Flying National flag on vehicles cannot be a privilege of the few
Dr. Md. Rizwanul Islam
National flag symbolises and identifies a country. Likewise, millions of Bangladeshis connect and associate themselves very closely with the national flag as is evident in the widespread display of the national flag on different occasions. Hence, one cannot use it in any manner as one may please. To uphold its symbolic value, certain rules and regulations should govern the usage, display and disposal of the national flag. Presumably, the Bangladesh Flag Rules, 1972 [hereafter Flag Rules] has been in operation to achieve such purposes. However, with regard to the provision on the flying of national flag on different vehicles, the Flag Rules raise a concern that I would attend to in this essay.
Rule 6(3) of the Flag Rules provides that the President and the Prime Minister shall be entitled to fly the Bangladesh Flag on motor vehicles, and vessels and aeroplanes. Rule 6(4) of the Flag Rules mentions that the Speaker of Parliament, the Chief Justice, Cabinet Ministers, Chief Whip, Deputy Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, Persons accorded the status of a Cabinet Minister, Heads of Diplomatic/Consular Missions of Bangladesh in foreign countries will be entitled to fly the Bangladesh Flag on motor vehicles and vessels. Rule 6(5) of the Flag Rules provides that Ministers of State and Deputy Ministers and Persons accorded the status of a State or Deputy Minister shall be entitled to fly the Bangladesh Flag on motor vehicles and vessels while they are on tour outside the capital if within the country or abroad.
While the Flag Rules does not specifically lay down any prohibition on flying the national flag on their vehicles by persons other than the above mentioned dignitaries, there are several wordings in the Rule that unambiguously signify so. One may contend that the use of the term 'shall' only indicates an obligation imposed on the dignitaries that when they are in the aforementioned type of vehicles, those vehicles must fly the national flag. However, arguably, the use of the term entitled indicates that the Rule perceives flying the flag on a vehicle as a privilege, not as an obligation. This is a fortiori, when we compare the use of the terms 'shall be flown on the official residence of the following persons' in Rule 6 (2) of the Flag Rules. Arguably, the wordings 'shall be flown' in Rule 6(2) and 'entitled to fly' in Rules 6(3) -6(5) implies a distinction between the nature of flying flags on a residence and on a vehicle; in the sense that while the former is an obligation, the latter is an entitlement or privilege.
The special nature of flying the national flag on vehicles is also implicitly recognised by the classification among the dignitaries in terms of their entitlement to fly national flag on different type of vehicles and at different places. While the President and the Prime Minister shall fly the national flag on motor vehicles, vessels, and aeroplanes at all places, dignitaries mentioned in Rule 6 (4) are entitled to fly the Bangladesh Flag on motor vehicles and vessels but not on aeroplanes. Again, Rule 6 (5) of the Flag empowers State and Deputy Ministers and their equivalents to fly the national flag on motor vehicles and vessels only while they are on tour outside the capital if within the country or abroad. This restrictive nature of the usage rule denotes a sort of hierarchy in the entitlement to fly national flags in vehicles.
One may contend that restrictive provision regarding flying national flag on vehicles is merely a matter of official protocol and does not preclude ordinary citizens to fly the flag on their vehicles. However, this line of contention would give rise to absurd consequences in that an ordinary citizen would be allowed to fly the national flag on their vehicles anywhere in Bangladesh but State and Deputy Ministers and their equivalents would be allowed to do so only outside the capital or abroad. Such an absurd consequence could not be the intention of the law. Furthermore, as the Flag Rules does not distinguish between any official or personal vehicle of the dignitaries, it does not seem to limit its application to official protocol.
While the privileged nature of flying the flag in vehicles of the dignitaries is apparent, the rationale behind appears to be indefensible. Apparently, this exclusivity is to distinguish the vehicles of dignitaries form that of the others. However, more often than not the presence of members of the security forces and the pomp associated with the dignitaries is so vivid in our country that it is perhaps difficult for even visually or hearing impaired persons to fail to notice the presence of these privileged and powerful few in their vehicles gracing the streets. Nonetheless, if they need special symbols to distinguish them from the crowd, they may devise some other type of special symbols for their exclusive use. For example, judges of the Supreme Court use special flags in their cars. Thus, few dignitaries, no matter how large their status looms, need not monopolise the symbol of the nation to stand apart from the common. All the people of Bangladesh should have the right to fly the national flag on their vehicles if they wish to do so. National flag cannot be the monopoly or status symbol flying on the vehicles of the few. Ordinary citizens can validly claim that the national flag which is the outcome of a long struggle for liberation, in which people from common people have sacrificed their lives, is an absolute entitlement of all people in Bangladesh.
The Writer is Assistant Professor, School of Law, BRAC University.