Some of India’s top wrestlers, led by Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, and Sakshi Malik, were detained by Delhi Police on Sunday, May 28, after they had been stopped from marching towards the new Parliament building from their site of protest at Jantar Mantar. The Wrestlers, who have been demanding the arrest of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president and BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over allegations of sexual harassment by at least seven women wrestlers (including a minor), wanted to hold a women’s Maha Panchayat in front of the new Parliament building.

The following is an image of Delhi Police detaining wrestler Sakshi Malik near Jantar Mantar during their protest march (used in a Hindustan Times report).

According to ThePrint, eight to nine buses filled with protesters were taken to different police stations. The police then removed all the tents, hoardings, and the Tricolour that the wrestlers had put up. The protest site at Jantar Mantar was emptied by the police who also took down all the arrangements the wrestlers had made for themselves.

After the wrestlers were taken into custody, a selfie of Vinesh Phogat, Sangeeta Phogat and others apparently clicked in a police vehicle started circulating on social media, with the claim that the wrestlers were seen smiling even after being detained by the police.

Abhijit Majumder, who describes himself as a journalist in his Twitter bio, shared the viral image and wrote, “Mission Toolkit accomplished. #WrestlersProtest”. (Archive)

Filmmaker Ashoke Pandit also tweeted the viral image of the smiling wrestlers and said that after the drama on the streets, this was their real face. He later deleted the tweet.

Pro-BJP propaganda website Kreately Media also tweeted the viral image alongside an image of the wrestlers pinned to the ground by police. They later deleted the tweet.

State general secretary for Bengal BJP Amitava Chakravorty shared the image alongside images of the protest and wrote ‘Drama is over. Now all going home smiling. They only came for the photo to ruin today’s inaugurations.’ (Archive)

Verified account @wokeflix_ tweeted the same image in a meme and wrote ‘Toolkit Activated. Mission Accomplished’. (Archive)

Verified account @randomsena tweeted the same image alongside an image of Sangeeta Phogat and Vinesh Phogat pinned to the floor during the protest, and wrote “Propaganda Vs Reality” (Archive). Another verified account, @RealAtulsay, tweeted the same image and wrote “Selfie🤳 of the day. Fake #WrestlerProtest”. (Archive)

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Fact Check

We found that journalist Mandeep Punia had tweeted the photo at 12:28 pm on Sunday with the information that Vinesh Phogat had been detained by Delhi Police. In that image, Vinesh, Sangeeta and others are not seen smiling, contrary to the viral image. (Archive)

Wrestler Bajrang Punia tweeted a collage of the two photos (in one, the wrestlers are smiling; in the other, they are not) marking the viral image as ‘fake’. He stated that complaints would be filed against whoever circulated the viral image. This particular tweet was retweeted the Vinesh Phogat herself.

Sangeeta Phogat also retweeted a tweet by user Rahul Tahiliani which carried the same collage where the ‘smiling’ photo was marked ‘fake’. (Archive)

Coming to the details of the viral image itself, we found that the image had been morphed using Artificial Intelligence app called FaceApp. We performed the same exercise on the original image tweeted by Mandeep Punia and found the exact viral image. This exercise was also performed by journalist Uzair Rizvi in a tweet.

Moreover, Vinesh and Sangeeta Phogat have dimples in the viral image. By comparing Vinesh and Sangeeta’s faces in the viral image with images from their Instagram accounts, we found that neither of the sisters has a dimple. (Sangeeta’s Instagram picture and Vinesh’s Instagram picture)

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Some users also shared a video of Vinesh Phogat smiling and waving from the police vehicle, while she was being taken away. Users sarcastically asked if the video of her smiling was also edited. (Archive)

In reality, Vinesh was sarcastically saying “Naya Desh Mubarak Ho” (Translation: Congratulations on a new India) while being taken away by the police. The video was taken out of context by the above user. In this video too, one can clearly see that Vinesh Phogat does not have a dimple.

Hence, a selfie taken by wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sangeeta Phogat and others in a police van while being taken away for detention has been edited using an Artificial Intelligence app to show that the wrestlers were smiling. The narrative was grossly manipulated to show that the protest was just a propaganda tactic.

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About the Author

Student of Economics at Presidency University. Interested in misinformation.