‘Bulli Bai’: Outrage after Muslim women listed for ‘auction’ on app in India

The app is the second such platform that has emerged in less than six months in India

Sravasti Dasgupta
Sunday 02 January 2022 14:17
<p>Hundreds of women found their images on the app on New Year’s Day</p>

Hundreds of women found their images on the app on New Year’s Day

For the second time in less than a year, photos of Muslim women have been uploaded to an application pretending to offer online “auctions” in India.

The discovery has prompted outrage, with the Indian government promising it will take action.

The app, created on hosting platform Github, derives its name from the phrase Bulli Bai, a derogatory term used for Muslim women. Users who open the app are shown images of women – mostly doctored photos – with the tag line: “Your Bulli Bai of the day”.

Hundreds of women, including journalists, social workers and other prominent personalities in India, found their images on the app on New Year’s Day.

Many of the women subsequently took to Twitter to protest about the routine harassment that Muslims, especially women, continue to face in India. Following hours of outcry, the Indian government promised to take action.

In a tweet late on Saturday night, India’s information and technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said: “GitHub confirmed blocking the user this morning itself.

“CERT [Computer Emergency Response Team, an office under his ministry] and Police authorities are coordinating further action,” he added.

The Bulli Bai app has emerged six months after another website called “Sulli Deals” – also hosted on Github – offered a similar “online auction”.

While two complaints were filed, no concrete action was taken and no arrests have been made so far in that case.

Ismat Ara, one of the journalists who was targeted through Bulli Bai, filed a complaint with the Delhi police on Sunday.

Subsequently, the Delhi police filed a “first information report” (FIR), which included charges relating to promoting enmity on grounds of religion, imputations prejudicial to national integration, and sexual harassment.

“It is very sad that as a Muslim woman you have to start your new year with this sense of fear & disgust,” Ms Ara said in a tweet. “Of course it goes without saying that I am not the only one being targeted in this new version of #sullideals.”

Speaking to The Independent, she said she was disappointed that this had happened to Muslim women twice in less than a year.

“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,” she said.

She noted that filing FIRs did not necessarily mean that any concrete action would be taken.

“Since no real action has been taken [in the Sulli Deals case], it is a signal both to the women as well as to these criminals,” she said. “To the women, the signal is that [even if] you keep complaining you will get no redressal, and to these criminals it is a signal that they can continue doing this without facing any consequences.”

While the app has now been taken down from Github, the incident has sparked outcry from opposition parties in India as well.

MP Priyanka Chaturvedi said she had repeatedly flagged the targeting of women through such platforms, and had demanded stern action against “such rampant misogyny”, but had been ignored.

After Mr Vaishnaw’s statement, Ms Chaturvedi added that initiating an investigation was not enough.

Another member of parliament, Asaduddin Owaisi, also hit out at the Narendra Modi government, saying: “inaction by authorities has made these criminals brazen”.

While the government has not made any further statements on the incident, Ms Ara said that on behalf of all the women who have been targeted, she “demands accountability from the government”.

“Just taking note or cognizance is not enough,” she told The Independent.

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