A Tiranga hoisted atop a house that overlooks my window reminds me it’ll be 15 August soon. Somewhere, there’ll be an official flag hoisting, followed by a laddoo each distributed to whiney kids, ladies dressed in loosely inspired tricolour dupattas, hapless attempts to get one’s kite soaring, and calling it a day after cutting several fingers on the maanja.
The next day, just as quickly as it went up, the Indian flag would dissipate into the background, invoked the rest of the year only amid divisive politics.
Across the world, things usually are different. It’s the 4 July weekend: fireworks dapple the night sky and your phone buzzes with invites from four separate pool parties as you put on a ludicrous red, white, and blue outfit. While the fanfare fizzles out the next day, the stars and the stripes linger on, so indispensable to American popular culture that you can’t drive past fast-food joints or commercial buildings without spotting them. Suddenly, 15 August, despite its nostalgic value, pales in comparison.
India’s Relationship With Its Flag
India’s relationship with its flag is markedly different, flanked by respect, and yet, a lack of relatability. How has the Indian flag escaped attracting a similar, modern, patriotic fervour? Why are we ambivalent towards the Tiranga, to the point of feeling uncomfortable to even talk about it? The contrast becomes even more relevant around India’s 75th Independence day and the launch of the hotly contested “Har Ghar Tiranga” campaign, introduced to encourage Indian households to hoist the tricolour upon relaxing the Flag Code.
'The Flag Is Not a Political Party’s, but of a Populace'
Young Indian citizens share, at best, a fractured relationship with the flag, one that has long needed vindication. Think of what crosses your mind when a friend changes their WhatsApp display picture to the Tiranga – we assume a tacit display of allegiance to a particular political party. And while this is the aftermath of the subversion of the Indian flag by convoluted politics, a nation’s flag cannot be held in ownership.
The flag is not a political party’s, but of a populace’s, serving as a reminder of our past, present, and future, the good, bad, and ugly.
For some others, what holds them back from embracing the tricolour – or even acknowledging Independence Day – is not feeling enough national pride because there are so many markers on which we aren’t actually free. And although that is undeniably true, such a belief alleges that pride in one’s nation can only be felt when every speck of imperfection has been wiped clear or that pride implies conformity with business as usual.
Feeling proud of being an Indian does not mean lazy citizenship or a passive state of accepting things for how they are, but instead actively staking a claim on India’s ability to do better and the citizens’ responsibility of instilling a government that works toward this.
On major Indian festivals of Diwali, Eid, Christmas, and more, younger Indians often participate like adults, sometimes taking full charge – donning traditional outfits and adding a fresh, new flair to olden festivities. Yet, Independence Day evades youthful reimaginations. On 15 August of every year, we relinquish control, letting elders steer celebrations in ways that haven’t changed in decades, while our realities look entirely different. Unarguably, the most love and adoration the flag receives is during the thick of a cricket match: two people hold each corner as the tricolour flutters with the wind, faces painted in saffron, white, and green in unending support, a collective emphasis on being Indian above all, for a few hours. Clearly, we’re capable of that level of solidarity that reverberates inside the stadiums — how do we transcend it across other critical facets of life?
Now more than ever, we need a uniting point, especially as divisiveness forcefully created by subverting differences of language, religion, gender, and political opinions makes it tougher for Indians to meet halfway. This is not just the story of India, but a global reckoning with the politicisation of diversity that was once valued. Even in the United States, with its protests and counter-protests for Black Lives Matter or abortion, the claim to the flag of America remains as much a right of a Democrat as it is a Republican’s. While amidst the counter-protests against Black Lives Matter in 2020 many Americans gave up on hoisting the flag outside their homes for its appropriation as a “conservative symbol” that had been “deliberately weaponised,” a reclaiming followed. What sparked this was a reminder of what the flag represents for Americans: justice and equality, a nation for all rather than some.
Will we successfully transition from a distant to a deeply personal relationship with the tricolour? Can we visualise a future of our association with the Tiranga that is open and in touch, even if through fashion, accessories, or home decor? These questions are especially pertinent now that the flag debate has reentered popular discourse.
A comparison with the American Independence Day experience does not imply we need to borrow the pomp-and-show and hyper-commercialisation of it all.
At the 75th year mark, young India is due for a reimagination of what the Tiranga means to us – one which is hinged on reiterating that there is nothing inherently political about the tricolour and how it embodies a historical struggle for freedom, the leaders who paved the way for it, and the democratic ideals that keep us accountable.
Its political appropriation should not drive us away from it but be more of a reason to reclaim its undying essence as a symbol of a collective India. The literal hoisting of the flag is irrelevant here. Imbibing its virtues will achieve more than just a momentary show could – virtues that allow for national pride to coexist with critical questioning, virtues that emphasise that a celebration of being Indian can underscore the recognition that we have a long way to g,o still. Embracing the tricolour need not say any more than what it means: that it makes us Indian, beyond all manufactured differences.
(This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)