Hiba Beg, a graduate student in the United States, was on her way to her grandmother’s grave in New Delhi this weekend when she learned she was “for sale” to the highest bidder online – for the second times in less than a year.
Her screen was filled with dozens of calls and messages from friends, all sharing the same screenshot of the profile she created on the app, a fake auction site called “Bulli Bai.” Ms. BÃ©g, a former journalist with an active online presence, was not alone. More than 100 other prominent Indian Muslim women, including artists, journalists, activists and lawyers, discovered that online images of themselves were being used without permission on the app, which aired on Saturday and was released on Saturday. was deleted again within about 24 hours.
In June, a similar app called âSulli Dealsâ appeared. (Both terms are derogatory slang for Muslim women.) This one stayed in place for weeks and was only removed after complaints from victims. Although the police have opened an investigation, no one has been charged in the case.
India’s online space is rife with misogyny and harassment from women. But the two “auctions” have amplified concerns about the organized nature of virtual bullying and how targeted defamation and threats of violence, especially sexual violence, are deployed to try to silence women, in particular. those who criticize some of the policies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. .
âThe bullying is aimed at forcing Muslim women who speak out against injustice to withdraw from public life,â said Ms. BÃ©g, 26, who is pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University. “But you don’t back down, no matter how overwhelming it all gets.”
Muslim women were at the forefront of one of India’s biggest protest movements in recent decades. In early 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic began in earnest in India, thousands of people blocked roads and staged protests to protest a new citizenship law that was seen as harmful to Muslims.
Women featured in the “auction” included Fatima Nafees, the mother of a student activist. who disappeared more than five years ago after a fight with members of a right-wing student organization; a movie star turned social activist, researcher and several other prominent Muslim women.
The app which launched in June and the most recent was hosted by GitHub, a Microsoft-owned open source software development site based in San Francisco. India’s Federal Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Sunday that GitHub had blocked the user behind the recent app. GitHub has not commented publicly on the episode.
Karti Chidambaram, Member of the Indian Parliament and Leader of the opposition Congress Party, wrote on Twitterr He was appalled that officials apparently felt emboldened by the government’s lack of action in the previous auction.
“It is unacceptable that this project of dangerous anti-Muslim misogyny is back,” he said.
Police in southern Andhra Pradesh state on Monday said they had opened an investigation and filed a criminal complaint against several Twitter accounts and app developers, based on a complaint by a muslim woman.
But many complaints said the lack of progress on previous investigations had inspired little confidence.
For years, Ms. BÃ©g has strongly criticized India’s ruling Hindu nationalists and their anti-minority policies under Mr. Modi. She has faced intense internet trolling attacks, including death threats, on Twitter.
Over the years, as the pressure mounted, she said, she began to censor herself, avoiding critical articles about the policies of Hindu nationalists.
She said she was worried about the rise in intolerance, but the latest episode showed how online machines are used to force Muslim women out of public life, essentially eliminating any counter-narrative. .
Hasiba Amin, social media coordinator for the opposition Congress party, who was also featured on the auction app, said that the fact that violence and death threats against minorities online has recently moved beyond the virtual stage. is what keeps her awake.
“What guarantees do we have from the government that tomorrow online threats and intimidation will not turn into real-time sexual violence on the streets? ” she asked.