March has a special significance in the lives of all Bangladeshis. It is a time of celebration, of taking vows to contribute for our beloved motherland. March brings with it the unique feelings of Bengali nationalism, spirit of freedom, liberation war, glory, an extraordinary energy that radiates through the blood of all Bangladeshis. It is a month full of events that is deep-rooted in the history of Bangladesh. It is in this month that the Father of the Nation delivered the historic speech at Ramna Race Course that sparked the spirit of the Bengalis. This spirit ignited the fire in the minds of the Bengalis to embark on the eventful Liberation War and finally, the nation realized its dream - freedom. With freedom, the nation found a map delineating the boundary of the country, a national anthem and above all, a flag of its own. Jiddu Krishnamurti, the late popular Indian writer and speaker, said, “Identification with the rag called the national flag is an emotional and sentimental factor and for that factor you are willing to kill another - and that is called, the love of your country, love of the neighbor . . .? One can see that where sentiment and emotion come in, love is not.”
The flag of Bangladesh is simple yet unique-a simple red circle on a green rectangular background. It is easy to prepare and for others (I mean foreigners) to remember. The flag was officially adopted by the nation on 17 January 1972. It has been designed based on the flag that was used during the Liberation War. However, the map that used to be there in the red circle in the flag has been scrapped, probably to simplify the design. However, we often see the use of the original version of the flag by the general mass on different national events because of the memory of 1971 war. The colours in the flag signifies different spirits of the nation -the rising sun reminding one of the new horizon that the country is moving towards, new hopes for the nation and the people. It also signifies the sacrifices that so many men and women underwent for the liberation of this land. The green field symbolizes the lushness of the land that raises the energy of her people and signifies the beauty and bounty of her resources. I sometimes wonder, whether the people, in general, are aware of what all the flag represents?, Our realization, probably runs low in most of the cases.
The national flag is the highest and most recognizable symbol of national pride, a symbol of a nation's glory. Thus we see its use in numerous places- atop important government buildings and on vehicles of the designated officials at home and abroad. We can feel the sense of belonging and pride as we see our national flag flying atop our missions abroad. No mention is required to emphasize its use in different national events like the National Day and other military parades, sports events and even during nation's mourning or death of our national heroes and leaders.
Certain flag etiquettes and norms are attached to the use of national flag. The flag is to be prepared and used according to the prescribed size, dimensions and colour. It is never to touch the ground and the flag should be kept in good repair. If a flag is damaged, torn or discoloured, then it must not to be thrown away, but disposed in a dignified manner according to the rules. It must never be thrown in a garbage bin or used as an old cloth. These actions are total disrespect towards the national flag and its dignity and to the motherland. Unfortunately, due to ignorance, we often find abuse and wrong practices to the utter disregard of the national pride-the national flag.
The national flag of the country fluttering in many places is a common sight. What is uncommon and unnatural is the way it is displayed. Not to one's surprise, but, of course, to one's dismay and disappointment. Some of these flags are tattered or even faded (the red colour into pink and dark green into light green) not to speak of the improper and disproportionate size and dimension. The other things are the way the flag is hung on a flag pole/bamboo stand-the pole/ bamboo stand being titled at the top like a fishing whip/stick. The pole bearing the national flag should always stand on a platform and never directly with dug up soil/earth. The flag should not continue to be hoisted after sun set as a norm. Why is this disregard to such a sacred symbol of the nation? Is it that in schools and colleges, the moral teachings that students receive needs to be revisited? There was a report in a Bangla Daily a few months back, highlighting that there are madrasas where neither the national anthem is sung nor the national flag is hoisted. Can we imagine this happening or accept this practice to go on?During celebrations of different national days like the Independence Day and the Victory day people buy flags made of paper and plastic. Thereafter, these flags land up in waste bins or discarded on roads only to be stamped under the feet of road careless people. This is a total disrespect to the national flag,a practice that is going on due to our sheer ignorance and lack of knowledge about the flag etiquette. The students in schools and colleges must be taught about it. In military, the national flag occupies a special place in day to day life and during ceremonies. It is a symbol of great pride and glory for a unit/institution to have received the national colour. None other than the head of the government or the state hands it over to that unit/institution signifying its importance, pride and respect. The flag is placed in the most secured and sacred place of the unit-the quarter guard symbolizing its highest honour, glory and sanctity.
The sentiment of the people attached to the national flag is evident. We do remember the events of hoisting Bangladeshi Flag at the highest peaks in different continents while these have been braved for the very first time by our courageous mountaineers. We also see Bangladeshi sportsmen celebrating their victory and accomplishments with the national flag. It is thrilling to see Bangladeshi supporters in galleries in national and foreign venues, waving our flags tirelessly to support their team. The use of national flag during the time of sorrow and joy of the country are equally significant and worthy.
Let me make few recommendations-immediate instruction should be issued to all government agencies for proper use of national flag-appropriate colour and correct size and dimensions, awareness campaigns in all schools and colleges highlighting the dignity and best practices for the use of national flag. Launching extensive media campaign would raise awareness amongst the general public about the issue. Banning the use of plastic and paper materials for making flags, and also banning use of flags made out of improper materials are important. Finally, undertaking a campaign named “Respect the National Flag” (in Bangla, Jatiya Potakake Shonman Korun) in order to raise mass awareness about the issue. We may draw lessons from a similar campaign that has been undertaken in India by the Maharashtra Government for awareness of the general mass for respecting the national flag and banning the use of plastic and paper to make flags. No effort would succeed unless the government can ensure monitoring and participation of the general public. Let us endeavour to uphold the glory and pride of our national flag for this is the manifestation of the degree of our patriotism, respect and national pride.
The writer is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Bangladesh Army.