January 6, 2022 - 5:54 am

 Virtual 'Sale' Of Muslim Women 

    GitHub - the open-source software development platform - has been making headlines over since it was used to create the offensive 'Bulli Bai' app that has allegedly been auctioning pictures of Muslim women. These app used doctored photos of women that were allegedly taken from their social media handles and invited "users" to bid for them. In June 2021, another app - Sulli Bai -  which to was hosted on GitHub, had been used to harass Muslim women in the same way.

    The police investigation into those who created that app has made little progress, apparently because of the lack of adequate response from GitHub, which does not have a presence in India. IT minister Ashwini Vaishnav has announced that GitHub has blocked the user, and Indian Computer Emergency Response System ( Cert-In ), the nodal agency for monitoring cyber security incidents, has been asked to form "a high-level committee" to investigate.

    Bulli Bai launched on GitHub on Jan 1 by the engineering student whose name has been withheld. On opening, it displayed a Muslim woman's face as 'Bulli Bai'. The app listed hundreds of Muslim women - including students, journalists and social workers - for 'auction' along with their morphed photographs sourced illegally. Both Bulli Bai and Sulli deals targeted women with a large following on Twitter.

     Days after controversy erupted over the 'Bulli Bai' app, a similarly derogatory channel came to light targeting Hindu women has appeared on Telegram channel called 'Hindu Randiya', that circulated photos of Hindu women among its subscribers, who abused them. While there was no actual auction' or sale', the purpose of the app seemed to be humiliate and intermediate the targeted women. However, the channel was blocked as well.

     To frame this as a free speech issue would be willful blindness. From dealing with photographs to lewd comments to communal dog-whistling, they cross over into criminality and sexual harassment in ways that call for cyber-crime cells to take urgent attention. But the "auction" of women from the minority community is not just standard-issue misogyny. In a climate of majoritarian excess, attacks on minorities and open unpunished calls for mass murder, the choreographed humiliation of Muslim women panders to the worst communal tendencies and fantasies of violence. It seeks to push out an already embedded community from the digital public square by attacking the dignity of its women. It is even more important therefore for the government to draw grid lines and send out a strong, clear message. It cannot now afford to be slow-footed in following through in a case of such flagrant violation. There must be firm, visible action against this criminal bigotry and misogyny. The government must take urgent, exemplary action against the perpetrators. Simply taking down the app, without imposing costs on such criminal behavior, is only an encouragement of impunity.