For Past 9 Years, Speech-Impaired Kolkata Man Picks Up Discarded National Flags After Independence Day

Image & Story Credits: Arighna Mitra/Newzpole

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His speech difficulties have always been a hindrance for him to lead a ‘normal’ lifestyle. The insensitive mockery of neighbours or schoolmates haunted him throughout his childhood and youth, but he sailed through it all silence. And now at 32, Priyaranjan Sarkar from Bali, West Bengal is ridiculed for his strange hobby – collecting national flags which are dumped here and there post Independence and Republic Day celebrations. 

Love for his country runs in his very veins. It pained him deeply to see the flag being hailed one day and carelessly dumped or trampled upon the next. So, for the past nine years, Priyaranjan has been spotted roaming the streets after Independence Day or Republic Day, collecting flags from sidewalks, main roads, dump yards and even from the gutters, reported Bengali magazine Newzpole

People Called Him A Madman

Priyaranjan Sarkar shared how people called him a ‘madman’ and ‘ragpicker’ when he would go out to collect the discarded flags. There had been instances where he was even harassed in the suspicion of being a thief. Despite his speech problems, he had made sure every time to make people understand the importance of what he is doing and urged them to show proper respect to the national flag.

In his opinion, the real ‘madmen’ are the hypocrites who salute the national flag one day and do not mind throwing it in the trash the next day. 

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

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A Childhood Full Of Hardships

He credits his mother for his intense love for the nation. He lost his father as a little three-year-old child. His mother underwent a lot of hardships to provide for her four sons. Getting Priyaranjan admitted to school was quite a hassle, as no school was willing to admit a student with speech difficulties. Surgery could have cured his condition, but his mother failed to afford the expense despite relentless hard work.

At his school, he was a regular victim of taunts and teases from his classmates for his speech impairment. Battling through the bullying, Priyaranjan established himself as a professional football player with his local athletic club.

National Flag Is The ‘Saree’ Of Mother India

As a child, one day he found his mother picking up a discarded flag from the roadside with great care. When he inquired, she beautifully explained to him the significance of the national flag. She described the flag as the ‘saree’ worn by Mother India and advised him to pick up the flag if he ever finds it lying carelessly on the street.

Later in his youth, he was deeply inspired by the Indian Army’s devotion towards the national flag. He felt that if our soldiers can make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives to preserve the respect of our flag, then why the common citizens cannot do even the slightest bit of that.

He Now Has A Team Of Volunteers

Throughout his growing years, Priyaranjan has always collected flags, whenever he found one lying in dust and dirt. Exasperated by the apathy of the citizens, he has taken up the onus to keep the streets and dumpsters of Bali free from the disrespectfully discarded flags. He maintains a huge trunk at his house where he keeps all the flags he has collected till date.

He started alone but now he has gained a dedicated team of volunteers who assist him in his flag collection drives on the days following January 26 or August 15 every year. They do not mind picking up flags stained with pan spit or shoe prints.

Do Not Disrespect The Flag 

Priyaranjan’s true nationalism and immaculate ideologies prevent him from aligning with any political party. He also despises religious discrimination in the name of ultra-nationalism. In an appeal to the masses, he keenly insists everyone to immediately stop disrespecting the national flag in the pretext of celebrating our independence.

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It's not how much we give
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- Mother Theresa Quote

MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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