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Women at India's Only-certified Tricolour-making Unit Flag Drop in Sales after Govt Changes Rules

By: Rohini Swamy

News18.com

Last Updated: August 13, 2022, 09:00 IST

Bangalore, India

The KKGSS employs around 1,300 people of which the Bengeri khadi-making unit itself has 600, 90 per cent of whom are women. Representational pic/PTI

The KKGSS employs around 1,300 people of which the Bengeri khadi-making unit itself has 600, 90 per cent of whom are women. Representational pic/PTI

The Karnataka Khadi and Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha (Federation), or KKGSS, located in Bengeri village in Hubbali, is the only authorised unit with BIS certification in India to manufacture and supply the tricolour across the world

For the women at the khadi units in Karnataka’s Bengeri, weaving the national flag is not a task but an emotion. Every weave, every flag is painstakingly made with love and pride.

From the tiny tricolour that flutters on government vehicles, the ones atop our government buildings, schools and embassies across the world, to the flag that embraces our brave slain soldiers, each of them is made in this quaint little north Karnataka town.

The Karnataka Khadi and Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha (Federation), or KKGSS, located in Bengeri village in Hubbali, is the only authorised unit with BIS certification in India to manufacture and supply the tricolour across the world.

The controversy

One would think that the Indian government’s initiative of Har Ghar Tiranga (tricolour in every home) as part of the 75th Independence Day celebrations would have brought a cheer to the women of Bengeri who have been manufacturing khadi flags since 1957. But the reality is that they are quite disappointed by the recent amendment made by the Narendra Modi government to aid the launch of the campaign.

As per the previous code, the use of polyester and machine-made flags was not allowed. But with the amendment in December 2021, the government has removed these restrictions. Apart from khadi, cotton, silk, and wooden material can also be used to make the flags that may be either handwoven or handspun.

This year, the Bengeri unit expected to receive orders worth close to Rs 8-10 crore for flags, but to their disappointment they have got just orders of only about Rs 2 crore so far. The KKGSS employs around 1,300 people of which the Bengeri khadi-making unit itself has 600, 90 per cent of whom are women. Most of the women who are weavers, spinners, and tailors are daily wage workers and earn around Rs 500-600 a day.

“The drop in sales has hurt our wages and our hearts. We thought we would be able to proudly see khadi flags made by us atop every house in the country,” said one of the women employed at the unit.

“We thought that this year we will see a spike in sales with the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav festivities. But now we are disappointed as the Centre has allowed mass production of flags in polyester as well. Our country’s pride is khadi; shouldn’t we be using that to mark the most important event in our country?” asks Anuradha K, who works as a manager at the facility.

While visiting Karnataka to participate in the 75th birthday celebrations of former chief minister Siddaramaiah, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had gone to the khadi unit and even posed holding a national flag and ironing one. He took a swipe at the Har Ghar Tiranga initiative, stating that history stands witness that those who are running the campaign have come from the “anti-national organisation” that did not hoist the tricolour for 52 years. He also tweeted: “They could not stop the Congress at the time of the freedom struggle. They won’t be able to stop the Congress now.”

The KKGSS along with the Congress has now begun an indefinite protest since July 27 against the amendment to the flag code. “We have now planned a countrywide agitation of all khadi- manufacturing units and highlight how the introduction of polyester spells doom for us. We will request time with the PM as well to listen to us,” said Shivanand Mathapati, the secretary of KKGSS.

How a flag is made

Weaving the national flag is not a simple task. The flags made in Hubballi are entirely handwoven and every thread is handspun.

The material goes through extensive quality checks and has to be in accordance with the Flag Code of India. At first, the khadi cloth is spun into a material that is strong and tougher than denim. Mathapati explained how the cotton that is handspun is woven into two types of material — one that is used to make the flag that will be dyed saffron and green and the second material will be converted into the long cylindrical sleeve that will help hold it on a flag post.

“From the colour dyes to the bleach used for the white material, everything has to be carefully measured and tint made exactly according to specifications. Each flag that comes out of here is perfect and a product of love and labour,” he said.

Each colour of the tiranga is dyed separately and the material is cut to size. For the Ashoka chakra, the blue emblem is printed on a white cloth and then the three pieces (saffron, white and green) are stitched together to make our resplendent Indian flag. Every detail — from the thread count, fastness of the colour to the size of the flag — has to be in accordance with the flag code.

According to the specifications for the Indian flag, it should be rectangular and with a ratio of 3:2; the flags are made in nine different sizes varying from the smallest being 6×4 inches and the biggest one being 21×4 feet.

Explaining how the chakra is printed, Mathapati said that the blue chakra is printed individually and manually in each flag and based on the sizes, the (wo)manpower also changes.

“It takes two women to print a chakra in a 2×3 ft flag. But for the bigger flags ( 21×4 ft) it takes around eight women to hold the block that has the chakra embossed on it and print it on a plain white piece of khadi cloth. It is an act of precision and hard labour,” he said. All creases from the flag are removed with an iron before it is packed and made ready for dispatch.

Any defect in the flags is considered a serious offence and is liable for a fine or imprisonment or both, as per the provisions of the Flag Code of India 2002.

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first published:August 13, 2022, 09:00 IST
last updated:August 13, 2022, 09:00 IST