Rights’ groups seek help from President, PMO and Home Ministry

Commercial pilot Hana Khan is now hesitant to share where she is posted.

A day after another online app targeted Muslim women by posting their publicly available pictures in misogynistic context, Ms. Khan told The Hindu that she was worried that such online abuse would not end and eventually, those behind auctioning of Muslim women online would threaten physically too.

Ms. Khan was among the first women to bring the website ‘Sulli Deals’ to light in July last year after the first instance of the online abuse and among the first victims to file an FIR at a Noida police station. But some six months later, after innumerable calls and visits to officials and the police station, she has only heard that there’s been no progress in the case, she said.

Ms. Khan said that every time she approached police officials, they have been kind and cordial to her but adds that, “having said that, they haven’t done anything. They themselves would always say that what has happened to us is wrong and horrible but still would do nothing”.

After registration of the FIR, she used to call for an update every day. The follow-up eventually became once a week, then once a month, she said. “I was hospitalised for typhoid in October and after that, my family wanted me to let it go and move on. It became toxic for me,” she said.

The pilot said she also wanted to move on because members of her own community would question her and ask why would she post “pictures like that”.

“Then I thought that when the community I was speaking for was not supporting me it’s better to keep quiet. I then stopped talking about this particular instance on social media,” she said.

Ms. Khan reiterated that she was not scared but worried because there would be no end to such abusive behaviour online because no action has been taken so far.

“Looking at the environment in the country, it isn’t far fetched to say that there can’t be bodily harm or they can’t reach us in the real world. Now, for instance, I am posted in another city and not many people know. I am not comfortable sharing any more,” she said.

The pilot noted that it started with Muslim women targeted by the Sulli Deals app and then on Club House, Hindu women faced a similar situation. “If no action is taken even now, it’s only going to grow,” she said.

Ms. Khan, who is in touch with other women who were auctioned on the Sulli Deals app, said that they had all given up because “ab kuch hona to hai nahi (Nothing was going to happen now)”. The pilot said she knew about the Bulli Bai incident a day before a Delhi-based journalist lodged a complaint with the Delhi Police but added that the women she was in touch with and whose pictures were on the online platform were too dejected to talk about it.

“When the Sulli Deals incident happened, I was hopeful but now the hope is gone. I would be happiest if something happens but I am not very optimistic. I haven’t been so distressed in a very long time seeing this again, its so triggering,” she said.

‘Sulli Deals’ and ‘Bulli Bai’ are applications and websites that had taken publicly available pictures of women and created profiles, describing them as “deals of the day”.

The “Bulli Bai” mobile app on GitHub hosted pictures of several prominent Muslim women including actor Shabana Azmi and RJ Sayema and “auctioned” them as domestic help.

Radio Jockey Sayema, who works for Radio Mirchi, says social media attacks against her are very common, but perpetrators are getting bolder in the absence of any police action.

“Every single person will have to realise that they are next. I have been facing this for the last four to five years since the time I have been active on social media. I have been called names, and my pictures photoshopped. This is not new, but nothing happens to these goons and they are getting more muscle every time. There is so much impunity. What happens on social media today, spills onto the streets soon after,” the RJ told The Hindu.

She also said that despite the Information Technology Minister’s tweet on the matter no police officer had contacted those targetted for an investigation. “Why do they need an FIR when it is all happening in front of their eyes?” Sayema asked.

Congress party convenor Hasiba Amin, who has also been targetted multiple times, says this is the fifth such event since May 2021.

“It started with an auction in YouTube where men used lewd language to describe various Pakistani and Indian Muslim women and held an auction. Since then there were auctions held on Twitter, Sulli Deals app, Clubhouse and now Bulli Bai app,” Ms. Amin said.

The Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) called the online auction a result of hatemongering against Muslims

“This filthy mindset is a result of years of hatemongering against the community ably assisted or ignored by various governments, so much so that today there is no fear of law. Misogyny is only one of the many ways to express this hatred. The full force of the cyber laws must be brought to use to identify the app makers and users. We also demand action from the PMO’s office as well as the Home Ministry. The various State Women’s Commissions must also take cognisance and deal with this menace on a war footing,” the BMMA said in a statement.

Five women’s organisations, including the National Federation of Indian Women and the All India Democratic Women’s Association also sent a joint memorandum to the President demanding that he “intervene and ensure that those responsible for this vile and criminal behaviour are punished with the severity that they deserve.”

The letter from the National Federation of Indian Women, the All India Democratic Women’s Association, the All India Progressive Women’s Association, the Pragatisheel Mahila Sangathan and the All India Mahila Sanskritik Sangathan also highlighted that these incidents were part of a larger trend that shows that when there are “hate speeches, physical attacks or prevention of prayer meetings, wherever members of minority communities like Christians and Muslims are the victims, the police, the administration and even the courts remain mute.”

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