Bulli Bai app: Three arrested for fake auction of Muslim women in India - BBC News

A user checks his Gmail on an iPhone in New Delhi India on 20 October 2019 (Photo by Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

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This is the second attempt in less than year to "sell" Muslim women in a fake auction

Indian police have arrested three people in connection with an app that shared photos of more than 100 Muslim women saying they were on "sale".

The suspects - two 21-year-old men and an 18-year-old woman - are being questioned.

Police in Mumbai, India's financial capital, said more arrests are expected.

The app was hosted on web platform GitHub, which has since taken it down amid widespread anger and outrage.

"It's too early to say who made the app and what their motive is," Mumbai police commissioner Hemant Nagrale said.

Charges against the three who have been arrested haven't been confirmed yet.

On Tuesday, Mumbai police arrested Vishal Kumar, an engineering student, in the southern city of Bangalore and Shweta Singh in the northern state of Uttarakhand. On Wednesday morning, they arrested Mayank Rawat, also a student in Uttarakhand.

"A few more people have been detained for questioning. We will investigate this case to its logical end," Satej Patel, Maharashtra state's junior home minister, told the BBC.

Photographs of several prominent Muslim journalists and activists were uploaded on the Bulli Bai app without their permission and put on "sale" in a fake auction.

This is the second attempt to harass Muslim women by "auctioning" them online. In July last year, an app and website called "Sulli Deals" created profiles of more than 80 Muslim women - using photos they uploaded online - and described them as "deals of the day".

In both cases, there was no real sale, but the purpose was to degrade and humiliate Muslim women - many of whom have been vocal about the rising tide of Hindu nationalism under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Sulli is a derogatory Hindi slang term right-wing Hindu trolls use for Muslim women, and bulli is also pejorative.

Though the police began an investigation in the Sulli deals case, no one has been charged.

When news of the Bulli Bai app broke, poet Nabiya Khan who was targeted in the Sulli deals case, tweeted that the Delhi Police had yet to take action on her complaint in 2021.

Hi @DelhiPolice. This lot already harassed me by hosting an auction of me and making disgusting lewd comments on me. I had filed an FIR in May with you, but you've done absolutely nothing. Now they're back with this. Good job protecting women. Will you do anything now atleast? https://t.co/HvMlIIho7N

— Hasiba | حسيبة | हसीबा 🌈 (@HasibaAmin) January 1, 2022 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Police in at least three states have opened an investigation into the Bulli Bai app based on complaints by women who were targeted.

"Our investigation is in its premature stages, so we can't say yet whether Bulli Bai and Sulli Deals are connected", Mr Nagrale said.

The list of women on the Bulli Bai app included a Bollywood actor and the 65-year-old mother of a disappeared Indian student.

The fake auction shocked and angered people after several women who featured on it shared screenshots and messages on social media.

Quratulain Rehbar, a Kashmiri journalist, who had reported on the Sulli deals last year, said it felt disgusting to be named in the app this time.

Thanks for all the support and messages. If you really care about this issue you must not remain silent because it's not about Indian women or pakistani women. It's about muslim women who are being targetted and it's a clear Islamophobia! #SulliDeals

— Quratulain Rehbar (@ainulrhbr) January 2, 2022 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter

Information and technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said on Saturday that GitHub had blocked the user who uploaded the app, and police were co-ordinating with cyber agencies for "further action".

Priyanka Chaturvedi, a lawmaker from the Shiv Sena party, tweeted in response: "Besides blocking the platform punishing the offenders creating such sites is important."

She told ANI news agency that the new app was created because the makers of Sulli deals hadn't been punished yet. The parliamentarian also shared letters written to Mr Vaishnav after the Sulli deals app came to light in July 2021.

A spokesperson for GitHub said that the company has suspended a user account following the investigation of reports of such activity, "all of which violate our policies".

A 2018 Amnesty International report on online harassment in India showed that the more vocal a woman was, the more likely she was to be targeted - the scale of this increased for women from religious minorities and disadvantaged castes.

Critics say trolling against Muslim women has worsened in recent years in India's polarised political climate.

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