The Saffron that weighs us down

National Flag India

Taking an excerpt from Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the second President of India, as he was describing and interpreting the significance of the colors in the Indian flag, which is stated in the Flag Code of India 2002, “Bhagwa or the Saffron denotes renunciation of disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work.”

So, are our leaders practicing renunciation of disinterestedness? Are our leaders indifferent to material gains? In these times of extraordinary dissent from citizens all over India, it is clear that our leaders, ‘our’ BJP government, which we elected into power(reiterating so that you all know we did this) have been working utterly antithetical to the very Indian flag it flaunts. The Bharatiya Janata Party which ironically touts ‘integral humanism’ as its official philosophy – came into power playing on the emotions of the Hindu majority, with many of its leaders inciting bigotry, communal violence and the Hindutva agenda, especially during elections. What does it say about a country when its leaders cannot uphold what its flag stands for? Moreover, what does it say about a political party when its members cannot abide by the very philosophy it is built on?

If we look at interpretations of all the other elements and colours in the flag, the gross misconduct can be seen over and over, which is again, the case in most countries. However, here and in the now, the Saffron is at the forefront of all our attention.

The Saffron which once stood for sacrifice, the beautiful Purusartha(four central tenets of Hinduism), honesty, ahimsa, compassion and the quest for light, the ultimate truth among all things peaceful in the Hindu culture is now associated with Hindutva terror thanks to the likes of Manusmriti, V.D Savarkar and M.S Golwalkar. The Hindutva ideology, at its core, states that India is the homeland of the Hindus and according to believers, people of other faiths can live in the country at the sufferance of Hindus which sounds deeply disturbing when said out loud and unequivocally not in line with the central tenets of Hinduism.

As a Muslim, with the most generic Muslim name ever, I’ve often found myself wearing accessories that leaves my identity ambiguous. I don’t know if it was a conscious decision or if it started with the advent of BJP into my life. As someone who has been wanting to travel all over India, I remember hearing hatred filled speeches from all over and thinking maybe I should be careful while telling people my name which really wasn’t ill-founded considering recent events. What does it say about a political party when their existence itself instills fear among the minorities?

Studying further into the colour, it must have been some coincidence that Saffron came on top of the flag. Well, not really. In earlier variants of the Indian flag, the Saffron (which was at a time, red) stood for the Hindu population of India, the green for the Muslims and the white for minorities. The flag was designed incorporating colours that stood for each religion, divided, as we are right now — between the Hindutva Saffron and the minorities White and Muslim Green. While religious symbols are often found in national anthems and flags, I wonder how a country as diverse as India could even imagine adopting a flag that divides. To Mahatma Gandhi’s credit although, he later moved on to a more secular approach to the flag owing to religious and political tensions explaining that the red stood for the sacrifice of the people, white for purity and green for hope. Even though it was argued that the Indian flag has no communal connotations attached to it, the history of the Indian flag cannot be ignored. So, the question remains, what does it say about a supposedly secular country when its flag itself was once designed and envisioned, dividing people based on religion?

Looking at the widely accepted interpretation we’re all taught, of the colour Saffron, it stands for the strength and courage of the country. The expression of dissent against the government by the citizens all over India, irrespective of everything that makes us different, really speaks for it. So, while the Hindutva Saffron is trying to weigh us down, the citizens of a secular all-inclusive India has become part of the resistance against it. What does it say about a supposedly democratic country when its citizens exercise their right, protest against an unconstitutional law and their response is plainly authoritarian?


Muhammed Salih is a final year BA – Media and Communication student at Manipal Institute of Communication, Manipal.


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