Bulli Bai
Unsplash, Gilles Lambert

Bulli Bai: Muslim Women Put Up for Auction Online

On January 1, 2022, when most people were celebrating the start of the new year, some Muslim women in India were thrust into an entirely different scenario. Nobody could have predicted the disgusting reality that would unfold on New Year’s Day.

Around 100 Muslim women — including several journalists, activists, and politicians — were put up for auction on the online app called “Bulli Bai.”

Bulli Bai
Photo courtesy of Hassnain Riza

Among them were an actress, a poet, an artist, a Nobel Prize laureate, and the 65-year-old mother of a missing student; the list goes on.

“Bulli Bai” was the second such attempt in less than a year, following last July’s “Sulli Deals,” in which almost 80 Muslim women were put up “for auction.”

“Sulli” and “Bulli” both are derogatory terms used against Muslim women, commonly by Hindu nationalists in India.

The app resembled online auction platforms such as eBay, except that instead of products, Muslim women were being auctioned.

Among them was Quratulain Rehbar, a freelance journalist based in Kashmir.

“Last year I wrote about how Muslim women’s pictures were auctioned online, where women felt haunted and humiliated. Today, after a year seeing my own picture in another trend #bullideals, besides other Muslim womens’, makes me feel utmost [sic] disgusting,” said Quratulain Rehbar on Twitter.

Bulli Bai
Quratulain Rehbar via Twitter

“I was heading home when I received a phone call from a friend. I was shocked to discover that my photographs were up for auction for bidding. I couldn’t even figure out what I should do next,” Quratulain Rehbar said.

Speaking to Muslim Girl, Quratulain Rehbar said that the incident has affected her badly. “I think I am an outspoken person, but the incident was nerve-shattering for me. After the incident, I’m not in the right state of mind,” she said.

After discovering that their photographs and details were on sale, hundreds of other Muslim women took to social media to express their anger and dismay.

Ismat Ara, a reputed journalist based in India’s capital, Delhi, was one of the many victims of Bulli Bai.

Ara, an investigative journalist by profession is currently working with The Wire.

“I have filed an FIR at Cyber Police (South East Delhi) on the basis of my complaint with IPC sections 153A (Promoting enmity on grounds of religion etc), 153B (Imputations prejudicial to national-integration), 354A & 509 for sexual harassment,” Ismat said on Twitter.

Women, on the other hand, have been traumatized by the incident. Some of the affected have also deactivated their social media handles.

“It is apparent that there is a plot to suppress these Muslim ladies because they stand against the extremist right wing’s hate crimes. Such an incident is a matter of shame for the whole nation,” a female journalism student said.

“The authorities should speed up the investigation and take strict action against the culprits,” she added.

Twitter users were outraged by the incident and expressed their solidarity with the affected.

“All of this is being done to silence the voices of Muslim women who are speaking out against the Hindutva regime.”

They don’t want us to enlighten the masses on what is being done to minorities in the world’s largest democracy. They need to know that this will not suppress my voice.”  Quratulain Rehbar stated.

As a matter of shame, a senior citizen was also auctioned on Bulli Bai.

Several Indian legislators, notably Priyanka Chaturvedi, have discussed the issue with the administration.

Following her tweet, in which she urged India’s IT minister to take “severe action” against “misogynistic and sectarian targeting of women.” 

Replying to her tweet, the minister stated that GitHub has barred the person responsible for hosting the site and that “police authorities are considering aggressive action.”

Bulli Bai
India’s IT Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw via Twitter

She encouraged the authorities to hasten the inquiry process and prosecute the criminals so that something like this does not happen again, since it causes mental harassment of women whose names and photographs are used without permission.

Meanwhile, Mumbai Police have arrested Mayank Rawal, 21, and Shweta Singh, 19, from Uttarakhand. Another engineering student, Vishal Kumar Jha, 21, was arrested from Bengaluru on Monday as well.

Bulli Bai
Bulli Bai via Twitter

According to the police, Vishal altered his identity on social media platforms at least three times in the last week in order to mislead victims. One of the aliases he used was “Khalsa Supremacist,” posing as a Sikh from Punjab.

Earlier, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi faced criticism from prominent figures in the subcontinent, including acclaimed lyricist Javed Akhter and opposition leader Rahul Gandhi.

“Everyone forgot about the Sulli Deals in July last year. That is something I do not want to happen again. A government that runs its election campaign on safeguarding the rights of the female child must ensure that justice is delivered on time and that the perpetrators are punished,” Quratulain said.

“The government must take measures to ensure that anything like this should not happen again,” she added.

Hassnain Riza is a journalist based in Kashmir. Instagram: @hasnain.riza Twitter: @hasnain_riza