Indian flag monopoly

Every Indian flag in India is made in one small south Indian village.

Flag of India
Chaitrali Thorat, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of the symbols of the Indian independence movement was the spinning wheel. The colonial government liked to gather raw cotton from Indian farmers, ship it to England to be manufactured into cloth, and then return the cloth to India to sell at inflated prices. Portable hand-cranked spinning wheels called charkha allowed people to produce their own cloth, thus circumventing that pernicious branch of the colonial economic structure.

Mahatma Gandhi’s independence movement revolved around the spinning wheel, and the rough hand-spun cloth called khadi that it produced. The Swadeshi movement of Indian self-sufficiency built a national identity.

This is not hyperbole. Gandhi announced a boycott of English-produced goods by burning English cloth and taking up khadi cloth instead. He encouraged every Indian to take up spinning, up to the other leaders of the independence movement. And even in jail, he spun cloth:

Gandhi spinning in jail
Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The earliest versions of the Indian independence flag featured the charkha spinning wheel:

1931 Indian flag
Nicholas (Nichalp), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1947 it was replaced on the flag by the 24-spoke Buddhist wheel called the Ashoka Chakra, but the symbolic connection remained. In India, the wheel, the cloth, and independence are intertwined.

By Indian law, the flag of India must be made of khadi. And only licenced manufacturers in India are allowed to make it. And, from the 1950s until today, only one manufacturer actually has that licence. The Karnataka Khadi Gramodyoga Samyukta Sangha organisation makes all Indian flags by hand. Their headquarters and primary manufacturing facility are in a small village in southern India: Garag, in the state of Karnataka. A couple of hundred people spin, weave, dye, and sew every Indian flag in India.

[Thanks to Gareth E.]

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