Imagine waking up one morning a woman who has been auctioned off. Your anxiety ratchets up, concerned family members look at you with ill concealed worry. Your profile is everywhere. You feel a toxic mixture of humiliation and rage. You want the authorities to act and for someone to pay for putting you through this grief.
Having been trolled in the most sexist manner, I can relate to the emotions I described above but, the very notion of auctioning off minority women via an app in two rounds — the first one called Sulli (a pejorative reference to Muslim women) and round two — Bulli deals — that happened on the second day of the new year is beyond dehumanising.
Photos of hundreds of Muslim women were uploaded on an app called Bulli bai. This came six months after a similar exercise when pictures of women were uploaded on an open source platform GitHub.
The app creators took full advantage of their anonymity, illegally collecting photos of Muslim women from their social media accounts, troll them, use the pictures inappropriately and encourage people to participate in their auction.
Following huge anger and outrage by the women who were attacked, Ashwini Vaishnav, India’s information technology minister, said that the perpetrator’s account had been blocked by GitHub and the computer emergency response team were investigating the matter.
Priyanka Chaturvedi, a Shiv Sena MP and Asaduddin Owaisi, one of India’s most vocal Muslim leaders, tweeted in supporting of the women on Twitter.
Chaturvedi has been vociferous in the matter, repeatedly demanding action. Chaturvedi said, “I have repeatedly asked the minister to take stern action against such rampant misogyny and communal targeting of women through SulliDeals like platforms. A shame it continues to be ignored”.
Women are clearly unsafe on many streets in India with record crimes against women but, social media was supposed to be a brave new world where women were safe to share their point of view. Well think again. Women with an opinion are targeted worse on social media platforms with graphic rape threats, death threats and now this misogyny on steroids auction.
I have personally filed many police cases and the United Nations Rapporteur has asked the Indian government to protect me from murder threats, so I can relate to the feeling of absolute violation that these women experience.
Some perverts also used the Clubhouse app to graphically rate women.
So what drives such perverted male mentality? It is a toxic convergence of the safety provided by anonymity on social media platforms, perverted misogyny and potent Islamaphobia, as I found when I was researching by investigative book “I am a troll”.
Male privilege and the patriarchy are rampant in India and men who are brought up in this culture find any confident out spoken woman a challenge to be vanquished. Social media is used to seed sexist gossip about women who have an opinion. Rape threats and photo shop are common tools used to attack women. But, this nauseating auction to reduce the agency women possess is harassment to far.
Let me tell you why. I spoke to a woman who had featured in both the actions and she was broken. Between sobs she told me that the first time she tried to shrug it off but, it still damaged something precious within her the second time when she saw her picture she says she feels suicidal. She asked me not to identify her because she wants to withdraw from all social media.
Why such visceral hate?
Over a nearly two hour conversation on the phone at some point I hearing her hurt and her pain I also could not control my tears. She kept asking me, “What is my fault? Why such visceral hate for me? ”I honestly had no answers for the women who is only 27 years old.
The time has come for zero tolerance for this kind of serial sexual harassment. Twitter and other social media companies involved should offer hundred per cent cooperation with law enforcement to bring these cyber criminals to book.
The government has promised an investigation into the auction and said that they will bring the perpetrators to book. The Mumbai police has also registered a cyber First Information Report (FIR). But, the only way this will end is if the perverts behind this are publicly shamed before the women in their lives.
Their mothers, daughters and wives should also know how they treat other women. Whether it is the streets in India or social media, women have an equal right. The minute you dare put a woman up for auction you have become a criminal. The shame is yours, not hers.