Unpatriotic Patriots

Forget Amazon Canada. Who's outraging against the daily insults to the national flag in India?

No one seems to feel insulted by the fact that scores of children only ever get to wave the flag while selling it at a traffic junction.

The Indian external affairs minister set new standards in foreign affairs on Wednesday when she threatened a global e-commerce giant with a visa ban through Twitter.

Sushma Swaraj tweeted that the government would not grant visas to Amazon employees and would also rescind those granted earlier, unless the company withdrew “all products insulting our national flag immediately”.

Swaraj’s precipitous threat was a response to a tweet addressed to her which said: “Amazon Canada must be censured and warned not to sell India flag doormats. Please take action.”

Ms Swaraj’s response to a tweet from a faceless social media user is perplexing because the Indian flag is constantly defiled within the boundaries of the republic and garners not so much as a tweet from anyone in power.

For instance, the flag regularly finds its way into garbage bins after national holidays such as Republic Day and Independence Day.

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It has been used as a weapon to strike a citizen during a protest.

Credit: PTI
Credit: PTI

It has even been draped over the casket of a man charged with murder – that of Mohammad Akhlaq, who was lynched by a mob on September 28, 2015, in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri because of suspicion that he had eaten beef.

And absolutely no one in the government or on social media seems to feel insulted by the fact that in India’s capital and major cities, scores of children only ever get to wave the national flag when selling replicas of it to people at traffic junctions. The only protection these children receive from the precious tricolour are the few rupees they make from a successful sale through a car window.

Credit: Rob Elliott/AFP
Credit: Rob Elliott/AFP

In other countries, where children do not have to beg on the streets to feed themselves, doormats that look like their national flags evoke no comment. Amazon and other online retailers sell doormats in the flag colours of these countries. In the bulk of them, bad reviews only relate to the poor quality of the product. There are no Internet armies exhorting amazon.ca, for example, to cease selling a doormat designed to look like the Canadian flag or amazon.fr for selling one in the French tri-colour because it is an insult to their nation. And certainly, no country government has publicly threatened a company with action for selling products that “insult” its national symbols.

In countries that are able to deliver basic services to their citizens and that ensure children are not cast out on to streets, forced to beg or retail the national flag in the midst of traffic to earn a living, a flag in the form of a doormat is just another item of home décor. It does not attract comment from anyone, never mind from a cabinet minister.

India’s young flag sellers, condemned to earning a few rupees from other people’s patriotism, would have been luckier had they been born in a country where they were guaranteed food, shelter and an education but where no one cares if they wipe their feet on a mat that looks like the country’s national flag.

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As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions

Is India ready to become a global superpower?

Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.

From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.

Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?

The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.

Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?

While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.

Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?

At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.

Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?

At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’

Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.

At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.