Rudrapur, Uttarakhand: There's an eerie silence in the neighbourhood of the election-bound state of Uttarakhand from where Shweta Singh, 18, was arrested in the Bulli Bai App case. While a full-fledged campaign election is going on, the topic of discussion among the residents of Adarsh Colony in the industrial hub of the state is, "Did she really do it?"
While the Mumbai Police, in their press conference on 5 January, announced that 18-year-old Shweta Singh was behind the Bulli Bai app, a Twitter handle - @giyu44- tweeted to them saying they have arrested the wrong person.
"You have arrested the wrong person Slumbai police. I am the creator of #BulliBaiApp. Not some random 21-year-old engineer or some 18-year-old mentally insane kid. Got nothing to do with the innocents whom you arrested, release them asap," the tweet read. The person behind that tweet - 21-year-old Neeraj Bhisnoi was arrested hours later.
By then, the news of Shweta Singh being the 'mastermind' of an app that put up photos of Muslim women for a 'virtual auction' had spread fast and wide. Although the police, on record, did not call her the mastermind, media reports did. The police had said that the 18-year-old used social media to post "derogatory photos" and had created a fake account on Twitter which was used to post contents from the app.
Shweta lived in Adarsh Colony in Rudrapur with her two sisters and a brother before their father died after being infected with coronavirus. Their mother had died of cancer in 2011.
The residents there don't have much clue about the Bulli App — but they know that the apparent quiet, introverted girl has been arrested for a 'big' crime. "It's a conspiracy, Shweta and her sisters were decent, quiet, good-natured and mostly stayed at home," one of the neighbours said. "They would almost always stay inside the home, but who knows what they were doing behind closed doors," another neighbour said.
Shweta, who studied in an English medium private school in Rudrapur, finished her 12th in the science stream. She was going to join Banaras Hindu University (BHU) to study archaeology. BOOM met the school principal and a few teachers — who said, on the condition of anonymity, that Shweta was "not a bright student".
The principal told BOOM that the school management was not in favour of allowing her to study science in class 11 as she didn't have the score or the aptitude for it. "But we let her because it was her father's wish that she opts for science stream".
Last year, after Shweta's father died of COVID-19, a social worker, Rajneesh Batra, took the initiative to help these children who were left orphaned. Rajneesh said that he was worried about the safety of the girls who were now alone and without parents. Their mother had died of cancer in 2011.
After the death of Shweta's father, the neighbourhood with the administration helped the siblings by pooling in lakhs of rupees. "This was one of the first cases of orphaned children due to coronavirus in Rudrapur, that is why everyone was sympathetic towards these children," Batra said.
The residents provided them with ration and other essentials. Many of them helped the orphaned siblings financially as well. Some of the well-off people in the colony, with the help of the local administration, got Shweta's elder sister a job in Rudrapur's one-stop-centre. However, she never turned up for the job. Some neighbours said that the family "unnecessarily spent the money which was given to them for difficult times".
A month after her father's death, Shweta and her sisters left the rented house of Adarsh Colony and shifted to another locality named Indira Nagar — considered to be far better in terms of living standard.
Ramvati, who lives in front of Shweta's old house, said that she used to greet her whenever she met her. Sometimes she would sit with the women of the colony. "It was all good as long as the girls lived here, but no one knows what happened after they left this house," she said.
Hours after Shweta's arrest, Neeraj Bishnoi, the 21-year-old who was arrested by the Delhi police, has allegedly confessed that Shweta tried to save him by claiming that she created the Twitter handle involved in the Bulli Bai app.
Shweta's sisters said they have never heard of Neeraj.
"She was the most introverted among all of us in the house," her elder sister said. "She had a problem in her right eye, which was being treated at Delhi AIIMS. That's why our father, too, had a special bond with her. She would get the special treatment," she said.
Their father's death, the sisters say, left Shweta in a state of shock. "Shweta started spending more time on social media soon after," her sister said.
It was only after the death of their father, that Shweta got a separate phone through which she became active on Twitter and other social media platforms. Shweta's sister said that they neither had a laptop nor a computer in the house.
Shweta's younger sister said that she did not even have many friends. "She preferred to stay at home," she said. "We have a good bonding between us sisters. But we had no idea what she was doing on social media."
The 18-year-old would make all the payments — electricity, gas and other household essentials — online, using her phone that was connected to their bank account.
Months after an app 'Sulli Deals' went live on Github that shared photos of Muslim women and 'put them on sale', on 1 January 2022, yet another app called Bulli Bai came into light.
Addressing a press conference in Mumbai, city police chief Hemant Nagrale had said that the modus operandi was such that photographs of prominent Muslim women were taken from social media and uploaded on the Bulli Bai app-based website. Users who clicked on the app were directed to the website, and Twitter accounts, including one called 'Bulli Bai', were created to amplify the content on the app on Github.
"We came to know that a Twitter handle @bullibai, which had posted these derogatory pictures on social media, was created by (Shweta) Singh. When we checked the app on GitHub, we found that an account under the name of 'Khalasa Supremacist' was following the app," Nagrale had said.
On further investigation, the Mumbai Police cyber cell found that Vishal Kumar Jha, a 21-year-old engineering student in Bengaluru, was handling the "Khalasa Supremacist" account.
Shweta's arrest followed the arrest of Vishal Kumar Jha, a 21-year-old studying engineering at a Bengaluru college. Mayank Rawal, a Bsc student in Delhi was arrested after Shweta. The Mumbai police claim Shweta had created the @bullibaiapp on Twitter.
The three accused have been booked under IPC Sections 153 (A) (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion), 153 (B) (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 295(A) (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings), 354 D (stalking), 509 (insulting modesty) and 500 (defamation) along with Section 67 (transmitting obscene content in electronic form) of the IT Act. All of them have been remanded to police custody till January 10, 2022.
"The trio, who met on social media, had alleged that the app was created by Khalsa Singh Force and they deliberately used Sikh names to divert the attention of Twitter users," said Nagrale, in his briefing to the media.
Contrary to the claims of the Mumbai Police, the sisters believe that Shweta is innocent and has been framed. They are confident that Shweta will get bail soon.
However, they said that they neither know any lawyer nor have the money to pay the fees of any lawyer.
The family, which hails from Uttar Pradesh, moved here 15 years ago when their father found a job in a manufacturing unit. After their father's death, three of the four children — who were below 18 years of age, including Shweta — started receiving Rs 3,000 each every month from the government under the Vatsala Yojana scheme. Shweta's sister said that her father's senior colleague at work and some well-wishers help them with finances.
"Shweta would often say that under the influence of others we are forgetting our own culture. But she didn't have hatred for anyone," her sister said.
Meanwhile, Uttarakhand Police has avoided giving any official statement on the matter. Police officials say that the case is registered in Mumbai and only Maharashtra Police is liable to say anything about the investigation.
On the day Shweta was taken into custody, a police officer present at the Rudrapur police station said that Shweta was annoyed about the importance given to the matter related to Muslims. During a brief conversation with the officer, he said, she raised questions about the award returning campaign that happened in 2015 — when more than 50 writers and poets in India had returned their awards to the government, citing growing intolerance in the country. The officer said that she had asked him, "When Pakistan can become an Islamic nation, why is India not a Hindu nation?"
However, none of these police officers believed that the 18-year-old girl had the technical capabilities or the means to be the 'mastermind' behind the app.
Miffed with some local media reports that have questioned the 'upbringing' of the children, Shweta's elder sister said that their father brought them up ''very well'. "We did not have much money but that did not let our education and self-confidence diminish," she said.
Meanwhile, with the arrest of Neeraj Bhisnoi, the 'mastermind' tag, according to both Mumbai and Delhi police, is no longer with Shweta Singh. The Delhi police has said that the case has come to a close as Bhishnoi is the main 'conspirator' behind the Bulli Bai app.