An application titled “Bulli Bai” was hosted on GitHub where pictures of around 100 Muslim women, sourced from their social media accounts, were put for ‘auction’. Muslim women were targeted due to their gender and religious identities. One of the targets of this incident was Amina, an IT Professional based out of America who has written to National Commision for Women and the Telangana State Women’s Commission. Her representations assisted by IFF highlight concerns about targeted harassment, and seek intervention to ensure fair investigation.
On January 1, 2022, multiple Twitter accounts posted screengrabs from an application titled, “Bulli Bai” (‘App’) showing pictures of women being auctioned as “Your Bulli Bai of the day”. As was found out later, the App was hosted by an unidentified user(s), through the code hosting platform ‘GitHub’. Photographs and social media handles of around 100 women belonging to the Muslim community were posted on the App without their consent.
This is not the first time such an incident has happened in India! In July, 2021, an app titled “Sulli Deals” on GitHub was used in a similar manner to auction women belonging to the Muslim community. Even then, IFF had written to the NCW, the Delhi Commission for Women, and the Delhi Police seeking prompt action. However, no arrests were made till recently.
As pointed out by Mohammed Zubair, co-founder Alt News, the term “Bulli Bai'' combines a vulgar-south-Indian slang for the word “penis” and a north indian term used for the word “maid”. This incident is a clear example of objectification of women as sexual objects. It is also crucial to notice that the App categorically targeted those women belonging to the Muslim community who were vocal about social issues and therefore, this is not only an act of gender based harassment but also an instance of harassment/targeting on the basis of religion and opinion.
Amina is a vocal Indian Muslim Woman working as an IT Professional in the United States of America. She is also one of the women who found herself waking up to screenshots of her pictures on the App being shared on Twitter on the New Year’s Day. Perturbed by the incident, she decided to voice her concerns by writing to the National Commission of Women (‘NCW’) and the Telangana State Women’s Commission (‘TSWC’). IFF assisted her in writing these representations which are discussed in detail below.
IFF has also separately written to the Mumbai Police requesting expeditious investigation into the “Bulli Bai” & “Sulli Deals” incident. Our main recommendation was to treat the perpetrators behind both these incidents as criminal co-conspirators, and we hope that the perpetrators are identified and prosecuted this time.
Violation of Amina’s fundamental rights: right to privacy and freedom of speech
The repetitive incidents of these ‘online auctions’ involving Muslim women and their targeted harassment signals a worrying trend for women and minorities in India who wish to safely access the internet. The incident in question has led to serious violations of constitutional rights of the targeted women, including Amina. Through her representation, Amina tried to bring all such violations to the attention of the NCW and the TSWC. She hopes that her representation will help the national and the state commissions to appreciate the issue in better light and enable them to have a well-rounded approach in such matters. A summary of the violations highlighted by Amina in her representations are mentioned below:
- Violation of privacy: The App conducted a gut-wrenching “auction” of the targeted Muslim women by using sensitive information such as their photographs, which elicited lewd, perverse and horrifying comments from a vast number of users. While there was no actual auction of any human being, the main goal of this App was to dehumanise and intimidate her and the other women who were targeted. This has affected her personal safety and security and that of those targeted, thus violating our constitutional right to life, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, and has undermined their right to privacy, held to be an integral component of the “right to life” by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India’s decision in KS Puttaswamy v. Union of India (2017) 10 SCC 1.
- Doxxing and violation of freedom of speech: Persistent incidents of sexual harassment and doxxing have made social media platforms highly unsafe and toxic for women. This ultimately leads them to disengage from social media altogether after facing harassment. According to a study conducted by Plan International, one in every five young women have opted out of social media after being targeted or harassed. The abuses are further aggravated in cases of women who voice their opinions as well as those women who belong to minority communities on social media platforms and in turn, dissuade them from expressing themselves without any fear or inhibitions.
- Experience of women internet users: Instances of online harassment have vitiated the experience of internet use for women all across the world. According to a survey of more than 8,000 respondents undertaken by the Web Foundation, “half of young women and girls in the global survey have experienced online abuse, including threatening messages, sexual harassment and the sharing of private photos and videos without permission”.
Amina’s requests to the the National Commission for Women and the Telangana State Women’s Commission
As per reports, the purported accused person i.e. the creator of the App and others have been arrested by the Delhi and the Mumbai police. The NCW had already taken prompt cognizance of the issue and had written to the Delhi Police Commissioner for filing of an FIR.
Amina wants, also, to ensure that steps are taken to avoid such incidents from occurring in future. In the FIRs registered with the Mumbai Police, as found out from reports, the accused have been arraigned under Sections 153A, 153B, 295A, 354D, 509, 500 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 67 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. While indeed these were relevant provisions, Amina felt they did not adequately address the nature of the crime in the current incident. Accordingly, she made the following requests to the NCW and TSWC:
- To direct the Police and other relevant investigative authorities to include offences under Section 298 of the Indian Penal Code, which punishes deliberate wounding of religious feelings;
- To ensure that the investigations initiated by the Police in various states meet their justiciable end;
- To issue guidelines to the relevant network providers for more vigilant moderation of content that harasses and intimidates women online;
- To issue directions to website hosting platforms to put into place proper complaint mechanisms which will allow for the immediate removal and disabling of any domain which may contain any sexist, casteist or religious slurs and can be detrimental to the sentiments of any minority communities;
- To consider partnerships with women’s rights groups, child rights groups, digital rights groups and social networks to collaboratively work towards leveraging technology to sensitise young people and parents about respectful and tolerant conduct on digital media platforms.
IFF will continue to assist Amina in her pursuit of justice. Ensuring safe access to the internet is essential and we strongly believe that such targeted harassment needs to be dealt with expeditiously.
- Amina’s representation to the National Commission of Women dated January 11, 2022 (link)
- Amina’s representation to the Telangana State Women Commission dated January 11, 2022 (link)
- IFF’s representation to the Mumbai Police dated January 3, 2022 (link)
- Previous blogpost titled “Women’s safety on the internet has to account for intersectionality” (link)
- Previous blogpost titled “118 days since… still no justice for those targeted by the “Sulli Deals” incident.” (link)