Are hate-mongers licensed to harass and humiliate Muslim women without any fear? Imagine waking up to see yourself listed as ‘deal of the day’ for an online auction or mock sale?
As we welcomed the New Year 2022, a fake website shocked Indians by offering Muslim women for sale – the second time in less than a year.
Many Muslim women found themselves put up for an ‘online auction’ on an app called ‘Bulli Bai’. The women included journalists, activists, lawyers, and artists. The list of women on the Bulli Bai app also had a Bollywood actor and the 65-year-old mother of a disappeared student.
“When I saw my photograph, my throat got heavy, I had goosebumps on my arms and I was numb. It was shocking and humiliating,” one of the women listed for such auction said.
It is the second time such an incident has occurred with ‘Sulli Deals’ surfacing in July 2021.
Both these ‘listings’ were hosted on Microsoft-owned open software development site GitHub. Bulli Bai app, now taken down, displayed more than 100 women ‘for sale as maids’. There’s no indication that it had any practical use beyond using a fake auction to target and troll Muslim women.
Quratulain Rehbar, a freelance journalist based in Kashmir, tweeted: “Last year I wrote about how Muslim women’s pictures were auctioned online where women felt haunted and humiliated. Today, after a year seeing my own picture in another trend, besides other Muslim womens’, makes me feel utmost disgusting.”
“Minority Muslim women in India are harassed and ‘sold’ in social media apps, #SulliDeals, a form of hate speech, must be condemned and prosecuted as soon as they occur. All Human Rights of minorities need to be fully and equally protected.” – Fernand de Varennes, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues
The police have taken five people into custody so far, claiming two of the accused were involved in Sulli Deals as well.
While it is evidently a case to intimidate and harass people based on their gender and religion, the developments in the case have uncovered many other problematic layers that led to such an incident.
Where is Young India headed?
All the arrests that have been made in this case fall under the age group of 18-21. There have been other cases in the recent past involving the younger generation of people.
In May 2020, the conversations of a private chat group “Bois Locker Room” on Instagram were leaked. The group consisted of young boys who circulated nude pictures of underage girls while sharing plans of gang rapes.
Such instances raise the question of where is Young India headed?
With the normalization of patriarchal values at different levels in our daily lives, we hardly realize what are we feeding into our children’s minds.
Social media platforms are a telling example of how misogyny thrives in a scenario where the likes and shares of people indicate that they willingly support such behaviour.
The culture of hate, misogyny, and communalism is also espoused by the other forms of media.
The father of one of the accused has blamed politicians and TV news anchors saying that they should speak responsibly as “they don’t know who might get influenced by their words.”
Dangerous Moral Degradation
With so many factors responsible for this politics of hate, the question of accountability is extended to many elements.
‘Bulli Bai’ case was preceded by Sulli Deals. There was no concrete investigation in the first case, hence, no arrests were made.
Would ‘Sulli Deals’ resurface as ‘Bulli Bai’ if an action had been taken against the perpetrators?
In both instances, GitHub was used as a hosting platform. It is an open-source platform for developing software. Police have claimed non-cooperation from its officials in the first case.
Much like GitHub, social media platforms allow such perverse content to be accessible and shareable.
There are hundreds of groups on these platforms which post harmful content without any repercussions.
While it is sometimes brushed off as harmless online banter, online harassment does not take much time to be reciprocated physically, as the #MeToo movement of 2006 showed us.
Preventing such actions in future
There needs to be a regulation in the online content by the respective policymakers of social media platforms and the IT Ministry so that such incidents are not repeated.
We as individuals should call out any inappropriate content by flagging the posts and blocking the accounts that share it.
A larger change needs to come within the society where the acts of discrimination against any gender, religion, caste, creed, colour, and nationality are not tolerated.
Our youth needs to be sensitized about the content it consumes through family discussions, popular culture, and social media.
The ‘Bulli Bai’ case has exposed the rot that our society has allowed to fester within itself. It has made us aware of the changes that we need to bring in our daily lives to put an end to such debased actions.