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Can India please stop disrespecting its flag with a fake image?

22 July, 2021 11:28:23
Can India please stop disrespecting its flag with a fake image?

Considering the tremendous hurry that the British were in to get out of India, and the impossibly short deadline that departing viceroy Louis Mountbatten set for partition and eventual independence, it is perhaps a wonder that the Indians could get a national flag ready in time at all. Nonetheless, on this day exactly 75 years ago, our tricolour was presented by Jawaharlal Nehru at the hastily formed Constituent Assembly, and unanimously adopted. So today is an excellent day to discuss the outright disrespect that the government itself has shown the flag in a recent publication, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

On July 14, 1947, a Flag Committee had recommended that the flag of the Congress Party be adopted as the national flag, with a few modifications to reinforce its non-communal nature. The spinning wheel (charkha) of the Congress flag was replaced by the chakra (wheel) from the lion capital of Emperor Ashoka, as a representative of dharma and law. No less a personage than Mahatma Gandhi remained extremely unhappy with the omission of the charkha, but that is another story. 

So the current year marks the diamond jubilee of the adoption of our flag. It is also the 125th year of the birth of one of India’s most revered freedom fighters, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, with his birthday being celebrated as ‘Parakram Diwas’ with much fanfare by the present government on January 23 this year. And the India Government Mint in Kolkata has released a commemorative Rs 125 coin to mark the milestone. 

All good? Not really. The information booklet accompanying the special coin has used an image of Netaji in conjunction with a group of soldiers apparently hoisting the Indian flag, an image that ought to be relegated to the trash bin for the manner in which it disrespects both the man and the flag. Quite simply put, it is a fake. And it has been in circulation for far too long.

 ‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima’ by Joe Rosenthal, 1945

The image apparently honouring the tricolour you can see at the top of this page is clearly a Photoshop creation, in which the Indian tricolour has been artificially inserted. The original image, titled ‘Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima’, is an iconic visual of six United States Marines raising the US flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima in Japan in the final stages of the Pacific War, during World War II. The photograph, taken by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press on February 23, 1945, has since been published thousands of times. It served as the model for the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, USA, in 1954, and has come to be regarded as one of the most recognisable images of World War II.

As you can see in the photograph published by the India Government Mint, the American national flag has been replaced by the Indian flag, without any other part of the photograph being changed. “While everything else is in black and white, only the Indian flag is in colour, which is really odd,” points out eminent vexillologist (flag expert) Sekhar Chakrabarti. 

It isn’t clear how this morphed image first came into being, but it appears to date back at least to 2011, if printed evidence is anything to go by. What is indeed shameful is that what may have started out as an exercise in fakery by a random netizen features so prominently in Government of India publications and advertisements, many of them released by the government’s official advertising agency. 

Yes, there are many more examples of this plagiarised image being used in official releases, such as an advertisement for the Income Tax Department in 2018, an invitation to an art workshop and exhibition on Netaji hosted by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) in January 2021, on the cover of a 2016 book about Bengal’s revolutionaries by Dalia Ray, in a news report by a prominent English-language Kolkata publication in 2015, and even on the cover of a booklet accompanying a commemorative stamp released by the chief postmaster general, West Bengal circle, in 2018 to mark the 75th anniversary of Netaji hoisting the Indian tricolour at Port Blair. 

In a truly bizarre twist, one of the first public examples of the use of this image dates back to 2011, when it was incorporated into multiple advertisements released to commemorate India’s 1961 annexation of Goa from the Portuguese. That this forgery has attained ‘official’ status over the past 10 years would have been laughable had it not been so shocking. Is India so devoid of honorific symbols that we must ‘borrow’ an iconic image from another country to show our respect for our flag? Is there nobody in the government who has seen the Iwo Jima photograph before? Isn’t it time the fake is recognised for what it is, and trashed for good?

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