Annapurna Koti examines a finished flag at the national flag making unit in Bengeri, near Hubballi Image Credit: Shafaat Shahbandari

For almost two decades of her life, Annapurna Koti has had the honour of serving the tricolour like no Indian does.

From examining the quality of the fabric to ensuring that the cut, stitch and thread matches the Flag Code of India, Koti’s job calls for great attention to details.

But, Koti is not alone in her endeavour. The 52-year-old leads a team of women from different hamlets, who come together every day at a nondescript workshop in a small village of Bengeri near Hubballi, Karnataka.

The women work for Karnataka Khadi Gramudyog Centre (KKGC), which is a rights holder to manufacture the Indian national flag for government buildings.

Most of the women who work at the flag manufacturing unit have been there since the inception of the workshop 18 years ago.

Hailing from humble backgrounds, their roles in cutting the fabric, stitching, dyeing, ironing and printing of the flag is a matter of pride for the women.

“When we reopened after the pandemic, we started with very few orders, but now we are getting more orders and are struggling to meet the deadline,” says Koti, Manager of KKGC’s flag making unit.

Except for sewing together the three panels, the flags are entirely handmade, including the spinning of the yarn and weaving of the khadi fabric. The team of 22 produces up to 300 flags per day, depending on the size.

“We were down to 150 flags per day when we restarted after the lockdown. The pandemic had a huge impact on our work; but, we are gradually recovering. We are working overtime now to keep up with the demand,” adds Koti, who is the only breadwinner in her family.

The women who work in the Bengeri workshop are well-versed with the specifications of the Flag Code of India, according to which the flags are made.

Whatever the size, the tricolour is made in 2:3 ratio and every part is made to measure.

“The colours used, the ratio, the thread count, yarn, dye and stitches, everything has to follow the Flag Code. We make sure it is followed to the letter. This is a job of huge responsibility and there is no margin for error,” says Koti, while commenting on the precision required by her job.

Officially, the Indian flag can only be made with khadi material and comes in nine sizes, which include the ones hoisted in the parliament, state assemblies, major forts and at government administrative buildings, as well as those used on official vehicles and desks.

The khadi tradition in flag making began when Mahatma Gandhi introduced charkha or spinning wheel as a weapon of empowerment and resistance in India’s freedom movement and has continued till date.

However, during Independence Day, the market gets flooded with flags of every material, especially plastic, even as these women from Bengeri struggle to keep Gandhi’s wheel of resistance and empowerment moving! ●

- The writer is an independent journalist based in Bengaluru. He is the founder of Thousand Shades of India, an alternative media platform designed to celebrate the diversity of India