instructions issued by the government; using it as a drapery in any form whatsoever except in State funerals or armed forces or other para-military forces funerals; using it as a portion of costume, uniform or accessory of any description which is worn below the waist of any person, and draping it over the hood, top, and sides or back or on a vehicle.

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