This photo shows a ceremony for Indian Olympic athletes, not a farmers' protest

·3 min read

A photo of three Indian wrestlers who won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in August was shared thousands of times on social media alongside the claim it was taken at a farmers' protest against controversial agriculture laws introduced in 2020. Whilst one of the wrestlers had expressed public support for the protests, the photo was shared in a misleading context. It corresponds to news reports about a ceremony to welcome back athletes who had participated in the Tokyo Olympics. A farmers' union leader who was present at the ceremony told AFP that it had nothing to do with the protests.

The photo was shared on Twitter here on August 11, 2022, and has since been re-tweeted more than 5,300 times.

It shows the Indian wrestlers Deepak Punia, Ravi Kumar Dahiya and Bajrang Punia -- highlighted with a red rectangle.

The three each won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in August 2022.

The Hindi-language tweet translates to English as: "This photo is from the farmers' protest and now these three wrestlers have won gold medals for India."

Screenshot of the misleading tweet, captured on August 23, 2022

A year-long protest against the Indian government's agriculture policies came to an end in December 2021, following a rare retreat by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Three contentious laws -- which farmers claimed would let private companies control the country's agriculture sector -- were repealed.

The same photo was shared alongside similar claims on Facebook here, here and here.

Comments on the posts indicated that some users had been misled.

"Thank you, young farmers will feel proud," one user wrote.

Another wrote: "Great, salute them from the heart."

Bajrang Punia had tweeted support for the farmers' protest in November 2020.

Deepak Punia and Ravi Kumar Dahiya appear to have made no such public expression of support.

However, the photo of the three wrestlers was not taken at a protest.

Welcome ceremony

The banner visible in the background of the photo contains the Hindi words for "players' ceremony".

A zoomed-in view of the banner visible in the background of the photo used in the misleading posts

A subsequent keyword search led to similar images in a September 21, 2021 report by the Hindi-language news website Haryana Express.

The images used by the Haryana Express appear to have been taken from a slightly different angle, but the three wrestlers are pictured wearing the same clothes that they are wearing in the photo used in the misleading posts.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the image in the misleading posts (left) and one image used by the Haryana Express (right):

Screenshot comparison of the image in the misleading posts (left) and one image used by the Haryana Express (right)

The report states that a welcome ceremony was held in Sonipat city, in the north Indian state of Haryana, for some of the athletes who had participated in the Tokyo Olympics, which were delayed to July 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

India won seven medals in Tokyo, with Ravi Kumar Dahiya winning a silver medal and Bajrang Punia winning a bronze.

Corresponding images of the ceremony were also published in local news reports here, here and here.

The Haryana bureau of the Hindi-language newspaper Punjab Kesari also shared a video of the ceremony on their official YouTube channel.

The ceremony was conducted by a farmers' union, according to the reports.

'No protest'

Rakesh Tikait, a leader of the Indian farmers' protest movement and one of the organisers of the ceremony, told AFP that the event was unrelated to any protests.

"This image is from September 10, 2021, in Sonipat at an award ceremony, where we farmers presented awards to some of our athletes who came back with flying colours from the Tokyo Olympics," he said.

"No protest or agitation happened during that event."