The Network of Women in Media, India, strongly condemns the online attack of prominent, Indian Muslim women – including journalists – in the form of ‘Bulli Bai’, an app on GitHub which ‘auctioned’ Muslim women using stolen and doctored photographs. Apart from amounting to online sexual violence, the ‘auction’ clearly promoted the crimes of trafficking and sexual slavery, which GitHub purports to stand against.
This is not the first time that such bigoted misogynists have ‘auctioned’ Muslim women. It is regrettable and unacceptable that the Indian state and its agencies have taken no action against them despite repeated violations. Technology has been used as a weapon to humiliate, intimidate and terrorise Muslim women in the country multiple times, and ‘Digital India’ appears to have no concrete response aimed at bringing the perpetrators to book. No minister in the Union cabinet has questioned, let alone condemned, this online harassment, or pressed for action against the perpetrators.
We also question the policies and ethics of GitHub, the platform on which ‘Bulli Bai’ was hosted. This is the same platform on which Islamophobic bigots had hosted ‘Sulli Deals’ in July 2021. Despite the earlier instance of predatory sexual violence, the tech platform has evidently done nothing to prevent misuse of the platform to post material relating to sexual abuse, including child sexual abuse. Such inaction has evidently emboldened those who come up with such repugnant ideas; they clearly assume they can repeat similar violations with impunity. We note that GitHub has blocked the user behind the latest atrocity but it clearly needs to do more to prevent such outrageous apps from appearing in the first place.
Initiatives like ‘Bulli Bai’ and ‘Sulli Deals’ are a reflection of both misogyny and the increasing Islamophobia that is spreading across the country with the tacit support of those in power. They are a symptom of the Hindutva agenda, which relegates people who belong to minority religions and marginalised castes to the status of second-class citizens. As usual, women are seen as easy targets that can be used to humiliate, intimidate and exercise control over such communities.
We stand in solidarity with the Muslim women, including journalists, who have been targeted in the vile assault, and reiterate their right to pursue livelihoods of their choice, and to occupy public space, whether online or physical, without fear of retribution or abuse. We urge all sensitive persons to take a stand, both in real time and online, and confront this abhorrent abuse.
We demand immediate action from the police forces of the various states where complaints have been filed against ‘Bulli Bai’ and ‘Sulli Deals’. They need to begin by identifying the perpetrators – according to news reports, some of whom have proudly owned up to the crime on social media.
We appreciate the preliminary action taken by the police in Mumbai and Delhi but call for more decisive and determined action that indicates zero tolerance for such criminal conduct. Stringent action must be taken against the perpetrators, under all applicable laws, including cybercrime legislation.
We demand that the National Commission for Women fulfills its statutory obligation and seeks action from the police in places where complaints have been filed. We note that the NCW has written to the Delhi Police Commissioner to immediately register a First Information Report (FIR) in this matter, in view of its gravity, and trust that it will similarly communicate with the police elsewhere. The NCW must use its resources, including funds, to provide mental health support to Muslim women who have been sexually abused online in this highly condemnable, targeted attack.
We urge GitHub to take strict measures to ensure that they are not used as a platform for terrorising women. The platform must put in place a moderating panel/review board to prevent such incidents in the future. In the current case, GitHub must issue a public statement revealing what action has been taken.
The Network of Women in Media, India
4 January 2022