Weaving threads of patriotism

Weaving threads of patriotism

The sound of hand-operated looms greet us as we enter an old-fashioned rural building, a few miles away from Dharwad. Women are busy mechanically coiling white threads around big cylinder-shaped bobbins, carefully operating the looms, and working on the spinning wheel. Every warp and weft of the cloth here is being scrutinised with a keen eye. A sense of pride and contentment seems to dominate the working atmosphere. This pride stems from the fact that they are weaving a manifestation of the nation’s pride, the national flag. They feel honoured to be a part of something historical and meaningful. 

We were at the Kshetriya Seva Sangha in Garag, a village synonymous with the tiranga or the Indian tricolour. This is one of the oldest units in the State to start producing khadi cloth for the national flag and interestingly, the work is going on with full force even today. Undeterred by the advent of technology, these villagers have kept their patriotic spirit alive and have been supplying cloth needed to make the national flag over the past several decades.

Weaving cloth for the national flag is not an easy task as all the specifications laid down for flag making, like the Indian Flag Code and ISI standards, need to be adhered to a strict code of practice. Firstly, indigenous cotton is brought from a government-run unit in Chitradurga, which is hand-spun into threads on the charkha. Using a mixture of all-purpose flour (maida), natural resin and neem, it is starched for the perfect texture. The threads are then coiled onto a bobbin and the weavers  wind the warp on a beam (a cylinder of wood), before handweaving the cloth.
The cloth prepared here has 40 warps and 38 wefts. Each square metre of cloth weighs 205 grams. After all these activities, cloth is sent to Mumbai Khadi Dyers and Printers, where it is dyed and stitched into the national flag. These flags are then sent for verification for ISI certification. “Every month, we weave around 2,000-3,000 metres of cloth. The workers are given thorough training to ensure quality work. Even if there is a minor defect in the process, the cloth is not sent for flag making,” says manager Iswar Etagi.

Though the flags are made in nine different sizes, only six sizes of flags get the BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards) hallmark. These flags range between 14 X 21 feet (the biggest one) and 2 X 3 feet (the smallest). “On an average, Garag unit sells flags worth Rs 75-80 lakh every year,” says Nagappa Tirlapur, secretary, Kshetriya Seva Sangha. In Garag, around 250 people, of whom women are the dominant part, work relentlessly every single day, to meet the huge demand for the flag cloth. This socio-economic model has boosted women’s empowerment at the grassroot level.

Epicentre of sortsGarag was an epicentre of patriotism during the British Era and was highly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi. This, in a way, laid the foundation stone for khadi revolution in the village. In 1956, reformers like N B Kabbur and B G Gohkale initiated the Dharwad Taluk Khadi Seva Sanstha, which was initially involved in the manufacturing of simple khadi.

In 1967, when there was a shortage of flag cloth in the country, this institution plunged into flag making too. In 1970s, it took up flag making as a full-time activity, with the assistance of the Khadi & Village Industries Commission (KVIC). Though it faced many financial and production hiccups in subsequent years, it kept moving forward steadily. Activities have gained a momentum now and over the last one decade, it has been marketing national flags across the country
independently. The unit gets bulk orders for national flag from not just the government establishments and institutions inside the country but also from Indian embassies. It sends most of the flags to the Delhi Khadi and Village Industries Board from where it reaches other parts of the country. They have also supplied specially made flags to sportspersons and other achievers.

At the end of the day, the smiles of the Seva Sangha double when the tricolour is unfurled somewhere in the country.

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