The young man stared into the camera defiantly. His hair was unkept, face expressionless and eyes so vacant that he didn’t really need to spell it out. But he still did. “No regrets,” said Neeraj Bishnoi, the alleged mastermind of the Bulli Bai app where Muslim women — mothers, teens, journalists — were ‘auctioned’ at the start of the year.
Bishnoi’s father says his son was a good student, scoring 86% in class 10 school examinations but was hooked to his laptop. More than that he watched just “one news channel” which the father thinks could have had an impact on his son’s thinking. You don’t need to be Sherlock to read between the lines.
21-year-old Bishnoi though was pulled out of the hat by the Delhi police so suddenly that it left many wondering if this is actually a misleading twist. This is the same police force that for the last two years has been unable to find a trace of Komal Sharma - the Delhi University student with a stick in her hand who was identified in the violence at the JNU campus. Masked men and as we know, at least one woman went on a rampage with sticks and steel rods injuring 30 students and faculty members at the Jawahar Lal Nehru university in Delhi in January 2020.
Bishnoi’s intervention came shortly after the Mumbai police had zeroed in on an 18-year-old Shweta Singh from Uttarakhand. What does it say about our ecosystem today that has enabled students between the ages of 18-21 to run hate filled platforms? Nor is it just a momentary lapse — all those arrested have been picked up from different parts of the country indicating that it was a premeditated and a well thrashed plan.
Singh was running a fake handle to cause discord between communities. The sensitive state of Punjab of late has been the target of such casual sanctioned hostility that those living there warn the top leadership to rein it in before the game boomerangs. We all know how it played out once in the past.
Whether the police got all the right people or not, the ask is deeper. Where is the funding for these hate platforms coming from, who is backing the youth? Bulli Bai is an encore, just six months ago, Sulli deals had similarly listed names publicly.
If justice had been done then, so many women today would have been spared from a majoritarian free run on the sanctity of other faiths and voices that debate its interpretation of ideology. Instead, the arrest of the ‘mastermind’ of Sulli deals a couple of days earlier just shows it is all about the intent.
Who is protecting them?
Radio Jockey Sayema who found her name in the Bulli deals has some questions about these youth. She asks, ”where do they get this confidence from? How do they have the feeling that they will be able to evade law authorities? Who is protecting them? Is there a message for them or for us?”
Neeraj Bishnoi says his targets were Muslim women and those who were active on social media. Recent investigations by The Wire reveal the price women journalists in India including Gulf News columnists Nidhi Razdan and Swati Chaturvedi are paying for speaking up. Its report discloses how up to 1 million abusive tweets were directed at the journalists in just 5 months via a secret app, Tek Fog.
Recent investigations by The Wire reveal the price women journalists in India including Gulf News columnists Nidhi Razdan and Swati Chaturvedi are paying for speaking up. Its report discloses how up to 1 million abusive tweets were directed at the journalists in just 5 months via a secret app, Tek Fog
But not all women or their families can handle the abuse, some of those who were named in the Bulli and Sulli deals have disappeared from social media. This when only 33% of women in the country are on social media to begin with, lagging far behind men (who’s participation is more than double) and reversing global trends. For every one woman on Facebook, there are three men and it is not much different on other social media platforms.
Like a well, coordinated attack from two frontiers, while some have made the streets their own through mob vigilantism, the tech savvy younger generation are owning social media which comes with a price that they make. Hate is omnipresent- you just have to take a look at family WhatsApp groups- and even if the door was closed, it was a matter of time before it escaped the four walls of homes.
Youth, technology and indoctrination
This toxic fusion of youth, technology and indoctrination is also a culmination of an education system where the lack of skill, based education has finally come to roost, a system that always dictated our thinking.
Today the same criteria is carrying so many of these students, anonymous fingers behind laptops into a wave of crime where as Dr Samir Parikh, Head Department of Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare says, “if you have a view and are surrounded by like- minded people, then your view will only become stronger.” Confirmation bias though still needs the willingness to dabble in crime.
The Bulli deals and the Sulli app before that show how these youngsters have now gone mainstream. Take the case of Akubathini Ram Nagesh, a 23-year old software engineer who could only rise higher after graduating from the prestigious IIT Hyderabad.
While waiting to leave for the US for further studies, he threatened rape to Virat Kohli’s 10-month old daughter after India’s loss to Pakistan in the T-20 World Cup. Kohli had defended the abuse hurled at team mate Mohammad Shami after the match. Ram Nagesh not only changed his nationality on Twitter but was also confident that he would get away with it.
We have already begin to reap what we have sowed. Some youth have bought hook, line and sinker the narrative of ‘khatre mein hai.’ Predictably, there are no questions in this misled fight for identity in a civilisation that is 8000 years old and whose oldest religious scriptures, the Vedas were written between 1500 and 500 BCE. Instead, we are faced with the reality that even the quiet well behaved child in the neighbourhood may no longer be what he or she seems.
I differ from Javed Akhtar and those few others (who are silent on the crime itself) who have called for leniency for Shweta Singh since she has lost both her parents. Merely redemption is the difference between a mistake and a criminal act. 22-year-old Disha Ravi was sent to jail for an act she did not commit and here is someone who publicly engaged in abuse.
Bishnoi, Singh and the two others who have been arrested - Vishal Jha and Mayank Rawal all have one thing in common, they are all engineering students. But in the end they may just be pawns playing a real life Blue Whale game where those who are being led to the final step in a modern day flourish of the Pied Piper remain clueless. Then crossing the line is just a click away.