Prominent Muslim women put ‘on sale’ in India

The Hindu right-wing ecosystem in India has once again created a platform to “auction” vocal Muslim women including journalists, activists, academics, artists, lawyers, students, politicians and other professionals.

An app by the name “Bulli Deals” was created on the software development platform GitHub on Saturday where photographs of around 100 Muslim women were displayed as “Bulli Bai” of the day.

Prominent actress Shabana Azami, Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai and the 65-year-old mother of disappeared Jawaharlal Nehru University student Najeeb Ahmed were put on the app, which has now been closed down by authorities.

Earlier in July, photographs of Muslim women were put up on a website called “SulliDeals.” Both “Sulli” and “Bulli” are derogatory slang used for Muslim women.

A former journalist and currently a graduate student at Columbia University in the United States, Heba Bég, said she learned about her photograph from her friends while she was visiting the grave of her grandmother.

Bég tweeted: “Today I visited my grandmother’s grave for the first time since I lost her to COVID. As I sat in the car to go home, concerned friends told me that once again, my pictures were being auctioned off (along with those of other Muslim women) by Modi’s India. #BulliDeals.

“You did nothing to stop this the last time, and here it is again. I have censored myself, I hardly speak here anymore, but still, I am being sold online, I’m being made “deals” out of. @ColumbiaSIPA – Your student is being sold online, twice in a matter of half a year.

Malala was one of the Muslim women targeted. Editorial credit: SN040288 / Shutterstock.com

“When I ask my privileged Hindu friends to speak, I don’t do it out of cautionary plans. I do it because it is screaming in my face. I am not safe in this country. Muslim women like me are not safe in this country. How many online deals will it take for us to see action? HELP US!”

A Washington Post journalist and a prominent Muslim woman in India, Rana Ayyub, said: “To all the young Muslim women who find themselves in this disgusting auction, I will not ask you to be strong. You have every right to feel traumatised, you have every right to feel violated. None of us deserve this and none of us should be asked to ‘stop over-reacting’…

“I don’t believe we are starting the first day of the year with this toxicity. I have been told that my name too is on this obnoxious, perverted site. A culture that claims to worship women, sexualises, auctions, defiant Muslim women.”

Ayyub has been repeatedly targeted by the Hindu right-wing groups for her views and writings and most importantly for her religion.

Ismat Ara, a journalist with The Wire shared a screenshot of her photograph and name featured on the app. She said: “It is very sad that as a Muslim woman you have to start your new year with this sense of fear & disgust. Of course it goes without saying that I am not the only one being targeted in this new version of #sullideals. Screenshot sent by a friend this morning. Happy New Year.” Ara has filed a complaint with the police.

A Srinagar-based journalist, Quratulain Rehbar, who reported about “Sulli Deals” for Vice News in July last year, also saw herself “auctioned” on “Bulli Deals.”

She wrote: “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 #bullideals, besides other Muslim Womens’, makes me feel utmost disgusting. I feel bad not weak. I am not someone who’d be silenced by such cheap tactics and I’ll keep raising such issues again and again. In complete solidarity with all those women who are targeted yet again. You are strong!”

A 2018 Amnesty International report on online harassment in India showed that the more vocal a woman was, the more likely she was to be targeted – the scale of this increased for women from religious minorities and disadvantaged castes.

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