What is Bulli Bai scandal — Indian app that listed Muslim women for auction

Hundreds of Muslim women were put up for an online ‘auction’ on an app called Bulli Bai

Sravasti Dasgupta
Saturday 08 January 2022 11:30
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Bulli Bai: Indian Muslim women listed ‘for sale’ on auction app

Delhi police on Thursday arrested a 20-year-old student named Niraj Bishnoi and named him as the main conspirator behind the online application Bulli Bai that put hundreds of Indian Muslim women up for an online “auction”.

The arrest comes days after Mumbai police took three others into custody in connection with the case.

What is the Bulli Bai app?

On New Year’s Day, hundreds of Muslim women in India including journalists, social workers, and other prominent personalities found their images and derogatory content about them on a new app called “Bulli Bai”.

The app, created on hosting platform Github, offered an online “auction” of Muslim women.

It derives its name from the phrase Bulli Bai, a derogatory term used for Muslim women.

Users who opened the app were shown images of women – mostly doctored photos – with the tag line: “Your Bulli Bai of the day”.

Second such app in months

The app is clearly an example of online trolling — no actual transactions were available on it — and it is the second time an app like this has emerged in India in a span of just around six months.

Last year in July, a similar app called “Sulli Deals” had surfaced. Sulli Deals was also hosted on Github.

Like the Bulli Bai app, Sulli Deals featured photographs of hundreds of prominent Muslim women and offered them for “auction”.

Users who opened the app were shown images of women, with a similar tagline: “Your Sulli Deal of the day”.

No arrests were ever made in the Sulli Deals case, though the app was eventually taken down by GitHub.

“We suspended user accounts following the investigation of reports of such activity, all of which violate our policies,” GitHub had then said in a statement.

Earlier Delhi Police sources said they were trying to find the “main conspirators” in the Sulli Deals case, reported The Hindu on Wednesday.

The sources had earlier said that authorities were using the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) to obtain information about the creators of “Sulli Deals” from California-based GitHub.

Outrage on social media

Soon after the images surfaced on the Bulli Bai app on Saturday, many women said on Twitter that the “online auction” was happening all over again because of police inaction in the Sulli Deals case.

Women said the app was part of the routine harassment they faced on social media in an increasingly polarised environment under the right-wing, Hindu-nationalist Narendra Modi government.

Ismat Ara, a journalist on whose complaint the Delhi police had filed an initial chargesheet or First Information Report (FIR) last week, then told The Independent: “This is not the first time that this has happened. This has happened repeatedly with vocal Muslim women who highlight issues that people don’t want to talk about.”

After a day-long outrage on Twitter, India’s federal information and technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said a probe had started and GitHub had been requested to block the users involved.

The Indian government faced a backlash from opposition parties who said police and government inaction had only encouraged the targeting of Muslim women online.

Four arrests in the case

While the Delhi police – controlled by India’s federal home ministry – faced flak for not acting promptly in both the cases, police in Mumbai made three arrests in the case.

On Monday, Mumbai police arrested 21-year-old Vishal Jha, an engineering student from Bengaluru.

Police arrested 19-year-old Shweta Singh from the northern state of Uttarakhand a day later and another suspect, Mayank Rawat, was arrested on Wednesday.

Mr Rawat is a 21-year-old student at Delhi University who is also from Uttarakhand.

On Thursday, Delhi police said Mr Bishnoi was the “main conspirator” in the case, after arresting him from the northeastern Assam state.

“Special Cell has arrested the main conspirator and creator of the bullibai app on Github (sic). With the arrest, the controversial Bulli Bai app case has been solved completely,” said KPS Malhotra, a top Delhi police official of its special cyber cell unit.

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