In Mattagajapur, a sleepy village of Cuttack district, flag-making gives several hundred people a respectable livelihood throughout the year.
Situated 5km away from Cuttack, Mattagajapur is home to many families who stitch the National Flag for a living. One can find several houses in the village cluttered with the Tricolour in various sizes and shapes.
Sudhanshu Sekhar Sahu, a resident who organises the stitching of the flags, said, “We have been in the flag making business in this village for fifteen years. There are more than twelve families who are associated with this work. Every year, I collect work orders from the nearby shops and distribute the work among the women in the village.”
Asked how he started stitching the flags, Sudhanshu said, “First, I received special training in tailoring and stitching the National Flag from Dilip Mohanty, owner of Khadi Bhawan at Choudhury Bazar in Cuttack, as we have to follow a government approved standardised format for the flags. Then I started getting work orders from him to stitch flags. They provide me with the required raw materials. During her free time, my wife helps me in stitching the flags. When I started getting an increasing number of work orders, my wife advised me to distribute the work among the women of our village who wanted to make an extra buck after their daily work schedule. I decided to give only stitching jobs to them as cutting the cloth for flags requires trained personnel.”
Aparajita Sahoo, Sudhanshu’s wife, said, “There is a flag code handbook and specific instructions regarding the type of cloth, the colour of the dye to be used and other related issues. We get coloured khadi for making flags. The flags are made from two kinds of khadi. The first is a khadi bunting, which forms the body of the flag, and then there is the khadi duck, which is a beige-coloured cloth that holds the flag on the pole. We cut and stitch according to the sizes specified by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). We stitch flags measuring 4 ft x 6 ft (width to length ratio) to 6 inch x 9 inch. The most popular one is 2 ft x 3 ft in size and is used by small organisations and semi-government offices. We stitch almost 5,000 pieces of this size every year, and about 2,500 of these by August 15, Independence Day, and January 26, Republic Day.”
Jagruti Mishra, a homemaker who is engaged in stitching flags, said, “I cannot go far from my home to work, so this work is suitable for me. Every week I get work and the remuneration for my labour. I had some idea about stitching clothes, but I did not know how to stitch a National Flag. I learned the basics from Aparajita and now I earn a good amount that also takes care of my family needs. I don’t have to go anywhere and I work at my leisure.”
“Today, the flag is also made from paper, metal, silk and other material. For silk, we need to press the flag after stitching and then pack the flags before sending them to the person who has supplied the material. The supplier prints the Ashoka Chakra emblem on both sides of the flag before selling them. We work for close to eight months a year for making flags and during the remaining months we prepare kurtas, bags, Gandhi caps and so on with khadi material.”
Dilip Mohanty, 62, who owns Khadi Bhawan, said, “The shop was set up by my grandfather Rabindranath Mohanty in 1957. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, he wanted to promote khadi all over the state. Once when I sought his permission to sell other materials in the shop, he said, ‘Poor villagers make khadi for a livelihood. We should encourage them.’ Then, I decided to sell only khadi products at the shop.
“The process of flag-making is painstaking and the flags are stitched in segments. We import khadi of different colours from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh to make flags. A stitching unit cuts the cloth in the required sizes and puts together the flag. It takes almost two months to make 10,000 flags of various sizes. When the stitching is complete, the Ashoka Chakra is printed on the flag at our workshop at Oriya Bazar. Then the flag is ironed, neatly folded and packed before it is shipped to government offices and supply stores from where people can buy them.
“In 1951, the then President Rajendra Prasad, suggested that khadi alone should be used for manufacturing the Indian flag. But nowadays it is not possible to sell khadi flags because people want cheap and shiny flags for which we need to use polyester and silk cloth. But we abide by a standard procedure to make the Tricolour.
“People do not realise the value of the flag. So they buy cheap flags that violate the spirit of the code,” he averred.
According to the BIS handbook, the colour of the Ashoka Chakra should be navy blue. A seven-man unit in Oriya Bazar has for the past sixty years been printing the Ashoka Chakra emblem on white cloth. Workers use stencil and stamp the Ashoka Chakra onto the stitched flag – the central motif is printed in ink using a screen-printing technique. “We prepare flags of nine specific sizes round the year and sell them too at our shop. Fishing trawlers and government offices are our regular customers,” pointed out Dilip.
Jagabandhu Sahoo of Bhadrak, who has been manning the workshop for over 20 years, said, “We print emblems manually at this unit, where flags are manufactured as per the standard specifications. Sometimes, the motif printed on the flag gets smudged. Also sometimes the printing on either side is not properly aligned Such flags are rejected.”
“Making flags is a cumbersome procedure. And we make the Indian flag manually. It is good that the government has banned plastic flags and set a standard for the National Tricolour which no machine can manufacture. You buy a flag once or twice a year, so you should not look at the cost of the flag. After all, this money goes to a lot of poor people who are working on it. When you hoist the flag, you have to uphold the principles that go into its making too,” Jagabandhu added.