- Gita Pandey
- BBC News – Delhi
Last Sunday, dozens of Muslim women in India discovered they were on sale online.
Hana Khan, who works as a civilian pilot, said her name was on the list and told the BBC she had received a Twitter post from a friend of hers that caught her attention.
When I clicked on the link sent by her friend, I went to Sulli Deals, an app and website that took publicly available photos of dozens of women, created their profiles and displayed them under the heading: Today’s Offers for Women.
The application interface contains an image of an unknown woman. On the next two pages Hana Khan saw pictures of her friends and on the next page she saw her picture.
She told the BBC: “I counted 83 names. There could have been more, they took my picture from my Twitter profile with my username. The app we were selling worked for 20 days and we knew nothing about “I was shaking in the spine of my head.”
The app says it offers users the opportunity to purchase “Sulli”, a derogatory term used by right-wing Hindu militants to describe Muslim women. There was no real auction of any kind, the aim of which was to degrade and humiliate Muslim women.
Hana Khan says she was targeted for nothing but her religion and explains: “I am a Muslim woman who has a voice and a presence. They want to shut us up.”
The company hosting the online application quickly closed the application after complaints were made. “We have frozen user accounts after investigating reports of such activity, which all violate our policies,” the company said in a statement.
But this experience had a profoundly negative impact on women. All the women whose photos appeared on the app are Muslim, including journalists, activists, artists and researchers. Some of them have since deleted their social media accounts and many said they feared further harassment.
Another woman told the BBC India Service: “No matter how strong you are, if your photo and other personal information is published, it is scary and disturbing.”
But many women, whose personal data has been placed in the application, have entered social networks to confront the “deviants” and have vowed to face them. Dozens of them formed a group through WhatsApp to exchange help and support. Some, including Khan, also lodged complaints with the police.
Prominent faces, activists and leaders have stood by women against the harassment they are subjected to. Police said they had opened an investigation but declined to say who was behind the application.
The people who produced the app used fake identities. But Hassiba Amin, the social media co-ordinator of the opposition Congress party, blames some accounts that regularly attack Muslims, especially Muslim women, and claim support for right-wing tendencies.
Amin said this was not the first time Muslim women had been targeted in this way. On May 13, with Muslims celebrating Eid al-Fitr, a YouTube channel featured a “program on the occasion of Eid” that was a direct “auction” for the sale of Muslim women from India and Pakistan.
“People offered five rupees and 10 rupees, and they categorized women based on their body parts and described sexual acts and threatened to rape them,” said Hana Khan.
Hassiba Amin told me that later that day an anonymous Twitter account tried to “populate” it on Twitter.
Hana Khan said that several other Twitter accounts and one of them named @ sullideals101, which has since been suspended, have joined the campaign of “abusing me, degrading my body and describing indecent sexual acts”.
Here, she believes, those who tried to auction her off on Twitter were the same people behind the Sulli Deals app and the YouTube channel that aired the Muslim Women’s auction. The social networking site YouTube later suspended the channel.
Twitter last week froze accounts claiming to be behind the Sole Deals app, but those accounts will reappear soon.
Activists say cyberbullying has the potential to “degrade, degrade, intimidate and ultimately silence women”.
Last week, more than 200 prominent actors, musicians, journalists and government officials from around the world wrote an open letter to the CEOs of Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter urging that the safety of women be placed on ” priority “for these companies.
“The Internet is the town square of the 21st century, where discussions take place, communities are built, products are sold and reputations are built. But the scale of cyberbullying, especially for many women, makes these digital town squares insecure.” . read.
An Amnesty International report on online bullying in India last year said the louder a woman’s voice was, the more targeted she was. Just as black women in Britain and the United States were more likely to be targeted online, women from religious minorities and disadvantaged classes were more likely to be harassed in India.
There are some Muslim women on social media who are being ‘followed’, said Nazia Irum, a former writer and spokeswoman for Amnesty International India.
“This deliberate and carefully planned attack is an attempt to snatch the microphone from educated Muslim women who express their thoughts and speak out against Islamophobia. It is an attempt to silence them, destroy their personality and deprive them of the space that busy, “she said. added.
Hassiba Amin says the bullies “are not afraid because they know they will be saved”.
She referred to several recent incidents in which Muslims were attacked with the encouragement of supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
For example, a government minister honored 8 Hindus convicted of beating a Muslim to death, and a new government minister was seen last year in a viral video addressing a Hindu crowd and inciting them to “shoot Muslims. “
As for women whose identities have been stolen and used by the Sole Deals app, the journey to achieving justice is long and difficult, but they are determined to achieve it no matter the cost.