An app called “Bulli Bai” was reported to display pictures of more than 100 Muslim women to “auction them off”. This was intended “to degrade and humiliate vocal Muslim women” according to Quratulain Rehbar, a journalist who also saw herself listed in the same app.
Previously, she reported on a similar app last year for Vice—where an app called “Sulli Deals” gathered women’s photos and personal information from their social media accounts. The app mimicked online auction sites like eBay. But instead of goods, it’s Muslim women being “auctioned like cattle”.
That was in July 2020, and Sulli Deals had then been removed. But on 1 January 2022, Rehbar tweeted that she came across her own picture on Bulli Bai “besides other Muslim women”.
In the past, Muslim women have spoken up about being targeted with hate-driven fetishisation campaigns by trolls. There’s also reports of a surge in Islamophobic hate crimes under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party—whose ideology is centered on right-wing Hindu nationalist politics.
“These attacks are not primarily meant to gain sexual pleasure out of it, but rather they’re used as a weapon to traumatise, harass and eventually silence the voice that these Muslim women are,” said Team Saath, an anonymous group that flagged and helped take down Twitter handles promoting “Sulli Deals” last year.
For “Bulli Bai”, it was basically a carbon copy of what “Sulli Deals” was. Both ‘Bulli’ and ‘Sulli’ are derogatory words used for Muslim women in local slang, and the app showed photographs of more than 100 Muslim women—including prominent actress Shabana Azami, wife of a sitting judge of Delhi High Court, multiple journalists, activists and politicians. Even Pakistani Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai was reportedly included in the mix.
There was no real sale involved as it only intended to “degrade and humiliate vocal Muslim women”. The app was also created on Microsoft-owned open software development site GitHub, and was taken down on Saturday, 1 January after dozens of other Muslim women began posting their outrage on social media after seeing their photographs and details on the app.
Journalist Ismat Aura, a victim who found her photo and information posted on the app as well, filed a complaint with the Delhi Police against “unknown people” for “harassing and insulting Muslim women on social media using doctored pictures in unacceptable and lewd context”.
However, Ara said that she is not hopeful regarding the police investigation. This is because no arrests made for Sulli Deals, even after six months.
“Often women are asked to remove their pictures from social media and hide. After such attempts to harass Muslim women, it will be difficult for many women to take a stand,” said Rehbar.