Video shows alcohol smugglers in India's Andhra Pradesh, not 'far-right group in Karnataka state'

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A video of a man in Muslim dress has been shared hundreds of times in social media posts that falsely claim he is a far-right Hindu nationalist who disguised himself and pelted police with stones in the southern Indian state of Karnataka in May 2023. But the video -- which has circulated online since at least August 2020 -- actually shows an incident in which several people were arrested for smuggling alcohol in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, according to police and local reports.

"An RSS worker wore a burqa and pelted stones at police in Karnataka to make people believe that Muslims were spreading violence. Karnataka police exposed them in front of everyone. Thanks, Karnataka police," reads the Hindi-language caption of a video shared on Twitter here on May 15, 2023.

The far-right RSS -- the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh -- is a militaristic group espousing "Hindutva", or making India an exclusively Hindu state. It is considered the ideological parent of the country's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The 27-second video, which has been shared more than 240 times, appears to show police telling a man to remove his burqa -- an overgarment worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire head and body, with a mesh panel to see through.

After he removes the burqa, he squats down next to three other men.

Screenshot of the false tweet, captured on May 17, 2023

The clip circulated after the opposition Indian National Congress defeated the BJP in local elections in Karnataka, the only southern state controlled by the Hindu nationalist grouping.

The BJP had mounted a major campaign in the state with Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself visiting to promote its muscular brand of Hindu politics.

At one of his rallies, Modi praised an incendiary new film that wildly exaggerates the number of Hindu women converting to Islam and joining the Islamic State jihadist group.

The same video was shared alongside a similar false claim on Facebook here and here; and on Twitter here.

As of May 22, 2023 there have been no official reports about a disguised RSS worker throwing stones at police in Karnataka.

The video in fact shows people arrested for smuggling liquor in a neighbouring state almost three years earlier.

Liquor smugglers

A reverse image search on Google using keyframes from the video found a news report on the verified YouTube channel of the TV station ETV Andhra Pradesh (archived link).

The news report, published on August 8, 2020, was titled, "Several Arrested | for Transfer Illegal Liquor with Wearing Burqa | at Kurnool Dist".

According to the Telugu-language report, the four men were arrested by the Andhra Pradesh police at Panchalingala check post for smuggling liquor illegally from the neighbouring state of Telangana.

The video circulating alongside a false claim on social media corresponds to the report between the six-second and 23-second mark.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the video in the false post (left) and the video on ETV Andhra Pradesh's YouTube channel (right):

Screenshot comparison of the video in the false post (left) and the video uploaded on the ETV Andhra Pradesh YouTube channel (right)

A further keyword search found the same video shared on Facebook here by "News 8", a page that posts about local news in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana (archived link).

The video's Telugu-language caption translates as; "Special Enforcement Bureau Circle inspector (S.E.B.C) Laxmi Durgaiah seized a huge quantity of liquor.

"Attempts to malign the Muslim community by wearing burqas should be condemned. MPJ (Movement for Peace and Justice) demands the government punish such people severely".

In response to the false posts, Kurnool Taluk police inspector N Ramaiya told AFP that the video shows an incident in which four people were arrested for suspected liquor smuggling at the Andhra Pradesh-Telangana border in 2020.

"It was an illegal liquor smuggling case in which people smuggled the contraband from Telangana to Andhra Pradesh. They were caught by Andhra Pradesh police at the Panchalingala check post and one of them was wearing a burqa, which he used to carry the illicit liquor," Ramaiya said on May 15.