Being patriotic, selling patriotism

07. পূর্ব দিগন্তে সূর্য উঠেছে

1971 version of national flag can only be used in depicting that period. This photograph is part of a series on 1971.

When competition is fierce, patriotism is the business panacea. Add a drop of patriotism in your product, and it will sell like hotcakes. The West probably has gone too far with it. Thanks to our heritage, we are still uncomfortable with Bangladesh-flag themed undergarments or shoes.

But our corporate houses do use national history, national flag or national anthem to make profits. Think about mobile ringtones. The mobile company doesn’t have to pay any royalty to Tagore or the government, but people pay the companies millions to use it on their phone. Recently there have been a law and a verdict in relation to the use and abuse of such materials. However, there are some functional and political complexities in it.

The abuse

Ringtone is definitely not the worst form of commercialization of patriotism by mobile companies. Remember Grameen Phone’s “30 minutes to relive history” (দুনিয়া কাঁপানো ৩০ মিনিট) that destroyed the decoration of Shahid Minar? Most print media didn’t even report this anarchy!

Actors of Grameen Phone-Prothom Alo promotion destroying the flowers at Shahid Minar.

Then there are pathetic advertisements such as this one

They went as far as to take pictures of furnitures with rifles and then ask the buyers to buy that furniture (honouring our independence war)! Recent print and TV ads show how aggressive this patriotism business is getting day by day.

The legal bar

Recently commercial use of the national anthem in the form of ring tones and welcome tunes has been declared unlawful by the High Court. I assume, the scope of this verdict will be limited and won’t discourage patriotism business.

While I liked the idea of banning national anthem for commercial purpose, I wish the court asked the mobile operators to offer the national anthem related services (ringtone or welcome tunes) for free. If someone feels like having the national anthem , I take it as their personal liberty.

Meanwhile, the parliament has passed a bill to punish those who dishonours the national anthem, flag and emblem.

Use vs Misuse

But with all these laws and verdicts, I am often worried about unknowingly dishonouring our national flag or map. It’s not that I have an intention to do so, but I’m unsure about the texts, scope and enforcements of such law.

Bangladesh Map

Take this red illustration of the map here for an example. When I first designed it, I loved it. Then I wanted to use it for a book cover. That’s when I got confused- is this a distortion (and commercial use) of the map?

I asked this someone who is known for his legal and  political correctness. Here is what I was told-

“For most, it will be a nice illustration that resembles Bangladesh’s map, but is not the actual map.

To someone who doesn’t like you, it’s a distortion. The map is not clearly marked, Bangladeshi lands are merged into Indian territory, while Indian territories are merged into it.”

His comment reminded me of an earlier UV post on the ambiguous scope of ICT law.

Enter the politics

Agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury, who tabled the bill on the use of national flag, recently blamed “some political parties and anti-liberatione elements of trying to undermine the flag and anthem”. She also said

The previous BNP government dishonoured the national flag by making ‘anti-independence Jamaat’ leaders ministers who used to fly national flag in their official cars and houses.

Indeed, and as my friend Jyoti says, “if the BNP could get political mileage from allying with the war criminals in the past, then it has to be prepared to face the downside of that alliance.”

But what’s the point relating this with the national flag law? I’m not sure if she can use that national-flag law against BNP for making anti-independence Jamaat leaders ministers. Was there any provision about it in her proposed bill that has been passed? If not, then why trivialize it?

See why I remain skeptical of the scope and enforcements of law? Only businessmen don’t sell patriotism, politicians do it too. Probably more than others.


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