Sulli Deals 2.0: Muslim women being auctioned as ‘Bulli Bai’

Image via Ismat Ara on Twitter

by Divyakshee K.

Following outrage over Muslim women being ‘auctioned’ by right-wing extremists for the second time in less than a year, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw tweeted late Saturday that the GitHub user behind the ‘Bulli Bai’ app had been disabled and that “further action” was being taken.

Mr Vaishnaw was tagged yesterday by MP Priyanka Chaturvedi, who asked him to intervene against “rampant sexism and communal targeting of women” in a tweet. 

“GitHub (the Microsoft-owned software-sharing platform used to build and run the ‘Bulli Bai’ app) confirmed blocking the user this morning itself. CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team, an office within the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, or MEITY) and police authorities are coordinating further action,” Mr Vaishnaw tweeted.

The app was similar to online auction platforms such as eBay, except that instead of commodities, Muslim women were being auctioned without their knowledge. 

Images of around 100 Muslim women, including renowned actress Shabana Azmi, the wife of a sitting Delhi High Court judge, as well as journalists, activists, and politicians, were posted on the website for auction as “Bulli Bai” of the day.

The app’s perpetrators did not spare even Fatima Nafees, the 65-year-old mother of missing student Najeeb Ahmed, or Pakistani Nobel winner Malala Yousafzai.

“Bulli Bai” was the second such effort in less than a year, following the “Sulli Deals” in July, in which almost 80 Muslim women were “for sale.”

“In local slang, both ‘Bulli’ and ‘Sulli’ are demeaning terms for Muslim women. “However, the Punjabi language was utilised alongside English in the ‘Bulli Bai’ interface this time,” journalist Mohammad Zubair of fact-checking website AltNews told Al Jazeera.

According to Quratulain Rehbar, a journalist from Indian-administered Kashmir, the internet application — built on Microsoft-owned open software development site GitHub – was meant “to degrade and humiliate vocal Muslim women.”

The app was taken down on Saturday, 1st of January, when users reported that the GitHub extension on “Bulli Bai” looked suspiciously like the one used by “Sulli Deals.”

After viewing their photos and information on the app, several other Muslim women began voicing their outrage and fury on social media.

Ismat Ara, a New Delhi-based journalist, was one of these women. On Saturday, Ara filed a complaint with the Delhi Police against “unknown persons” on social media for harassing and abusing Muslim women “by using doctored pictures in an unacceptable and lewd context.”

On Sunday, the Delhi Police’s Cyber Crime Unit filed a first information report (FIR) based on her complaint, alleging numerous sections of the Indian Penal Code that pertain to promoting communal enmity, threatening national integration, and sexual harassment of women.

“It is sad to see how these hate-mongers are licensed to target Muslim women without any fear. This is not the first time such an auction has taken place,” said Ara. “The women who have been targeted are vocal women who raise issues of Muslims on social media. It is a clear conspiracy to shut these Muslim women because we challenge the Hindu right-wing online against their hate crimes,” she added.

Last year, Fatima Zohra Khan, a Mumbai lawyer whose name appeared in both the “Sulli” and “Bulli Bai” deals, filed a complaint with Mumbai police.

Despite Mumbai Police requesting data from Twitter, GitHub, and Go-Daddy [web hosting business], Khan said they received no answer.  She told Al Jazeera that these websites will not share information until a court warrant is presented.

Hindu-majority religious intolerance and violence have a long history in India. Muslims account for 14% of India’s population of 1.3 billion people. However, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, whose philosophy is based on right-wing Hindu nationalist politics, there has been an increase in Islamophobic hate crimes. In the previous four years, an independent hate crime tracker has documented nearly 400 hate crimes against Muslims in India.

Prominent Journalist Rana Ayyub told Al Jazeera people are “hailing targeted harassment of women without being identified by law”. 

“Bulli Bai takes hate crimes in India to another dangerous level where Muslim women are being virtually violated and made a free-for-all for a bigoted mob,” she said.

“These auctions of women from the minority communities display the moral degradation of India and its constitutional values.”

Divyakshee

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