On the 26th of January, 2021, while India was celebrating its Republic Day, a major accusation was made against Indian farmers who were a part of the ongoing Farmers’ Protests.
For those who have been following along on social media, the accusation was that the Indian National Flag or the Tricolour flag was taken down, and was replaced with, according to Indian state media: the “Khalistan flag.”
The Indian farmers had marched to Delhi and were protesting against the farm bills that the Central government had passed last year. The bills, if turned into laws would harm farmers tremendously and give significant power to corporate and agricultural business companies.
The protests had started in August 2020, when the bills were made public.
On Republic Day this year, protesters marched to make a statement, and many entered Red Fort and started hoisting flags.
A major clash then ensued between the protestors and the police, wherein the protestors were met with physical violence and tear gas.
However, despite the reports of violence, the major event that grabbed the most attention was the hoisting of flags and the right-wing dismay surrounding it.
Several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders tweeted about how the “Khalistan flag” had been hoisted and the National flag was removed.
The BJP propaganda website OpIndia wrote an article on their website with exactly these words as the headline “Protesting mob enters Red Fort, unfurl the Sikh flag, Terrorist outfit SFJ had demanded Khalistani flag to be hoisted: Details”.
Zee News, a national news channel heavily biased towards BJP, aired a broadcast that showed a man removing a flag from one of the domes of the Red fort.
The opening few seconds of the video said “Look at the visuals from the Red Fort where the tricolour was removed and replaced with a Khalsa flag. Look how the tricolour flag was disrespected. The flag was tossed on the ground. These visuals send shivers down the spine in a democracy and are saddening, especially on Republic Day. The nation’s pride was brought down and replaced with their flag.”
The accusation later turned out to be false as it was clear from several pictures and videos taken, that the Indian flag was neither replaced, nor taken down. In addition to that, the flag that was hoisted was not the Khalistan flag, but the Nishan Sahib flag. The Nishan Sahib flag holds religious importance and is extremely sacred to Sikhs. It is not the same as the Khalistan flag.
There is an important observation to note here, something that makes it necessary to question the very values of deep nationalism and silencing of dissent that this nation is very clearly standing upon.
The right-wing complained furiously about the Indian flag being allegedly taken down, spreading fake news and trying to portray this issue in a light that helps serve their nationalist propaganda, especially in the context of the Farmer’s protests.
However, when in 2017, The BJP flag was hoisted above the National flag, during a Yogi Adityanath rally in Uttar Pradesh, there was no media attention given to it at all.
At that time, the right wing was silent, and for some reason did not complain about how it was an insult to the National flag, which if we apply their logic that they used against farmers, it should have been.
In 2018, the National flag was also hoisted upside down at a BJP rally in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir. Although hoisting the flag upside down is supposed to be considered a gross insult, there was little to no media attention given to this issue and the right-wing once again was absolutely silent about it.
This brings forth a pertinent question: why did they not care about the violation of the National flag at their own rallies, and why is it such a big deal now, at the farmer’s protest ?
The reaction to the hoisting of the Nishan Sahib flag did not garner hatred and opposition from the Indian government and propaganda media because they felt it violated the National flag.
The reaction was such because the protestors are the voice of dissent, and when it comes to making an effort at crushing dissent, the current government is known for playing the patriotic and blind Nationalism card.
Saying that the flag belongs to the Khalistan movement, is rooted in the image that the government and state-owned media wish to perpetuate, that the Farmers are indeed terrorists.
It is an attempt at dehumanizing the protestors, and shifting the narrative from the truth of the protestors being farmers who are trying to save their livelihood, to painting the image of a mob that insulted the National flag and the symbol of unity that India allegedly stands for.
But what it represents most clearly is the ongoing attempt to suppress dissent by the government of India and the media that continue to push whatever ideologies and ideas favour them through the use of nationalism -- no matter who it harms, or how hypocritical they are being.
About the author: Roshni is a self-proclaimed Comedy Queen who specializes in laughing at her own jokes. Her hobbies include making people smile, watching movies and analysing them, reading books, practicing yoga (occasionally), hogging on well-cooked biryani and scrolling through dog videos and memes on instagram. Her love for writing stems from her love for art in general, which is fuelled by her background in theatre. Catch on her instagram at @roshni_rakshit daily, where she regularly shares her experience with movies and occasionally offends people with her political sense of humour.