New Delhi, India– On the evening of July 4th, Afreen Fatima participated in an online forum about the persecution of Muslims in India. As soon as she finished the meeting, her mobile phone was flooded with messages, informing the 23-year-old student activist that she had been “listed for sale” in a fake online auction.
She is not alone. Photos of more than 80 other Muslim women, including students, activists, and journalists, were uploaded to an application called “Shirley Trade” without their knowledge.
The creators of the platform gave visitors an opportunity to claim “Shirley”-a derogatory term for Muslim women by right-wing Hindu trolls-calling them “Same Day Sale.”
“I didn’t reply to the person who sent me the message that night. I just quit my Twitter. I don’t have the energy to respond,” Fatima told Al Jazeera from her home in Allahabad, northern Uttar Pradesh.
I think I will never shut up because of this.
She said the incident happened one day when an Indian far-right man called for the abduction of Muslim women at a rally in Pataudi, about 60 kilometers (31 miles) from New Delhi. “I’m so upset; I can’t sleep,” she said.
Thousands of miles away in New York, 25-year-old Hiba Beg has just returned from enjoying the city’s Independence Day celebrations. At that time, she discovered that her personal information could also be virtual auctioned on “Shirley Trade.”
Berger, a policy student at Columbia University, said that even the physical distance from home in India is not enough to protect her from direct “feelings of dehumanization and failure.”
GitHub, which hosted the application, took it down after receiving public outrage and complaints. “After investigating reports of such activities, we suspended user accounts, all of which violated our policies,” a GitHub spokesperson told Al Jazeera via email.
“GitHub has a long-term policy on content and behavior involving harassment, discrimination, and incitement to violence.”
Police filed a complaint
On July 8, after the Delhi Council of Women (DCW) and the National Council of Women called for an investigation into the matter, the Delhi police registered a police complaint (the first information report). anger.
Delhi Police Commissioner Chinmay Biswal stated that an investigation has been launched. “A notice has been sent to GitHub to share relevant details,” Biswar told Al Jazeera.
One week after the app was discovered, no one was arrested.
The well-known journalist and activist Rana Ayyub has been under the influence of vicious sex trolling for her outspoken views, which she said has been and is being done “systematic” against prestigious Muslim women.
“Their way [Hindu far-right groups] Sexualizing you is the only way they think they can humiliate and silence Muslim women online. We should be’oppressed’ in their books-so they thought,’How dare we speak for ourselves? ‘” Ayub, a columnist for the Washington Post, told Al Jazeera.
Media professional Sania Ahmad’s profile also appeared on the Sulli Deals app, and she said this online violence is not surprising. The 34-year-old Muslim has spoken on Twitter and has nearly 34,000 followers. He said the platform has been used to create pornographic and graphical online threats.
“This is a very sad thing, but I am used to it. Last year, a poll was conducted in which a Hindu account asked “Which Sanias should I choose for my harem?” “We have been reporting on the polls, but it lasted for 24 hours,” Ahmed was referring to members of the extreme right in India.
“The results were finally announced, and the following comment called for more violence. There was such a comment-“Why should we add them to the harem and just throw them away.” Another said,’I want to cut off their heads. , Use them to decorate my walls.'”
After Ahmed publicly opposed a similar virtual auction of Muslim women the night before Eid al-Fitr this year, her image turned into a pornographic visual effect. A YouTube channel run by “Liberal Doge Live” is reported to be a man named Ritesh Jha who runs “Eid al-Fitr special”-a “live auction” of Muslim women from India and Pakistan.
Ahmed said it was so painful that she had to quit Twitter for a few days and suffered severe anxiety.
“When I was deceived, my gender would never be separated from my religious identity. I was not ridiculed as a woman, I was speaking out on political issues as a Muslim woman, mainly in Hinduism,” she said.
Ahmed sent a legal notice to Twitter last week explaining how to check the level of hate speech and abuse on the platform. “I even complained to the police in the past,” she said. “None of these complaints have paid off.”
Hasiba Amin, the social media coordinator of the opposition Congress Party, was one of the women in the Eid al-Fitr virtual auction. After she filed an FIR against the perpetrators, she was also disappointed with the legal procedures in such cases .
“A few months later, I didn’t see much progress in the investigation,” she said. “I believe that if the police had taken enough action in the first place, these people would not have the courage to do such a thing again. But it is this kind of inaction that makes them get away with it.”
A lawyer based in the capital New Delhi, Anas Tanwir, believes that online platforms that host applications such as “Sulli Deals” need to take more responsibility for hate speech and abuse.
“Any platform or website—whether open source or otherwise—has an ethical and legal responsibility not to allow such activities. This is basically equivalent to instigating and promoting illegal trafficking in women. This is exactly the situation in the virtual world,” He told Al Jazeera.
‘We won’t shut up’
Activists worry that India’s cyberspace is becoming more and more harmful to women in general, and Muslim women in particular.
In January last year, the Indian branch of Amnesty International stated in a report that nearly 100 Indian female politicians had suffered unprecedented online abuse on Twitter. According to the report, these women were targeted not only because of their opinions expressed online, but also because of their gender, religion, caste, and marital status.
“As a result, Muslim women politicians are more likely to be targeted than Hindu women politicians,” said Vrinda Bhandari, a Delhi lawyer who specializes in privacy and digital rights.
Bhandari said: “It is important to structure these crimes based on hate speech because we need to recognize the public perspective of the crime, the derogatory use of’Shirley’ and how it can be used against Muslim women.”
It is under these circumstances that online and offline harassment of Muslim women becomes more visual and sexy.
Jawaharlal Nehru University Law and Governance Research Center Assistant Professor Ghazala Jamir said: “In general, most people’s eyes are not only objective and victimized, but also opportunistic.” In the global Islamophobic narrative, the public intention to save Muslim women has never been a pure or actual intention. For some anti-Muslim projects, this is almost always a cover.”
disgusting.This is cybercrime @Delhi police Social media should be investigated and abused to threaten women (this is entirely on the agenda of the parliamentary IT committee). Will be investigated further. https://t.co/zd9uGMQZdn
-Shashi Tharoor (hasShashiTharoor) July 7, 2021
“In India in particular, this trend is combined with widespread impunity, especially open violence against Muslims, women, and Dalits. In my reading, this virtual “auction” is an antidote. The upgrade of fishing. On the one hand it reminds of slave trade/trafficking, on the other hand it reminds of lynching [a] On the other hand,” Jameel, also the author of “Muslim Women Speaking: Dreams and Shackles,” told Al Jazeera.
Student activist Fatima also worried about the more immediate consequences of the attack.
“What if someone just comes and asks them for the day’s transaction? I don’t see anything that can stop them from doing this.
At the same time, I don’t think I will shut up because of this. We will continue to occupy every public space, whether it is Twitter, Instagram, Facebook-online, offline, everywhere. “
Hana Mohsin Khan also appeared in “Sulli Deals”, she created a WhatsApp group called “Solidarity”, which included more than 20 target women.
Khan, a pilot of a domestic airline, has filed a complaint with the police. She said that the support of all these women will keep her going.
“We all support each other,” she told Al Jazeera. “We are all working together; we hardly sleep. We will not shut up, and we will not let it go.”