Muslim women in India were traumatised after finding their names and photographs up for auction on a mobile app.

You wake up one morning and find yourself being auctioned off with your pictures and details. Well, this is no historic tale on Slave Trade of Imperialism, but a grim reality depicting digital harassment of Muslim women in India.

One of the many disturbing arrays of misogyny, where photos of Muslim women especially students, activists, journalists, artists, researchers, etc. were uploaded by an unidentified extremist group on an application named “Sulli Deals” using GitHub on Sunday, July 4, with the sole purpose to auction off the Muslim women. The motto of the app says it's a ‘community-driven, open-source project.’ Once opened, the app would ask the user to click on ‘Find your Sulli Deal of the Day’. It would then randomly display a photo of an Indian Muslim woman most likely sourced from her social media account. ‘Sulli’ is a derogatory term used to refer to Muslim women by Hindutva extremists. The app came to light when these men started sharing their ‘deal of the day' on Twitter, and it has since been removed by GitHub (hosting platform, with a repository of open-source codes.)

This is far from the first time that Muslim women have to be vocal about constant harassment and rape threats by right-wing groups who align with India's Hindu nationalist ideology. In May, a YouTube channel ‘Liberal Doge Live’ whose real identity is reportedly Ritesh Jha, live-streamed the photos of Muslim women on the festival of Eid with a noxious description in Hindi that read: “Today, we will stalk women with our eyes filled with lust.”

The photos that he circulated, sexualised, and made vulgar comments and bids on belonged not only to Indian Muslim women but Pakistani women as well. Later, right-wing groups created a Twitter trend in support of the Youtuber, leaving the women in further discontent. There have been similar accounts of disgusting comments and derogatory songs for Kashmiri women when Article 370, special semi-autonomous status to the former state of Jammu & Kashmir, was revoked. This hate and objectification have been normalised over time with no action being taken repeatedly. And not just Muslim women have to do the labour to call out such disgusting manoeuvres, they are further told how it is their fault by the flagbearers of moral policing and even sent hateful slurs on social media platforms.

“This ‘Sulli Deals’ is not an isolated incident as it is rooted in the very anti-muslim ideology that advocates lynchings and rapes, present in Hindutva literature. It is all connected to a larger anti-muslim sentiment of the majority,” says Afreen Fatima, a student activist from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi.

Selective outrage

A 21st-century example of targeted sexual violence against Muslim women is the 2002 Gujarat violence that stands out as one of the most vicious large scale and systematic sexual assaults against Indian Muslim women. According to Human Rights Watch, it included gang rapes, public stripping, ripping off body parts, insertion of objects into their bodies and burning them alive beyond recognition.

In light of recent events, the visuals of a ‘Hindu Mahapanchayat’ in the Pataudi town of Haryana state are doing rounds on social media. In it, the speakers at the congregation are calling for sexual violence and abduction of Muslim women. The audience responds with cheers and applause. In the gathering, a radicalised Hindu youth named Ram Bhakt Gopal says, "Kya tum Salma ko utha kar nahi laa sakte (Can you not abduct Salma)?" a reference to Muslims since Salma is a popular Muslim name for women.

The incident shines a light on an Islamophobic campaign called "Love Jihad" propagated by the Hindutva extremists. It means Muslim men lure Hindu women, entrap them in love and then convert them to Islam before turning them into "baby producing machines".

While the so-called Love Jihad was invented to target Muslim men, Sulli Deals is part of the wider Hindutva agenda to normalise the harassment and sexual assaults of Muslim women.

“It is not merely humiliating and mockery, but a precursor to physical violence, and if these perpetrators can collect data on Muslim women, what is to say they won't be able to gather addresses of at least a few when repeated calls have been made for abduction,” says Afreen Fatima, the JNU student activist among the many targeted Muslim women.

“Last time when I made a (police) complaint against ‘Liberal Doge Live’, my F.I.R (formal police investigation) was randomly closed. The online harassment of Muslim women is nothing new but this auctioning is disturbing to the core,” says Hasiba Amin, National Convenor of Social Media at the Indian National Congress, the leading opposition party of India. Hasiba is still hoping for strong legal actions this time.

Despite many legal complaints by these women as well as the National Commission for Women and Delhi Commission for Women, Indian Police have started investigating the incident, to which one of the women targeted via Sulli Deals, Pilot Hana Mohsin Khan says, “The Police have been kind to me when I made the complaint, I am hopeful they will put these men to account.”

It's been five days since the incident gained public attention. The police haven't made any breakthrough in the case yet. 

A lot of the women whose pictures were up on the site are exasperated over the pin-drop silence of India's upper-class liberal voices. Unlike the times of an Instagram group chat with the name ‘Bois Locker Room’ created by teenagers from Southern Delhi (mostly schoolboys) as a matter of pleasure to objectify women with graphic sexual language, and when the screenshots were leaked by a woman who joined the group disguised as a boy, the incident saw a huge uproar on social media with #BoysLockerRoom remained among the top trends for several days. Whereas, silence over ‘Sulli Deal of the Day’ desolates Muslim women as they feel the country's progressive feminists and activists have taken a back seat on the systemic targeting of Muslim women. 

Take the recent case of Safoora Zargar, a research student and activist from Jamia Millia Islamia, who was slandered and slut-shamed on social media by the Hindutva extremists, as she has been critical of the new Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) where Jamia Millia Islamia has been an epicentre of the anti-CAA Movement.

“Muslim women will always be seen as a Muslim first and woman later, being vocal on social media is so risky that you never know when and how you will be attacked again which is extremely frightening,” says Afreen Ali, a Delhi based social worker among the many targeted Muslim women who have been actively raising funds for Covid-19 patients. She adds, “I have always seen selective outrage when the victims are Muslims, threats of sexual violence and lynchings of our men are normalised to an extent where no one cares.”

As much as Indian Muslim women and activists are determined to fight everyday discrimination, they feel equally saddened by the progressive groups' lack of commitment to come up with a meaningful campaign against the sadist and misogynistic attacks Muslim women are facing in the country.

Source: TRT World