New Delhi: By wrapping a national flag on the body of Ravin Sisodia, one of the accused in the Dadri lynching case who died in a Delhi hospital on Tuesday, the residents of Bisada village in Uttar Pradesh appear to have violated the Flag Code of India, 2002.
Even by projecting the death of Sisodia – who along with 17 others was jailed for the murder of Mohammad Akhlaq and for injuring his son Danish over an alleged cow slaughter incident in September 2015 – as a murder and by trying to pass him off as a martyr, the villagers would not be able to overcome the accusations of violation of the code.
The law on the use of the national flag is very clear. The code clearly lays down the dos and don’ts pertaining to its use over coffins.
The fact that the use of the national flag on Sisodia’s coffin is an insult is covered by section five of the Flag Code of India 2002. It states in paragraph 3.22 that “The Flag shall not be used as a drapery in any form whatsoever except in state/military/central para-military forces funerals hereinafter provided.”
Even though the villagers tried to project Sisodia as a martyr, the code does not provide for the use of the national flag for draping the body of any such self-proclaimed “martyr”. It elaborates the restriction even in case of genuine martyrs in paragraph 3.58 by stating “on occasions of state/military/central para- military forces funerals, the flag shall be draped over the bier or coffin with the saffron towards the head of the bier or coffin. The flag shall not be lowered into the grave or burnt in the pyre.”
In the case of Sisodia, there is even lesser justification for the use of the national flag over his coffin. He was an accused in a case of communal violence.
The Supreme Court had in its landmark judgment in Union of India vs Naveen Jindal clearly settled the issue of how, when and by whom the national flag can be used.
The apex court had observed that a committee constituted in 2000 to obtain the views of the state governments and the union territory administrations on the issue had in its report stated in the following year that, “The national flag stands for the whole nation, its ideals, aspirations, its hopes and achievements. It is a beacon showing to its people the path when their very existence is threatened. It is at this time of danger that this much length of cloth inspires people to unite under its umbrella and urge them to defend the honour of their motherland.”
Clearly in the case of Sisodia, the issue is far removed from ‘uniting people’ and ‘the honour of the motherland’.
The apex court had also observed that “unrestricted use of the flag may not attract the same level of respect and reverence from the citizens as at present. The unrestricted use of the national flag may result in its indiscriminate use in processions, meetings, etc. Instances of insults to the national flag as a matter of protest may also occur.”
It had stated that the “national flag indisputably stands for the whole nation, its ideals, aspirations, its hopes and achievements.”
The Supreme Court had also noted that the “Flag Code is not a statute; thereby the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) is not regulated.” But, it held that the guidelines as laid down under the flag code deserve to be followed to the extent it provides for preservation of dignity and respect for the national flag. It had therefore demanded that “the state may not tolerate even the slightest disrespect.”
The Ministry of Home Affairs also keeps issuing instructions to the states, the union territories and the ministries and departments of the Centre, to ensure strict compliance of the provisions contained in Flag Code of India 2002 and The Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971.
A recent direction by the ministry in March stated that any contempt of the Indian national flag shall be punished for a term, which may extend up to three years or with fine or both.
It now remains to be seen whether the Uttar Pradesh government will adhere to these instructions in the Sisodia case and if the BJP government at the Centre would pursue the matter, considering that some party leaders have already started rallying around Sisodia. Soon after protests erupted in Bisada village, Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Sadhvi Prachi reached there to seek justice for the deceased. She, however, did not mention the violation of the flag code.
Union culture minister Mahesh Sharma, who represents the Dadri area in the Lok Sabha, also paid his last respects to Sisodia, though the photographs he tweeted of his visit did not show the national flag anywhere.
Met the family of deceased Ravi in Bisara village, Greater Noida. Bisara get settled now pic.twitter.com/RfDzga3ddC
— Dr. Mahesh Sharma (@dr_maheshsharma) October 7, 2016
Note: In an earlier version of this article, Sadhvi Prachi was referred to as a “party leader”, implies she is with the Bharatiya Janata Party. She is, in fact, affiliated to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which though connected to the BJP through their common affiliation to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is nonetheless a separate organisation.
Note: This article was edited on October 8 to add the details of Mahesh Sharma’s visit to Bisada on October 7.