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“National Flag Stands For India’s Struggles; It’s Not The State’s Exclusive Property”

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The rules regarding a nationalistic symbol in a country that has increasingly associated the idea of nationalism with a certain religion and by extension, with a political party and the state’s intervention, have transformed in the recent past.

The recent events at the Red Fort on 26th January, 2021 fired up an already enraging debate on the citizen’s association with the national flag vis-a-vis the national identity.

(Photo by Manish Rajput/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Another instance preceding this event was the appearance of the Indian flag at the violent US Capitol protests. The idea of protestors identifying themselves with this flag, the circumstances around raising the flag and performing the nation rejuvenated this aspect of nationalism and national honour in many across the nation.

What does the flag mean to its citizens? Does nationalism take precedence over those who constitute the nation i.e. the Indian citizen? Should the state restore the status quo ante of the restricted use of the national flag to drift it away from being disrespected?

These issues rather take us back to the National Anthem case (Bijoe Emmanuel v. Union of Indiaas well as the National Flag case (Naveen Jindal v. Union of India) which dealt with respect to the nationalist symbols and what causes disrespect to them while delving into the idea of citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression. The court’s attitude in these cases indicated that the respect and honour regarded to these symbols circumscribe this right.

The idea of the national flag is one of pride and generates respect for the imagined community that is this Indian nation.

But under all that weight, it also stands for the struggles which ail India today. It is not the exclusive property of the state or the elite class or anyone else but belongs to all and thus incorporates a billion emotions unified under one national symbol. Yet, amongst the allegations of the farmers’ protests throughout the country, it is those from the land of Punjab who are facing the allegations of plotting and organising a Khalistani movement and a secessionist idea and the raising of Nishan Sahib at the Red Fort added to this belief.

The national flag is a national idea, the bearer of all that starts with the freedom struggle, and travels through the horizons of the independence at midnight, the Indian constitution itself, the ‘temples of modern India’ and the development and social progress associated with it, all the struggles of the citizens of India post-independence.

Thus, in this light, the contrasting scenario that highlights these competing interests begs the question: to whom does the flag belong and who represents the nation?

India flag
The idea of the national flag is one of pride and generates respect for the imagined community that is this Indian nation.

It is a tale of two ideas of nationalisms: the state’s interpretation of nationalism which is exclusive in nature, with the idea of nationalism being defined by the political elites and their followers versus the farmers’ or the common man’s interpretation of nationalism which is inclusive and which is defined by the citizen denying the monopoly of these elites over the nationalist symbols being used against the farmers, branding them as anti-nationals or Khalistani secessionists.

The events of 26th January is just a part of the larger narrative which while seen in a vacuum seems wrong but when seen in the context of state and its agencies looking at protesting farmers and citizens as secessionists, it represents all the colours of individual identity being displayed via a common medium, be it the flag or the anthem.

What it shows is that the state’s monopoly over defining nationalism means that any act of defiance or show of voice of dissent against the state would be seen as anti-national.

Using the nationalist symbol of the flag to push the political agenda and calling the citizen protestors anything other than patriotic champions of freedom is unjustified and shows the state’s unwillingness to let go off this idea of the state’s monopoly over what the flag represents.

The flag being the representative symbol of that nationalist idea when challenged at the Red Fort gave a boost to that monopolistic idea of nationalism. The state does not own this national idea. The national idea is defined by its people, the flag belongs to them and any interpretation otherwise is motivated by political aspirations.

The right to protest carrying the national flag is associated with nationhood and all that it represents. “National Anthem, National Flag and National Song are secular symbols of nationhood. They represent the supreme collective expression of commitment and loyalty to the nation as well as of patriotism for the country.” Any expression of the state or its subjects trying to deny this idea is inherently wrong.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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