On the first day of 2022, people across the globe were waking up to messages of best wishes for the coming year, after witnessing another stressful year of pandemic and personal loss for many. But for hundreds of Muslims women in India it was a traumatising moment as they found that they had been listed for 'auction' on an app called 'Bulli Bai'.
These women included journalists, activists and many others who are vocal with their opinion on social media. A page named 'Bulli Bai' had been created on GitHub that put up images and profiles of Muslim women asking people to join the 'auction'. The episode is similar to the 'Sulli Deals' issue where a list of Muslim women with strong presence on social media were put on 'auction' via Github app in July 2021.
Kashmir-based freelance journalist Qurat-ul-ain Rehbar was travelling to her home in south Kashmir's Pulwama from Srinagar when a friend called her to tell her that she too was on the list.
"My friend told me she was seeing the list and was shocked to see my name on it. She spoke in a low tone and was very empathetic. I suppose she had cried too," said Qurat while speaking to BOOM.
Qurat said that she has always been prepared to deal with online trolling for her stories as she mostly reports on human rights violations in Kashmir. However, to be put up on an 'auction list' has been mentally taxing for her. "I never expected something like this to happen where I feel my respect and dignity has been auctioned online," she said.
Even though she is trying to face the situation strongly, Qurat says that since the episode, she has been apprehensive about uploading her images on social media. "I'm not able to post any picture on Instagram since yesterday. I feel very unsafe," she said.
"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 (sic)," she wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
Senior writer and blogger, Rana Safvi's name was also put on the list. "It does not in any way lessen me or intimidate me," 60-year-old Safvi wrote on Twitter. She said that though she did not find her photo, but her was also on the list. "It's outrageous that we have to suffer," she added.
Two FIRs have been lodged in Delhi and Mumbai after few women, whose names appeared on the GitHub page, approached the police. Senior lawyer Anas Tanwir who is looking after the case says that such acts where women are put up for auction come close to human trafficking. "This is a criminal offence and is much like human trafficking. However, the anti-trafficking laws in India aren't adequate," said Anas.
"Acts like #sullideals and #BulliDeals where Muslim women are put out for faux auction against their will by inappropriately using their photographs should be prosecuted under trafficking laws," he wrote on Twitter.
What Was Sulli Deals?
In July last year, a similar page had appeared on GitHub under the name 'Sulli Deals' which had listed outspoken Muslim women for 'auction'. Anas said that despite filing an FIR last year, no action has been made so far, which has only bolstered the miscreants.
The appearance of these auction pages goes back to May 13, 2021. Photographs of Pakistani women were put up on a YouTube channel's livestream where they were "rated" and auctioned". These Pakistani women had shared their images on social media on Eid. However, these images were taken without their permission and shared on 'Liberal Doge' named YouTube channel where they were 'rated' and 'auctioned'.
After uproar and widespread condemnation on social media, the video was removed and Twitter handle deleted. Newslaundry investigation found the man behind the Liberal Doge YouTube channel and Twitter handle was 23-year-old Ritesh Jha, resident of DLF Phase 2 in Gurugram.
Two months later, the 'Sulli Deals' page appeared on Github, listing Muslim women for auction. While it wasn't immediately clear as to who created the app, a user with the name 'idk man' (@sdfrgt4rf) claimed on Twitter to be the creator, according to a report by BOOM. The account was created in June 2021 and suspended after the controversy emerged. In an archive of his tweets, the user had stated, "I'm the guy who created that sullideal app. I used paid VPN & used protonmail. You guys won't be able to track me so stop crying infront (sic) of github. It will go up soon, just wait and watch."
Boom Investigation On 'Sulli Deals'
BOOM also found another account @sullideals101 that had posted the app's link on the Twitter bio. This account too had shared private information of Muslim women on Twitter, and was eventually suspended by the microblogging platform.This account was linked to the 'Liberal Dodge' YouTube and Twitter handle that 'rated' and 'auctioned' Pakistani women in May 2021.
IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw on Saturday tweeted saying that the GitHub user behind the 'Bulli Bai' app had been blocked and "further action" was being coordinated. "GitHub (the Microsoft-owned software-sharing platform used to build and run the 'Bulli Bai' app) confirmed blocking the user this morning itself. CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team, an office within the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, or MEITY) and police authorities are coordinating further action," he tweeted.
According to PTI, the Mumbai cyber police have started the investigation into matter.
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