HUBBALLI: As the 73rd Independence Day went by, a tiny village in North Karnataka got busy. To be specific, the women force. This year was no different.
Meet the women behind the making of the Tricolour. For the last two months, the women employees of the country’s largest National Flag manufacturing unit in Hubballi worked in double shifts to meet the demand. This is the only authorised unit, located in Bengeri, Hubballi, in the country to produce the National Flag.
About 1,200 women working in 22 centres in Bagalkot district prepare the cloth – spinning and weaving -- for the flags which are manufactured in Bengeri, run by the Karnataka Khadi Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha (KKGSS). About 1,500 employees are attached to the Sangha in Hubballi, of whom 90% of the employees are women.
For years, the Khadi Bhandar has played a vital role in the lives of women in Bagalkot, Viajyapura and Dharwad districts.
It all started in 1981, when the Vijayapura region faced severe drought, drying up job opportunities too, hitting the rural population hard. The government then stepped in to bridge the ‘yarning’ gap. It decided to start khadi spinning units in Vijayapura district and it gave a big boost to the rural women in the drought-hit areas.
The women in these centres started sewing khadi materials. In 2004, the Bengeri unit got government’s recognition to start manufacturing the National Flag. Since then, these women have marched on, spinning a success story. The flags are made to specific standards laid down by the Flag Code. There are specifications for the cloth, the yarn and the dye. The dye shouldn’t get washed away by rain. So all these things are tested for every flag. A piece is rejected even if there is the slightest error. They have to follow exacting standards set up by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).
The flags produced here are fluttering not only in India but also around the world. These flags adorn the Parliament building, the Supreme Court and the Red Fort in New Delhi. And This year it was special because the flag was hoisted in the ‘new’ Jammu and Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 and the state becoming a Union Territory.
“It’s a proud feeling to make the National Flag. When everyone including the Prime Minister salutes the flag made in Hubballi, we feel our hard work has paid off. Be it a child or anyone, everyone has respect for the National Flag and we are proud to be part of the making process,” says Annapurna Koti, manager at the flag making unit.
Priya Ballari, an employee at the unit, says, “In a day we make about 20-30 standard-sized flags. We work with patriotic fervour and It gives us a sense of satisfaction.”
She adds, “We are paid according to our timings. Both the central and state governments are trying to increase our wages and other facilities like medical aid. We begin our day when our children go to school and wind up by the time they return home. Sometimes we do overtime to meet the demand which surges during the national festivals.”
“The right mixture of cotton and khadi materials is procured from our branches operating in Bagalkot and Dharwad districts. Bengeri is the only BIS-certified national flag-making unit in India and we are proud to be associated with it. The Federation has plans to popularise khadi and also increase the production of other materials and items made here. There is a sale counter in Bengeri unit and the public can choose from several items,” says an employee. “My husband is an autorickshaw driver. It is difficult to run the family on his earnings alone. After I joined the flag-making unit about two years ago, we are financially better off. Our wages are decided by the Union minister and there is scope for incentives for overtime. When my husband is free and can take care of our children, I do overtime here,” she adds.
In the last 15 years, the unit has produced and sold more than one crore national flags of different sizes. The Bengeri unit is also known for producing the largest-sized khadi National Flag measuriung 14X21 feet. It requires about eight workers to complete it in a day and it weighs about 10 kg.
When the demand increases, all the womenfolk extend their working hours. As the orders are increasing every passing year, the unit makes the flags throughout the year.
Secretary of KKGSS Shivanand S Matpathi says women employees are the main force behind the unit in Hubballi. “On an average, 2.5 lakh flags of different sizes are made at the Hubballi unit every year. The demand for flags during August 15 and January 26 increases and also work of the women employees. Jobs like stitching, screen printing and ironing are done by the women employees. When the demand for flags increases, all the employees work for additional hours to meet the demand,” he says.
“Ours is a BIS-certified unit. It’s mandatory for all government and private organisations to buy ISI-marked national flags for the celebrations. For the last few years the demand for khadi flags has increased after the government made it mandatory. As all the panchayat buildings hoist tricolour every day, they need at least three flags per year. This has increased the business at the khadi unit here,” he adds.