The flag town

The stitching and cutting room ... for a flawless finish.

The stitching and cutting room ... for a flawless finish.  

ANNAPURNA has been tailoring clothes for the past 10 years. Today, however, there is a surge of excitement, even pride, as she does her work — bending over her sewing machine and the saffron and green cloth spread below it.

Bhagirathi Khoparde, about 20, is similarly engrossed in stitching at another table. Her parents are planning to get her married — but are looking only for a boy in the same town, so that she doesn't have to resign.

So, what's special about this job in a small town, and one which pays under Rs. 1,500 per month?

Well, what isn't? After all, these ladies are a part of a workforce of 16 people at a Hubli khadi unit. They are the only people who are entitled to make the national flag for the country: right from the President, to the embassies, to government offices, and the common man. For all you know, the flag which the President will hoist on Republic Day and the PM on Independence Day, and which will be seen and saluted by the country's elite and armed forces, could be the one Bhagirathi and Annapurna are working on right now.

Sole supplier

This khadi unit is part of the Hubli-based Karnataka Khadi Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha (Federation) (KKGSS) which's been certified as the sole institution to supply national flags for the entire country, by the Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) and in conformation with the standards laid down by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).

Few of us, ever stop to think where the national flag ever comes from. Even less, what goes into its making. Which is a great deal. As S. Somnatti, KKGSS's Secretary, explains, the khadi cloth is first sourced from KKGSS' own units in Bagalkot (where it has been carefully spun and woven). Next it is dyed in the required colours (the cloth is divided into three lots: one for each colour). The cloth is brought to this unit and cut into required shapes. The chakra is printed on the white cloth. Finally, the three pieces are stitched together. Then ironed and packed.

Actually, it is more challenging than this sounds. There are strict standards to be adhered to. First, there are nine standard sizes to which our flag is made (each with a special purpose for which only it may be used). The colours have to be of the exact shade specified by KVIC and BIS. Both saffron and green have to be of equal length and breadth. The length and width of the entire flag should be in the ratio 2:3. The chakra should contain 24 equally spaced spokes. The chakra should be printed on both sides; the position of both synchronised. There should be a four-thread stitch in each centimetre of the cloth. The flag edge (for rod insertion) has stipulated dimensions. Any defects in the manufacture of flags, such as colour, size and thread count are considered a serious offence and are liable for fine or imprisonment or both, as per the provisions of Flag Code of India 2002. And B.S. Patil, KKGSS Chairman, underlines the final stipulation: "The flags will have to be first quality-checked by the BIS. If they find any defect, the entire lot will be rejected!" It is no wonder then that the code book specifying these and 100 other rules for the flag is master-cutter Rajesh's most frequently-referred to object. Even the tailors need certain specified diplomas/training certificates to be recruited. One reason why only 15 of the 60 needed could be hired.

Patil was fully aware of the enormous responsibility when he's worked hard for over four years to secure this assignment for KKGSS. It was previously being made in Mumbai by a private manufacturer. Today, KKGSS churns out 5,000 flags per month and in six months time, plans to make it 5,000 per day. Since the recent Supreme Court order, which permitted private citizens too to fly the national tricolour, demand has increased.


But why a khadi unit? You get a gentle reprimand for not knowing this, followed by a remark that "most Indians don't know too". Only, hand-spun and handwoven cloth can be used for a national flag. This is in accordance with the Flag Code. "Few Indians even know there is one." It turns out that the rules for using and flying a national flag are almost as stringent as for making one. Also, only cotton, silk, wool or khadi can be used. "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," Patil adds.

"A few years ago, when the Hubli district administration had placed an order for manufacturing around three lakh plastic flags in connection with the golden jubilee celebrations of Independence, I wrote a detailed letter to the Deputy Commissioner taking strong objection to it. The DC was told that such an act amounted to violation of the Flag Code and was punishable under law. The authorities concerned immediately cancelled the order."

The Indian Navy uses woollen ones, the Army cotton and silk, and the Air Force mostly silk.

Modern machines

A complicated business ... exact dimensions.

A complicated business ... exact dimensions.  

Back at the manufacturing unit, women are carefully ironing and folding the flag for dispatch to the godown, where, after the BIS clearance, it will go to those who placed orders and to shelves at KVIC and their certified showrooms for general sale. In a room nearby, the flags with neatly and perfectly printed chakras on white cloth hang to dry. And machines whir busily in the cutting and stitching room where Rajesh is demonstrating how they get the folds and four-stitches-per-cm right. Then you notice: all the sewing machines are the Juki brand, "Made In Japan".

Isn't it ironic, you ask, that foreign tools are being used to make the national flag — an object so central to the concept of swadeshi.

Rajesh and Somnatti hasten to assure you this choice was based on purely technical reasons. "Only this make can deliver. It enables the important lock stitch; it flawlessly gives the stipulated four-stitches-per-cm; it has an automatic folding facility helpful in quick and efficient folding at the edges (where the loop and space for the holding rod are made); it has an automatic oil-circulation facility: this is timesaving. Also, manual oiling would mean danger of staining the flag cloth (a stained one is unusable)." The flagmaking business sure is a complicated one.

As you leave the room, you notice Annapurna about to leave for her lunchbreak. "Madam, do you know how happy I am? For years, everyday, I made so many blouses, skirts, salwar-sets, shirts. They were all used and soon forgotten by the wearer and by me. But every flag I am making now I will remember all my life, since these are going to be saluted by big people and our soldiers, and looked at with respect by millions of people."

Chayya, another tailor, adds, the pride evident in her eyes: "I have been stitching for years. But only now am I satisfied with what I am doing. Even my parents are proud of me."

* * *

Standards for the standard

THE Flag Code for India says there are nine different sizes in which the flag is made. Each has certain dimensions and a specified use. The sizes range from a few inches to a few feet. The smallest one (Size Nine) (6 inches into 4 inches or 150 mm into 100 mm) is for use as a table flag during meetings, conferences involving participation by foreign countries (you've seen this one in countless TV clippings and newspaper photos); Size Eight: (9 inches into 6 inches or 225 mm into 150 mm) is for use in VVIP cars; Size Seven: (18 inches into 12 inches or 450 mm into 300 mm) for VVIP aircraft and train carrying the President; Size Six: (3ft into 2ft or 900 mm into 600 mm) for display in rooms on cross bar, etc.; on deceased persons; Size Five: (5.5ft into 3ft or 1,350 mm into 900 mm) for smaller sized public buildings; Size Four: (6ft into 4ft or 1,800 mm into 1,200 mm) on deceased persons entitled to state/military funerals and on small government buildings. Size Three: (9ft into 6ft or 2,700 mm into 1,800 mm) on Parliament House and medium sized government buildings; Size Two: (12ft into 8ft or 3,600 mm into 2,400 mm) on gun carriages, Red Fort, Rashtrapati Bhavan; Size One: the biggest of them all (21ft into 14ft or 6,300 mm into 4,200 mm) is for very large buildings with a high flag mast.

Whenever it is flown, it should occupy the position of honour and be distinctly placed.

The flag must not be used as a festoon, rosette or bunting or in any other manner of decoration. It should not be used as a portion of a costume or uniform. It should not also be embroidered on any cushion, handkerchief, or printed on napkins or boxes.

Only specified Indian dignitaries can fly the flag atop their cars.

Even the half-masting during mourning has to be done only for certain dignitaries' deaths. This too in a certain procedure (it has to be hoisted briskly, and lowered slowly.)

For more information see:

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