Olympic medallist Bajrang Punia on Sunday accused the “IT [Information Technology] cell people” of circulating a morphed picture of protesting wrestlers Vinesh Phogat and Sangeeta Phogat. The IT cell refers to the publicity unit of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
Several of India’s top wrestlers were detained by the police on Sunday while they were trying to march to the new Parliament building in New Delhi, demanding the arrest of their federation chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh over sexual harassment allegations.
The athletes have been protesting in Jantar Mantar for more than a month over the lack of action against Singh, who is also a BJP MP.
On Sunday, the fake image circulated on social media by users sympathetic to the BJP showed Vinesh Phogat and Sangeeta Phogat smiling after they were hauled away in a bus by police officials. The picture was shared with the claim that the wrestlers are not serious about their protest.
However, a reverse image search of the original picture leads to a tweet posted by journalist Mandeep Punia and it does not show Vinesh Phogat and Sangeeta Phogat smiling, The Quint reported. It was shared hours before the morphed image emerged.
“IT cell people are spreading this false picture,” Punia wrote in a tweet. “We make it clear that a complaint will be filed against whoever posted this fake picture.”
Journalist Uzair Rizvi, who works with international news agency AFP, also shared a video on Twitter to demonstrate how a software was used to modify the original picture of the wrestlers. The software, called FaceApp, allows users to try a “smile” filter and modify the faces of people to make it look as though they are smiling.
The wrestlers tried to march to the new Parliament building as Prime Minister Narendra Modi was inaugurating it. Singh was among those at the ceremony.
The wrestlers were, however, stopped by hundreds of police officers.
Sakshi Malik, who won the women’s 58 kg freestyle bronze at the 2016 Rio Olympics, shared photos and video of the wrestlers being dragged away by police officials.
“This is how our champions are being treated,” she wrote in a tweet. “The world is watching us.”
Several Opposition leaders criticised the police’s actions, saying it was “extremely shameful and unfortunate”.
Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav said that the BJP had launched the “Beti Bachao” campaign when they needed votes and now they are “insulting daughters of the country”.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said that Modi was “crushing the people’s voice on the streets” after the inauguration of the new Parliament.