Video from Sri Lankan university wrongly described as showing persecution of Muslims in India
Clip first circulated on Pakistani social media in 2019 and has now resurfaced
Claim: A video shows Indian Hindu men harassing young burqa-clad female students by throwing water on them as they make their way to class.
Fact: The video is from a university in Sri Lanka where senior students can be seen ‘ragging’ first-year students.
On 10 February 2022, Pakistani columnist Orya Maqbool Jan shared a video of a group of young men sloshing water on women wearing burqas, walking along a tree-lined road. The clip was shared shortly after the emergence of reports that a Muslim student in India was harassed on her way to class at Karnataka college by a Hindu right-wing mob.
Jan, also a television analyst and former civil servant, captioned the video on his verified Twitter account as follows:
“سیکولر لبرل طبقے میں ایک موت کی خاموشی ہے ۔ وہ ان حجاب والی بچیوں کی تذلیل پر کیوں بولیں گے، انہوں نے تو اپنی خاموشی کو آٹھ مارچ کو توڑ کر عورت مارچ میں فحش پلے کارڈز کے ذریعے عورتیں کی خود تذلیل کرنا ہے”
[There is a deathly silence among the secular liberal class. Why would they speak about the humiliation of these hijab-wearing girls? They will only break their silence on March 8 and humiliate women themselves through obscene placards at the Aurat March.]
He was referring to the Aurat March (Women’s March), which is celebrated on March 8 — International Women’s Day (IWD) — across Pakistan and has attracted intense backlash since it started in 2018.
Fact or fiction?
The video, in fact, shows senior students at the Eastern University, Vantharumoolai in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province throwing buckets of water on junior students — including but not limited to Muslim students — while ‘ragging’, or hazing, first-year students.
To investigate the source of the video, Soch Fact Check took screenshots at various points of the clip and used Google Reverse Image Search to verify its authenticity.
A Google search using the phrase, “indian men throwing water on burqa girls,” revealed that multiple IFCN-certified fact-checking websites — including The Logical Indian, Boom Live, and Factly — have debunked the claim that the video shows men harassing burqa-clad women in India. The fact-checkers determined that the people in the video were speaking Tamil, a dominant language in Sri Lanka.
Soch Fact Check was able to find a link to the original video, posted by Lanka Sun News — a news outlet based in Kandy, Sri Lanka — on 24 February 2019. A portion of the caption accompanying the post states, “Racist students at the Eastern University of Sri Lanka (eastern university of srilanka) have gone without a measure of ragging. They have been mocking and teasing.”
The same video was also posted in 2019 by Mohamed Sarjoon, a Sri Lankan hailing from Akkaraipattu, Ampara in the country’s Eastern Province. The caption accompanying Sarjoon’s video, roughly translated from Tamil, states, “I get a thousand questions arise within me who is the measure of these students to do this permission granted for university studies, they are teasing and teasing my sisters like this.”
A website run by diaspora Sri Lankans, Puthithu (English version), also shared the video in February 2019, along with a caption stating that one of the site’s reporters received confirmation from students at the Eastern University that the clip was filmed on their campus. The website also shared the clip on YouTube, with a caption that translated into English read as follows, “Parody at Eastern University – Vulnerability of Female Students.” Another YouTube channel, Now News, shared the video as well.
Additionally, the Twitter account of Documenting Oppression Against Muslims (DOAM), which has upwards of 48,000 followers, clarified in 2019 that the “incident happened in Eastern University of Sri Lanka, not in India”.
This incident happened in Eastern University of Sri Lanka, not in India. We were told by Sri Lankan Muslims that this incident was a bucketing water activity where students throw water on other students. Disgusting act but nothing to suggest they were targeted because of religion https://t.co/OEB3CD4kU9
— DOAM (@doamuslims) March 1, 2019
“We were told by Sri Lankan Muslims that this incident was a bucketing water activity where students throw water on other students,” DOAM wrote.
Soch Fact Check conducted a CrowdTangle analysis using the phrase, “انہوں نے تو اپنی خاموشی کو آٹھ مارچ کو توڑ کر عورت مارچ میں فحش پلے کارڈز کے ذریعے عورتیں کی خود تذلیل کرنا ہے”. The analysis turned up posts such as this, this, this, and this, each of which garnered almost 1,000 views. This one by a Gujrat-based fitness model, however, was viewed more than 2,000 times.
On Facebook, the original caption by Orya Maqbool Jan was changed in some copy-cat posts to add the following:
“ اب بھی اگر لوگ نا سمجھیں کہ ہمارے لبرلز کا اصل ایجنڈا کچھ اور ہے تو پھر اللہ ہی حافظ ہے۔”
[Even now, if people don’t understand that the actual agenda of our liberals is something else, then Allah is the protector.]
Many users linked the video to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an Indian Hindu nationalist group, saying its members were “torchering [sic]” Muslim women in the country.
Interestingly, this is not the first time the video in question has been shared with a false or misleading claim. In 2019, AFP Fact Check and AFP Periksa Fakta published fact check reports after the video was posted by Facebook user Muhammad Asif Shirva, who has now changed their Facebook name to Mahammed Asif Shirva and locked their profile. The clip posted by Shirva gained more than 150,000 views and over 5,000 shares.
AFP Periksa Fakta shared the details of three instances where the video has been shared with misleading claims. In one instance it was claimed that the video depicted “Islamophobia” in Indonesia, while in another two instances in — here and here — it was claimed the video showed Hindus mistreating Muslims girls in Kashmir.
In its 2019 report, AFP matched the pathway seen in the clip with the tree-lined road at the Eastern University seen at the 0:41 mark in a video posted by the university’s official YouTube page. According to a journalist working in AFP’s Colombo bureau, one of the young men in the video can be heard telling his friends to splash water on the students, saying “Fetch it and splash it.”
The same clip uploaded by Abdul Rauf Siddiquie in 2019 with the caption, “The shameful actions of extremist Hindus against Muslim university students. Who will raise voice for these sisters?” was shared 47,000 times.
On Twitter, the video in Orya Maqbool Jan’s tweet was viewed more than a whopping 100,000 times and shared over 3,000 times, while tweets with the video such as this, this, and this were viewed nearly 8,000 times, 3,800 times, and 300 times. One tweet, from 2019, was viewed more than 225,000 times.
Video surfaces during 2019 India-Pakistan tensions
The video was shared in 2019 following Pakistan’s capture and subsequent “peace gesture” release of Indian Air Force (IAF) Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. It gained traction after far-right Pakistani Islamist conspiracy theorist Zaid Hamid shared it with the following caption:
“Bloody ‘goodwill gesture’…Told you we have an evil and unscrupulous savage enemy….who have no respect for human dignity, honor of our women or children…. This is a normal day in India… Let the bloody pilot go back …then see how low they will sink….”
In 2022, Facebook user Waseem Rana Laliyana II shared the video with the following caption:
“Welcome to your new India where today girls of one religion are being harassed because of Hijab just because you are Muslim. You are rejoicing over this because they are not your daughters, then remember these rascals will trouble your children tomorrow when you wake up it will be too late, these RSS rascals have forgotten all the dignity today.”
Conclusion: The video in question shows an incident involving college seniors ‘ragging’ first-year students at a university in Sri Lanka. The ‘ragging’ activity was not specifically aimed at Muslim women. The clip is not in any way connected to India or the persecution of Muslims by individuals associated with the RSS.