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Muslim women listed for online auction once again as Sulli Deals probe still pending

Complaints of police inaction emerge as no arrests have been made since the first such attempt last year.

As many as 100 Muslim women, some of them journalists, activists, and actresses, were listed for auction on a GitHub-made app called ‘Bulli Bai’, according to a report by Al Jazeera. Their photographs were sourced and uploaded to the app without their knowledge, and they were then offered as ‘bulli bai’ – an offensive term for Muslim women – to users at random, as per the report.

GitHub has blocked the user and the police and Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) are “coordinating further action”, IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said. Two FIRs have also been lodged in Mumbai and Delhi against unknown persons for the creation and use of the Bulli Bai app while political leaders and chairpersons of women’s commissions have sought action.

This is not the first time that such an incident has happened. In July, another app called ‘Sulli Deals’ had similarly listed Muslim women for auction but the culprits haven’t been caught despite multiple police complaints. Prior to that, Muslim women were sexualised on a YouTube live stream.

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What are the charges levied in the FIRs?

Delhi FIR: A copy of the FIR made public by a journalist shows that the FIR was lodged on January 2 under the following sections of the IPC:

  • 153 A – Promoting enmity between different religious groups
  • 153 B – Imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration
  • 354 (A) – Assault of criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty.
  • 509- Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman

Mumbai FIR: According to a report by Bar and Bench, the FIR has been lodged against the app’s developers and some Twitter handles under:

  • Sections 153A and 153B, 509,
  • Section 295A – insulting religious beliefs
  • Section 354D – stalking
  • Section 500 – criminal defamation of the Indian Penal Code.
  • Section 67 of the IT Act – publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form.

“Attitude of the law enforcement agency emboldened the culprits”

Seeking details on police action taken on such incidents of Muslim women being auctioned, Swati Maliwal, the chairperson of the Delhi Commission for Women, today issued summons to the Deputy Commissioner of Police, Cyber Cell for January 6. Maliwal has asked for a detailed action taken reports on the issue, arrests made, steps taken by the police to prevent another incident like this, guidelines issues and so on. In her letter, she has also flagged police inaction on the Sulli Deals case saying that it ’emboldened the culprits and others’. Specifically, Maliwal has asked for:

  • A copy of the FIR registered in the Bulli Bai case
  • Names of people arrested, reasons if no one was arrested and a timeline set by the police for the same.
  • Details of action was taken against GitHub and if not the reasons for it.
  • Steps taken by the police to ensure such content is not uploaded on Github or any other platform again.
  • Details of arrests made in the Sulli deals case, the reasons if there were no arrests and the timeline for the same.
  • Current status of the investigation in the Sulli Deals case
  • Whether any guidelines with respect to such incidents have been formed by the police? If yes, a copy of the same.
  • Detailed action taken report in the matter

Gurjit Singh Aujla, a Congress MP, wrote to Union Home Minister Amit Shah asking for punishment for the creators of Bulli Bai. According to him, the app violates fundamental rights and can raise questions internationally about India’s ‘commitment to protecting the women of the country’. He also said that the men have placed bids and passed derogatory remarks on Muslim women through YouTube and Twitter, and are emboldened to target such women that are fighting, speaking or writing ‘in the interest of the country’.

What happened the first time around?

In the matter of the Sulli Deals controversy, here’s a snapshot of the events that transpired last year:

  • July 5: Responding to the outrage against the app on Twitter, GitHub COO Erica Brescia tweets that the account has been suspended.
  • July 6: An FIR is lodged by a woman against unknown persons for allegedly circulating pictures of several Muslim women without their consent on the GitHub-based application ‘Sulli Deals’.
  • July 7: Swati Maliwal, writes a letter to the Deputy Commissioner, Cyber Cell of the Delhi Police demanding information about action that had been taken on the matter.
  • July 8: The National Commission of Women takes suo motu cognisance of the case and Chairperson Rekha Sharma writes to the Delhi Commissioner of Police asking him to inform them, within 10 days, about the action taken on the case.
  • July 12: A notice is served by a victim to Twitter Inc seeking, among other things, compensation of Rs 10 Lakhs for not taking action against content related to the ‘Sulli Deals’ app being shared on the platform.
  • July 15:  Another complaint is filed with the Delhi Police on the matter by a victim.
  • July 26: Anyesh Roy, DCP (Cyber Cell) reportedly says that, “We sent notices to GitHub but haven’t received a reply. Our team has approached them several times but there’s been no response.”

In the case of the YouTube live stream, the offensive content was removed by the platform, although the channel is still active. No complaints were filed against the channel on that matter.

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I cover health technology for MediaNama but, really, love all things tech policy. Always willing to chat with a reader! Reach me at anushka@medianama.com

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