Muslim women in India targeted by racist, fake auction apps

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Muslim women in India targeted by racist, fake auction apps

An app has sparked outrage in India for posting photos of more than 100 prominent Muslim women in the country in a fake auction that listed them as on “sale,” according to reports.

The app, named Bulli Bai — a derogatory Hindi phrase for Muslim women — featured images of the women without their consent and encouraged users to place bids on them, NBC News reported Sunday.

Among them was Quratulain Rehbar, a 27-year-old journalist.

“It took me at least two to three hours to process,” she told NBC News about her profile.

The app was quickly removed and several people have been arrested in the scam — but for many of the targeted women, they claim the damage has already been done.

Rehbar, who is from Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region bordering India and Pakistan, told the network that the app was meant “to sexually harass, disgrace, humiliate and hate on women for speaking out against the government” amid the territorial dispute.

Bulli Bai was not the first of its kind to harass Muslim women in India.

Quratulain Rehbar, a Muslim journalist in India, was featured on the app Bulli Bai which has fake auctions of prominent Muslim women.
Quratulain Rehbar, a Muslim journalist in India, was featured on the app Bulli Bai, which has fake auctions of prominent Muslim women.
Photo by FAROOQ KHAN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

In July 2021, an app called Sulli Deals created profiles of almost 100 women using images they found online of them and described the women as “deals of the day,” according to the BBC.

“Sulli” also is a derogatory Hindi slang term that right-wing Hindu nationalists use for Muslim women.

The two apps were created on GitHub, a US coding platform owned by Microsoft, NBC News reported.

The company said in a Jan. 5 statement that it had “long-standing policies against content and conduct involving harassment, discrimination, and inciting violence,” according to the network.

Mumbai Police Commissioner Hemant Nagrale holding up an image from the Bulli Bai app.
Mumbai Police Commissioner Hemant Nagrale holds up an image from the Bulli Bai app.
EPA/DIVYAKANT SOLANKI

It said it had “suspended a user account following the investigation of reports of such activity, all of which violate our policies.”  

Rehbar and Fatima Zohra Khan, 26, a lawyer and vocal critic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, have been targeted by both apps, NBC News reported.

Khan said she wasn’t surprised that the second app was created because the first one led to little legal action.

“I don’t trust the establishment to give us justice,” Khan told the outlet, adding that she had filed a complaint about Bulli Bai with Mumbai authorities.

Police with one of the suspects behind the Indian app.
Police with one of the suspects behind the Indian app.
Photo by DIVYAKANT SOLANKI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Rashmi Karandikar, the deputy commissioner of the city police cybercrime unit, said three people — Shweta Singh, 18, Mayank Rawat, 21, and Vishal Kumar, 21 — have been arrested in connection with the app.

A fourth suspect — alleged Bulli Bai app “mastermind and creator” Neeraj Bishnoi — also was arrested in the northeastern state of Assam, officials said.

Aumkareshwar Thakur was arrested Jan. 9 in the central state of Madhya Pradesh in connection with the Sulli Deals app and accused of writing codes for it, according to NBC News.

Ismat Ara, 23, a Muslim journalist who is critical of the government and India’s Hindu nationalist movement, also appeared on the Bulli Bai app, which she described as a “conspiracy against Muslim women.”  

Ara noted that there has been a “growing trend of hate crimes against Muslims, especially in the past few years.”

Rehbar claims the app is used to “to sexually harass, disgrace, humiliate and hate on women for speaking out against the government."
Rehbar claims the app is used “to sexually harass, disgrace, humiliate and hate on women for speaking out against the government.”
Photo by FAROOQ KHAN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

She said that “if the culprits get away with it, then there is no stopping this. Then it is not just Muslim women, but every woman in the country who can be targeted.”

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 BBC reported.

Tensions between India’s Hindus, who make up about 80 percent of the 1.4 billion people, and Muslims, who make up 14 percent, go back hundreds of years, but critics claim they have increased under Modi since he took office in 2014, NBC News reported.

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