New Delhi, India – On January 1, Quratulain Rehbar, a journalist from Indian-administered Kashmir, woke up to be registered for an “online auction”. Her photograph was obtained without her permission and uploaded to an app for “sale”.
She was not alone.
Photographs of over 100 Muslim women, including prominent actress Shabana Azami, wife of a sitting judge of Delhi High Court, several journalists, activists and politicians were posted on the auction app as ” Bulli Bai ”of the day.
Even Fatima Nafees, 65-year-old mother of missing student Najeeb Ahmed, and Pakistani Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai were not spared by the app’s authors.
After the “Sulli Deals” of last July, in which nearly 80 Muslim women were put “for sale”, “Bulli Bai” was the second such attempt in less than a year.
“’Bulli’ and ‘Sulli’ are derogatory words used for Muslim women in local slang. However, this time the Punjabi language was used in the “Bulli Bai” interface with English, ”reporter Mohammad Zubair, who works for the AltNews fact-checking website, told Al Jazeera.
Rehbar, who previously reported on the “Sulli Deals” auction in July last year, told Al Jazeera she was shocked to see her photo on the app.
“When I saw my picture, my throat became heavy, I had goosebumps in my arms and I was numb. It was shocking and humiliating, ”she said.
Last year, I wrote about how photos of Muslim women were auctioned online, where women felt haunted and humiliated. Today after a year of seeing my own photo in another trend #bullideals, besides other muslim women, makes me feel extremely disgusting. https://t.co/AE0N1sInE2
– Quratulain Rehbar (@ainulrhbr) January 1, 2022
Although there was no actual sale, the online app – created at Microsoft’s open source software development site GitHub – was, according to Rehbar, intended to “degrade and humiliate Muslim women who are ‘express’.
The app was removed on Saturday, with victims claiming that the GitHub extension’s interface on “Bulli Bai” was surprisingly similar to the one used by “Sulli Deals”.
On Saturday evening, dozens of other Muslim women began posting their shock and outrage on social media after seeing their photos and details on the app.
Among them was Ismat Ara, a journalist from the capital, New Delhi.
Ara filed a complaint on Saturday with Delhi police against “unknown persons” for harassing and insulting Muslim women on social media “using doctored images in an unacceptable and obscene context.”
Based on his complaint, a First Information Report (FIR) was recorded by Delhi Cyber Police on Sunday, citing various sections of India’s penal code that aim to promote enmity on religious grounds, threatening the national integration and sexual harassment of women.
UPDATE: An FIR has been registered by Cyber Police (South East Delhi) based on my complaint to IPC Sections 153A (Promotion of Enmity on Religious Grounds etc.) , 153B (Imputations prejudicial to national integration), 354A and 509 for harassment. #BulliDeals pic.twitter.com/dJ1mspyiGI
– Ismat Ara (@IsmatAraa) January 2, 2022
Following another complaint from Sidrah, the photo of which also appeared on the app, a police case was also filed in India’s financial capital Mumbai against various Twitter pseudonyms and the developers of the “Bulli Bai” application.
However, Ara said she had no hopes for the police investigation, her fears stemming from the fact that the “Sulli Deals” investigation saw no arrests even after six months.
Fatima Zohra Khan, a Mumbai-based lawyer whose name appeared in both the “Sulli” and “Bulli Bai” agreements, also lodged a complaint with the Mumbai police last year.
“We have not received any response from Twitter, GitHub and Go-Daddy (web hosting company) despite the fact that the Mumbai police themselves have asked them to reveal data. These websites refuse to share information unless a judicial warrant is produced, ”she told Al Jazeera.
Police officials in New Delhi and Mumbai did not respond to Al Jazeera’s questions about the latest “auction.”
I tried to muster my strength to write something on #BulliDeals. Just when I thought I left the trauma of #SulliOffers behind me he came to haunt us (me along with over 112 Muslim women) again with an updated version, as a New Years gift. 1/6
– Nabiya Khan | خان (@ NabiyaKhan11) January 2, 2022
“It is sad to see how these hate dealers are allowed to target Muslim women without any fear. This is not the first time that such an auction has taken place, ”said Ara.
“The women who have been targeted are loud women who bring up Muslims’ issues on social media. It’s a clear plot to shut down these Muslim women because we challenge the Hindu right online against their hate crimes, ”she added.
On the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr last year, a YouTube channel named “Liberal Doge” shared photos of Pakistani women in a sexualized video, titled “Eid Special”. It was withdrawn by the company after outrage.
Weeks after the incident, Muslim women were “auctioned off” on Twitter as part of the “Sulli Deals”.
The collective anger of Muslim women that you witness in your timeline today comes from a place of deep anguish – of being exotized, demonized and patronizing all at the same time. Experiences ranging from being constantly disparaged to selling online. #BulliDeals
– Fatima Khan (@khanthefatima) January 1, 2022
Several Indian parliamentarians have raised the issue with the government, including Priyanka Chaturvedi, based in the western state of Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located.
After her tweet calling on India’s IT minister to take “tough action” against “misogynistic and communal targeting of women,” the minister said GitHub blocked the user responsible for hosting the site and that ” the police authorities were coordinating other actions “.
“Police complaints were registered during the ‘Sulli Accords’ era. However, no action was taken. This is the reason why these people feel emboldened, ”Chaturvedi told Al Jazeera.
There are many Muslim names, including mine, in the odious #BulliDeals , same as #SulliOffers
Even Najeeb’s mother was not spared. It is a reflection on India’s failing justice system, a dilapidated arrangement of law and order. Are we becoming the most dangerous country for women?
– Sayema (@_sayema) January 1, 2022
Rehbar said it was “particularly alarming” for Muslim women who “fight patriarchy and restrictions” on the one hand and “face such harassment” on the other.
“Often, women are asked to remove their photos from social media and go into hiding. After such attempts to harass Muslim women, it will be difficult for many women to take a stand. “
Rana Ayyub, a Washington Post columnist based in Mumbai, said the folks at Al Jazeera “welcome the targeted harassment of women without being identified by the law.”
“‘Bulli Bai’ takes hate crimes in India to another dangerous level where Muslim women are practically raped and kicked out to a fanatic mob,” she said.
“These auctions of women from minority communities show the moral degradation of India and its constitutional values.”