The Mumbai and the Delhi police have filed separate FIRs in connection with the app, which is the second instance where such an app was created to ‘auction’ Muslim women online.

Representative image of a person holding a mobile phone in their handsRepresentative image
news Crime Monday, January 03, 2022 - 09:49

In yet another horrifying instance of Muslim women being ‘auctioned off’ online, photos of hundreds of Muslim women were uploaded on an app using hosting platform GitHub. The incident, which is the second time this has happened, has sparked widespread outrage, with many asking why proper action was not taken the first time itself.  The uploading of pictures on the 'Bulli Bai' app was similar to the 'Sulli Deals' upload in July last year. The 'Bulli Bai' app worked just the same way as Sulli Deals did. Once opened, a Muslim woman's face was randomly displayed under the title "Bulli Bai." Muslim women with a strong presence on Twitter, including journalists, have been singled out and their photos uploaded. Like 'Bulli Bai', 'Sulli Deals' was also hosted on GitHub.

After the app sparked massive condemnation with many including Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi asking the government to act, Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw has said GitHub has confirmed blocking the user and that CERT (the country’s nodal cybersecurity agency) and police authorities are coordinating further action. 

At the time when the ‘Sulli Deals’ app was found, the Union government had cited offending content against women as one of the reasons for framing the new digital rules that called for intermediaries for identifying the user hosting the offensive content within 24 hours. It isn't clear if the same rules were used in 'Sulli Deals' and are being invoked in the case of 'Bulli Bai' to ask the hosting platform to identify the user for taking action. Two FIRs had been filed by the Delhi and Uttar Pradesh Police in the Sulli Deals incident last year after photos of Muslim women were misused, but no concrete action has been taken against the perpetrators so far.

A journalist, who is one of the women named in the ‘Bulli Bai’ app, said that Muslim women have had to start the year with a "sense of fear and disgust." The Delhi Police has registered an FIR against unknown persons for allegedly uploading a doctored picture of a woman journalist on a website. The journalist, Ismat Araa had lodged an online complaint and she shared the copy of the complaint on Twitter. The case was registered at the Cyber Police station of the southeast district.

The complaint filed in Delhi sought immediate registration of an FIR and investigation against an unknown set of people who are "seeking to harass and insult Muslim women" on social media.

"I was shocked to find out this morning that a website/portal called bullibai.github.io (since deleted) had a doctored picture of me in an improper, unacceptable and clearly lewd context. This needs immediate action, as the same is clearly designed to harass me and other similarly situated independent women and journalists," the complaint said.

"I enclose snapshots of the said tweet directed at me herein as well as of other tweets. The term 'Bulli Bai' itself seems disrespectful and the content of this website/portal (bullibai.github.io) is clearly aimed at insulting Muslim women as the derogatory term 'Bulli' is used exclusively for Muslim women and the entire website seems to have been designed with the intent of embarrassing and insulting Muslim women," she added.

A senior police officer in Delhi told PTI that the case has been registered under sections 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) and 354 A (sexual harassment and punishment for harassment) of the Indian Penal Code on the complaint of the journalist alleging that she is being targeted by an unidentified group of people on "Bulli Bai" portal. Meanwhile, the Mumbai Cyber police has also registered an FIR against the app’s developers and Twitter handles that promoted this application. The case was registered on Saturday under sections 354-D (stalking of women), 500 (Punishment for defamation) and other sections of the Information Technology Act, he said. No arrests have been made in the case so far and a probe is underway.

The National Commission for Women has also written to the Delhi Police to expedite its action in the case to ensure that such crime does not recur. NCW chief Rekha Sharma, on Twitter took note of the issue as well. The journalist also raised a complaint with the Cyber Cell of the Delhi Police.

"@NCWIndia has taken cognizance of this incident. Chairperson @sharmarekha has written to @CPDelhi to immediately register FIR in the matter. The process must be expedited so that such crime is not repeated," the NCW tweeted.

"The action taken in both the cases must be apprised to the Commission at the earliest. A copy of the letter has also been sent to Dy Commissioner of Police CyPAD, Delhi," the NCW said in another tweet.

Meanwhile, several politicians also demanded action, especially since this is not the first time that such an 'auction' was held, and said that lack of action in the previous case has emboldened the culprits to continue demeaning Muslim women. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called upon people to raise their voice against the insult of women and communal hatred. "The insult of women and communal hatred will stop only when we stand against it in one voice. The year has changed, the situation should also change. It is time to speak up," Gandhi tweeted.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti alleged that ''fringe elements'' who were targeting Muslim women online had the ''official patronage.” "Appalling that the criminals behind such derogatory and demeaning actions against Muslim women are given a free run," the former Chief Minister tweeted.

Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi on Saturday flagged the 'Bulli Bai' app to Mumbai police as well as Union IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw for action, including the arrest of the culprits. "I have repeatedly asked Hon IT Minister @AshwiniVaishnaw ji to take stern action against such rampant misogyny and communal targeting of women through #sullideals like platforms. A shame that it continues to be ignored," Chaturvedi added.

With PTI inputs

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