NEW DELHI - After New Delhi expressed fury over the sale of doormats depicting the Indian flag by Amazon.com and threatened to withdraw visas for its officials, the online retailer removed the controversial product from its website.
India has a flag code that sets strict laws for proper display of the national flag, and its desecration is punishable with fines and imprisonment.
Foreign minister angry at ‘flag doormats’
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj demanded the website “withdraw all products insulting our national flag immediately” and tender an unconditional apology after a Twitter user in Mumbai posted a screenshot of the product and called on her to take action.
“If this is not done forthwith, we will not grant Indian visa to any Amazon official,” Swaraj, who is recovering from a kidney surgery, said on Twitter. “We will also rescind the visas issued earlier.”
The doormats were being sold by a third party on Amazon’s Canadian portal. India is not the only country whose flag was featured in this manner. The portal also has patriotic doormats with flags of several countries, including Canada, the United States and Britain.
Amazon removes the doormats
Hours after the foreign minister’s angry tweets, Amazon said the item is no longer available for sale on its website.
It is not the first time that the online retailer, which entered the Indian market in 2013, has faced outrage in India. Last year it withdrew doormats featuring Hindu gods after expressions of anger on social media.
Shahnawaz Khan, of the Flag Foundation of India, a Delhi-based nonprofit, said the Foreign Minister was justified in demanding the withdrawal of the doormats depicting the flag. The foundation encourages citizens to be proud to fly the flag, which they were not allowed to do until 2004 except on national days.
“As a nation we have always been sensitive towards our flag. People get offended when it comes to our national flag,” Khan said. “The vendor might not know that the Indian flag should not be sold in this way, but going by how we look at our flag this should not have been done.”
Rules for proper flag display
The government sets strict rules on the proper display of the flag by citizens. According to the flag code, the Indian flag cannot be trampled on, printed on any cloth apart from that used for the flag itself or allowed to touch the floor.
Those strict rules mean that controversy and the Indian flag are never far apart.
Several celebrities and actresses have faced criticism for draping the national flag, the latest was two years ago when a film poster showed actress Mallika Sherawat draped in a cloth with the national flag’s colors. India’s iconic cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, was also accused of disrespecting the flag when he cut a cake in the colors of the national flag in 2007 in the West Indies.