A five-year old photo a Sri Lankan artist wearing a metal sheet and barbed wire around her as a saree is viral claiming a woman in India is protesting against the government after an alleged incident of sexual assault on a teenager in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh.
The posts claim the woman has covered herself in barbed wires to highlight the issue of women safety and as a mark of protest against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
BOOM traced the photo to 2015 and clicked in Sri Lanka and identified the woman in the photo as Janani Cooray, a performance and visual artist based in Colombo.
The photo is viral days after a teenager girl from the Dalit community in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh was beaten, tortured and allegedly gang raped on September 14. The victim who was admitted to the hospital succumbed, on September 29, to extreme injuries including a bit tongue as the accused attempted to strangle her. The case has led to widespread agitation and protest against the Uttar Pradesh government and the Uttar Pradesh police with the officials also accused to cremating the victim's body in the dead of the night amid allegations that the family forcibly kept away from the deceased's body. The UP police which has now barred the media from entering Hathras has arrested four accused for the crime.
The photo is viral with a caption in Hindi when translated reads, "This photo is a slap on the face of the Prime Minister and the BJP government, one which will be heard across the world, but be failed to be heard by BJP supporters. In view of increasing rapes in India, this woman covered herself in a barbed wire to send the message that women are not safe under the BJP government."
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BOOM found that the photo has existed online since 2015 and has been peddled with various contexts. We traced the photo to Sri Lanka and identified the woman as a visual performance artist Janani Cooray who speaking to us confirmed that the photo was not from India and also said that the viral claims are false.
A reverse image search for the photo showed us results from a Wordpress blog 'ArtFarmSriLanka' where the blogger had listed the experience of participating in the Colombo International Theatre. Using this as a hint we ran further searches on Facebook and that during the Colombo International Theatre festival, an artists collective - Theertha Performance Platform also had a show. A search using specific keywords led us to an upload on Theertha's website titled - Osariya - Janani Cooray where they carried a photo of the same woman in the barbed wire attire and described it as, "Osariya symbolizes a limited set of behaviors. Sri Lankan women, including myself, will enter that set of limitations when dressed in osariya. Powerful women leaders dress in this style on diplomatic, political and social occasions to advertise their status and importance."
We then ran a search for Janani Cooray and found that she is visual performance artists who regularly dresses up in different attires and gives a performance in line with social causes. BOOM reached out to Cooray via Facebook and via a video call, she explained that the photo is from 2015. We also found a different photo of Cooray wearing the same barbed wire attire on her Facebook account.
When asked why she wore a barbed wire and metal sheets, Cooray said, it was a way to make people realise how the idea associated with the Osariya drape is restrictive to women. "The Osariya drape is worn by women across Sri Lanka and even by female politicians and government officials. The drape has become attached to the idea that the woman wearing it has to behave a certain way - that she cannot laugh loudly, cannot run, cannot walk fast, cannot drink alcohol etc. And wearing the drape using barbed wire was a way to convey that," she said.
She added that the photo in the viral photo is from her second performance wearing the same attire in March, 2015. "I first wore the barbed wire Osariya saree for the SPACE exhibition held at the JDA Perera Gallery in Colombo. And then did the same performance as part of Teertham's show held during the Colombo International Theatre Festival in March, 2015 which was a street show. The viral photo is from the second show."
She called the viral posts fake and said they are not a form of protests against the Indian government or any political party. "The barbed wire performance is from 2015 and it aims to show the Osariya draping method of the saree, which is common in Sri Lanka. It has got nothing to do with India or the ongoing issue of rape and women safety."
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