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What is a ‘state funeral’, significance of the mourning period & national flag flown at half-mast

After Lata Mangeshkar’s demise, the home ministry declared that the legendary singer will be accorded a ‘state funeral’ & the national flag will be flown at half-mast for two days.

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New Delhi: Soon after legendary singer Lata Mangeshkar breathed her last at Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital Sunday, the central government declared that the Bharat Ratna awardee will be accorded a ‘state funeral’, and that the country will observe two days of ‘state mourning’ as a mark of respect from 6 to 7 February.

Her last rites will be conducted at Mumbai’s Shivaji Park Sunday evening with full state honours. Prime Minister Narendra Modi confirmed in a tweet that he would be traveling to Mumbai to pay his respects to the megastar.

The Maharashtra government also declared a public holiday on Monday.

“It is with profound sorrow that the Government of India announces the passing away of Sushri Lata Mangeshkar today. As a mark of respect to the departed dignitary, the Government of India has decided that there will be two days of state mourning from today throughout India,” said a press note issued by the Union ministry of home affairs Sunday.

It also said that the national flag will be flown at half-mast from 6 to 7 February throughout India, and there will be no ‘official entertainment’, which includes official dinners and functions.

Also Read: Pakistanis mourn Lata Mangeshkar too, say ‘even 1,000 Pakistan cannot compensate this loss’

What is a ‘state funeral’

According to home ministry guidelines, a ‘state funeral’ is officially accorded in the event of the death of the president, prime minister, former president or governor, sitting cabinet ministers, governors, lieutenant governors, Lok Sabha speaker, chief justice of the Supreme Court, chief ministers and Bharat Ratna awardees. However, the central government has the authority to order a ‘state funeral’ for other dignitaries or individuals who have made significant contributions towards the nation. 

Depending on who the digitary is, a ‘state funeral’ can include a gun salute, draping of the coffin with the tricolour, and laying of wreaths by mourners.

The home ministry sends an official communication about the death of central dignitaries to state governments, secretaries to governors, lieutenant governors, chief commissioners and administrators of union territories by wireless messages or most immediate telegrams.

For ‘state funerals’, the home ministry issues a gazette notification, according to home ministry guidelines. The defence ministry then makes relevant arrangements for the funeral. This includes the draping of the body with the tricolour. 

Different criteria are followed for ‘state funerals’ depending on who the dignitary is, a home ministry official, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint. For example, in the case of former Mauritius president Anerood Jugnauth, one day of state mourning was declared, the official said, adding: “The duration is decided by the central government.”

“A state funeral has to be attended by all the gazetted officers of government who may be present in the station. Service personnel will wear dress as for state functions,” said home ministry guidelines.

At a time of ‘state mourning’, the national flag is flown at half-mast at different locations, depending on who the departed individual is. For example, according to the Flag Code of India, the national flag is flown at half-mast throughout India in case of a sitting president, prime minister, vice-president and former president, and in Delhi in the case of the passing of the Lok Sabha speaker and the chief justice of India. 

In some cases, the government also declares a public holiday. A 1997 central government notification restricted the announcement of a public holiday during ‘state mourning’ to the death of a sitting prime minister or president. However, there have been some departures from protocol.

Funeral arrangements

There are strict protocols in place as far as funeral arrangements are concerned. These include draping of the coffin with an appropriate-sized tricolour, laying of wreaths by mourners, and a gun salute.

In the case of a sitting president, 21 guns are fired. For other dignitaries, a three-volley salute is performed. It was not immediately clear whether Lata Mangeshkar’s funeral would include a gun salute.

“On occasions of state/military/central/paramilitary forces funerals, the flag shall be draped over the bier or coffin with the saffron towards the head of the bier or coffin. The flag shall not be lowered into the grave or burnt in the pyre,” say home ministry guidelines said.

Dignitaries accorded ‘state funeral’

When former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee passed away in 2018, a ‘state mourning’ period of seven days was observed. A similar mourning period was observed in the case of former presidents APJ Abdul Kalam and Pranab Mukherjee.

Those outside of official government offices and political positions to be accorded state funerals include actors Dilip Kumar, Sridevi, Shashi Kapoor, Rajesh Khanna among others.

There have also been controversies over certain dignitaries not being accorded a state funeral, like in the case of retired cricketer Sachin Tendulkar’s coach and Padma Shri recipient Ramakant Achrekar in 2019. A minister of the Maharashtra government had later apologised for the same, blaming it on a “communication gap”.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: From Lag ja gale’ to ‘Luka chuppi’: 10 Lata Mangeshkar songs from a treasure trove of classics


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